It’s not traditionally a lucrative time of the year for the gun trade, with the game season and ending and the competition season not properly begun. But the British Shooting Show stands to brighten a dull February, providing a weekend’s frantic business to look forward to. But if you’re staying at home that weekend, does that mean all is lost? I asked a few retailers from both ends of England to find out.
First, up north to Charles R. Sykes in Penrith. I asked Tom Rosling what had been selling well. His answer was unequivocal: “Cartridges. Game, particularly, as there’s very little clay shooting around here.” Any particular brand that does well? “We sell about 90 per cent Gamebore and some Eley, but those are about it.”
Charles R Sykes won’t be at the British Shooting Show, but on the subject of shows like that, Tom said: “I’m sure people spend a lot of money while they’re there. The thing is, you can only buy something once, so if you buy it at a show, you don’t buy it in a shop. “Sometimes if you see it there and think about it later, you’ll maybe go to a retailer, but if you do buy at the show, you’ll only buy it once. It’s quite a long way from here, so while quite a few people do go, it’s a bit too far for us.”
Closer to the British Shooting Show’s Stoneleigh venue is Sandwell Field Sports in West Bromwich, where Bob Stanton tells me air rifles have been selling well recently. “It’s been all brands, really, across the board. Shotguns are not bad either – they’ve picked up. “Second-hand shotguns would be good if we could get hold of them – it’s terrible trying to get hold of them at the moment. But new stuff is selling well. Medium-range stock more than the top-of-the-range products – the £600-£900 stuff is going well. I’m selling semi-autos well, but we are a big shop for semis, to be quite honest. We do specialise in the semi-auto market.”
Specialisation certainly appears to be a helpful thing in today’s market. Is that what Bob has found? “Oh, without a doubt, and prices too. That’s a big issue with customers nowadays. “Elsewhere, footwear’s moving ok. We do a fair range of different sorts, from Le Chameau to Seeland, Jack Pyke and all that sort of stuff, which is moving well. Clothing’s steady – it went well before Christmas but it’s been fairly steady since then. “I can’t grumble, trade’s pretty brisk. It’s how I like it – you’ve got to be on top of things yourself, and keep a good stock, and that reflects on the customers, without a doubt. “We work with many suppliers. We’re quite a big company, without blowing my own trumpet, so we can work with a lot of people within the gun trade and in fishing supplies as well. Overall, it’s quite good, and I’m happy. But I think you’ve got to carry stock, without a doubt.” Will we see Sandwell at the British Shooting Show? “We don’t do that one. The only game fair we do is the Midland in September. We have done for many years now – we find that the most important one for us to do.”
A tailored approach to target markets at fairs is what works best for Sandwell: “We’re on Airgun Expo at the Midland so we do tend to target the air rifle side. We have quite a big stand, with a 40-foot frontage, but on Airgun Expo we find that the best thing for us.” Anything else I should know about? “We’re always working on new projects. At the moment we’re doing a lot of customising and tuning of air rifles. At this moment, we’ve got a five- to six-week wait in the workshop before we can tune something for a person we’re that busy. We do specialise in air rifles, but we’re able to go across the board – shotguns, FAC rifles, air pistols, all the way through. With a workshop on the premises we can do shotgun repairs, tuning and servicing, so that’s a large part of the business.”
It sounds like Sandwell has more than one trick up its sleeve. “You’ve got to, without a doubt. You hear some people moaning and think, ‘Why are you acting like that?’ If things aren’t working, you change them, if things are working, leave them as they are.”
Completing the journey from north to south, Ian Hodge Fieldsports in Cornwall has seen business pick up steadily in recent weeks. Ian tells me: “It was dead the week right after Christmas, the first week of the new year, but since then and in the last two weeks it’s picked up very well. “Rim fire rifles have picked up, we’re still selling second-hand shotguns quite well, and Berettas are selling well. Airguns have picked up – we’ve sold more since Christmas than before Christmas, for some reason. Wellington boots, and clothing generally, is ticking away.
“Interestingly, something that has sold well in the last couple of weeks is night vision, which has done absolutely brilliantly. It’s been the generation 1+ stuff, and Deben is the brand that’s doing best.”
With 245 miles between him and Stoneleigh, Ian has perhaps the most detached viewpoint on the British Shooting Show. He said: “It can be good for smaller retailers because it shows all the products. But what we find is people will call up and ask about stuff, get all the details, then go to the show and find some retailers selling it so cheap it’s not worth bothering with, if you follow me. Some are almost giving stuff away.
“We find that before the CLA Game Fair as well. We get a lot of people phoning up about technical things on lights and different bits and bobs, and then they’ll say, ‘Thanks very much, I’ll see if I can pick a cheap one up at the show.’ We do go to the CLA quite often, and stuff is being given away almost at trade prices. It annoys me, because that’s all some people do – they’ve got no business rates, no rent, no insurance, and just trade on the shows. Obviously then you can sell stuff a bit cheaper because you haven’t got the overheads.
“We get people phoning up saying, ‘Oh, it was only this much at the show last week, and you’re selling it for that,’ and it looks like we’re making a fortune – and we’re not, because our overheads are greater. At the shows you know there’s going to be people there buying the stuff, whereas we’ve got to open the shop every day whether somebody comes in or not.”
On a brighter note, Ian concludes: “We extended the shop last year, and we’re now nearly four times as big. We might be doing a big open day in the summer, but we haven’t finalised that just yet. We did have one in October, and that was fantastic – we had about 550 people here.”