Tucked in the shadows of Tewkesbury Abbey, you will find the headquarters of the Gun Trade Association. Nearby, Simon West is getting used to his new position as Director of the Association. It has been just three months since he took on the role, but Simon has taken to unfamiliar surroundings like a duck to water.
As his successful military career – that included deployments from Northern Ireland to Afghanistan – drew to a close, Simon saw his next opportunity. “Funnily enough, I’ve actually been a registered firearms dealer myself for the last 20 years,” he explains. “I have a hobby making bronze cannons, and have been manufacturing, proofing and selling to UK and overseas customers, some beautiful bronzed guns all proofed for live firing.
“With that interest I have obviously kept an eye on what is going on in the gun trade, and then when the opportunity arose of me having to retire, I saw the job advertised and thought it was something that I would enjoy. And here I am.”
From the GTA’s Georgian office block, overlooking the River Avon, Simon shares the heritage of the association which goes right back to 1891, when it was formed as the Armourers Club. That became the Gunmakers Association, which evolved into the Gun Trade Association in the 1960s.
“The rules just say it all,” says Simon. “We are all here to support the gun trade. We can provide that little bit of external influence on our members’ behalf. “There are three levels I am interested in,” adds Simon. “There’s the strategic level – that’s the gun trade as a whole. Then there is the Association, as an association that collects and supports its members. And finally there is how we run the office in the meantime.
“The easiest one to do is re-organising the office, so we have done that by introducing new IT. We now have a proper management database for the membership, which allows us to provide a better service. That has been a real step forward and the staff are loving having responsive IT that does what they want it to do.
“At the Association level, we have got a lot going on. Some of it is designed to improve the benefits package for members – so when you become a member of the GTA you will know what you are getting. You’ll get the political representation to protect the whole trade. You’ll get tangible benefits too; discounts on insurance and access to advice that is very important for UK businesses, cyber threats, exports and so on.
“Right up at the trade level, there are things that the association can do to help the trade overall. We want to be able to promote the gun trade, through more events and shooting shows, game fairs and overseas exhibitions,” Simon explains.
Despite setting such diverse targets for the GTA, it is clear that the new strategy is coming together. Simon confirms that implementation has started, and is breaking new ground for the association by targeting new channels of communication. “We have to identify what is important for the gun trade in terms on protecting it and then promoting it. If you are talking about ‘protecting’ and ‘promoting’ then you are looking at two very different target audiences. So identifying your target audience, and making sure we are communicating with them on the right channels is critical.
“If we want more young people to come into shooting, and to do so safely, then we need to be talking on their channels. That is, not handing out pamphlets – it is doing stuff digitally and using the right role models to talk to people.”
With this in mind, the GTA are launching their new website soon and will be engaging on various social media channels in the New Year. Whether encouraging youngsters to do more shooting or ensuring they have the required skills to do so safely, Simon says the GTA are ensuring they are having the right effect. “Events are important,” he adds.
“We are working with The Game Fair to try and increase the experience so that it is not just a retail event but a classic Game Fair experience where you can see more, learn and develop your skills. “The nature of the gun trade is that we have lots of small businesses. So most members of the GTA are small businesses. Now they can’t all talk to each other, but they can talk to us,” Simon explains. “And we can then represent them and the issues that they have. “I am delighted to report that shooting organisations all work together with the British Shooting Sports Council to try and have a co-ordinated approach to how to engage with the decision makers in London or Edinburgh.
“That co-ordination gives us an overarching voice, but at the same time the GTA is there to specifically represent the interests of the gun trade. So if you have a small business that is involved in guns, shooting, shooting grounds or whatever, we are there to represent you. Those trade aspects are really important for us to get across,” Simon emphasises.
The Gun Trade Family
He warns: “There is a slight danger, if you look at the challenges in the contested environment over guns, that any one individual might feel slightly overwhelmed. But we are all part of one big family in the gun trade and we can support each other. “We can provide them with advice that they won’t necessarily have at their fingertips, and we can provide benefits and knowledge in a way that perhaps they don’t have time to do on their own.”
As an Association steeped in history and tradition, Simon says: “We are happy to keep the good bits and celebrate the past but there is a lot we need to update.” “I’m a real forward thinker. The GTA has historically done a lot to protect the trade but we must also promote. promote. We have our own exhibition company that takes British companies abroad to IWA in Germany and SHOT in America, which has the capabilities of promoting exports.
“I am particularly interested in providing an opportunity for small companies to come for the first time by giving them a very affordable package to bring a product and a poster and be exposed at these big exhibitions. I want Britain to be exporting.”
As well as taking new and established companies, the GTA are also going to be offering ‘test-and-see’ opportunities, where for £600 you can have a business opportunity to present yourself in front of the world’s traders and develop your business abroad. Getting the membership together for a unified voice is key in these early stages. “I am very open for conversation and I need the feedback from the trade – what they want the association to be doing,” remarks Simon.
“My personal email and number are all over the GTA website and emails. “We don’t have huge resources but we are all about the trade – from the Gun Trade and for the Gun Trade. We are here to support jobs and businesses; not just shooting.”
The good news of a revamped Gun Trade Association seems to be spreading. “We are delighted to welcome back some great names to the Association. In December Lyalvale Express, Helston Gunsmiths, J-P Daeshler and Richard Stork have returned. We must be moving in the right direction and doing what the trade needs us to do?” Simon suggests.
To stay up to date with the latest GTA news and to become a member, visit gtaltd.co.uk