British summertime is an unpredictable creature, but how are sales holding up? Rose Newman finds out.
The ever-changing weather has meant unpredictable business for many of the gun traders we spoke to this month. “It goes in fits and starts,” Exeter’s The Gun & Sports Shop tells me. “We’ve not seen enough sunshine to bring all the fair-weather shooters out of the woodwork so far, but that’s British weather for you!”
Last year was the second wettest on record, with heavy rainfall and flash floods causing havoc across the country. And with the coldest spring in 50 years, 2013 isn’t getting off to a good start. In fact, meteorologists have warned that Britain may be in the middle of a 10-20 year ‘cycle’ of wet summers thanks to cyclical warming of the Atlantic.
It seems that garden pests have paid little heed to the rain, however, and many traders reported a rise in sales of cheap spring guns. “It’s a very seasonal thing,” Sandwell Fieldsports of West Bromwich tells me. “People will come in for a cheap springer to dispatch a rat or squirrel they’ve seen in the garden. We’ve sold three SMKs today already.” There are similar reports coming in from most of the retailers I speak to. “The cheaper end always sells well,” advises Drapers Airgun Centre. “It’s good for pest control – and there are a lot of them around this time of year.”
This seems a logical deduction – more pests mean more shooting – but is there anything else that’s selling well this month? “Air rifles and shotguns,” George Bates of Stafford tells me. “It’s all down to the weather – summer seems to be getting started at last. At least 70 per cent of our customers are hunters, so a bit of sunshine is always good news.”
And it seems the promise of summer is making itself felt further a field as well. In Berkhamsted Ronnie Sunshine’s is doing brisk business. “Airguns are selling unusually well,” they tell me, “and bushcraft products are on the rise too thanks to the brighter weather – knives and so on.” It’s a similar story up in Leeds, where Swillington Shooting Supplies tells me that business is picking up as we move toward payday. “A lot of our customers are target shooters,” they add, “and sales patterns tend to follow competition season – winter and summer leagues and so on.”
But sales trends seem to be geographical as well as seasonal. Sportsman Gun Centre has three branches, and notices a difference in each. “The majority of customers in our Newport branch are target shooters, whereas we get more hunters in Exeter and Dorset,” they tell me. “Obviously this makes a difference in sales, but Air Arms and Weihrauchs are doing well across the board.
The second hand market appears to be in particularly good shape at the moment. With Britain still feeling the pinch of recession, it seems that the lure of a bargain is tempting many shooters away from new purchases. “We just can’t get enough in,” The Gun & Sports Shop confides. “They fly right off the shelves. In fact, of the last 10 guns we sold, only one was new!”
Nearly all of the retailers I speak to report a booming trade in used guns. “We’ve seen a huge rise in the number of people wanting to trade in their guns for cash rather than part exchange,” Bradford Stalker Limited tells me. “A lot of people in the north east have been hit hard by the recession and need the money.”
The rise of internet sales has proved a bit of a challenge for second hand dealers in recent years, with new regulations allowing for the purchase and distribution of used guns over the web. Country Sporting Guns of Lincolnshire tells me that online sales are a growing problem for small businesses. “We have to buy used guns quite cheaply just to make a profit, and it’s impossible to compete with online dealers without overheads. There’ll always be a market for selling face-to-face, and we can still sell bargains, but now that you can just set yourself up on line and send things through the post things are a lot more difficult.”
But although some traders bemoan the loss of business, many find that they have more than enough to get by on. “Anything we get in goes straight back out again,” Ronnie Sunshine’s tells us. “It’s a buoyant market.” Elsewhere, retailers are finding other reasons to be optimistic. “Business is picking up after a quiet start to the year,” C & H Weston’s of Brighton tells me. “Buyer confidence is improving, and there’s less doom and gloom on the political front. Mervyn King has retired as governor of the Bank of England, and the IMF are calling to stimulate the economy – people are hopeful again.” And with Chancellor George Osborne this week declaring that Britain is “moving from rescue to recovery,” it does indeed seem that the light at the end of the economic tunnel is visible at last.
“Business is excellent,” Rayleigh’s Airgun Centre tells me. “We’ve had to put in a bit of extra work – financial incentives, lifetime guarantees, a great website – but things are going really well. We have some big target clubs locally that send business our way, and a lot of people around here have land to shoot on, so nothing stays on the shelf for long.”
This is excellent news after a tough few years for traders, especially when it seems that customers are gravitating back towards the higher end of the market. “It’s either end of the price scale that’s selling well at the moment,” Ibstock Guns of Leicestershire tells me. “We’re shifting a lot of better quality stock – Daystates and Weihrauchs especially.”
And what of that summer staple the game fair, I ask. “We always go to the Midland Game Fair at Weston Park,” Sandwell Fieldsports tells me. “It’s an excellent weekend and great for business.” Other retailers are similarly keen on the last of the Countryman Fairs. “We usually go down to Weston Park,” Allcock’s of Stourport on Severn tells me. “It’s convenient as it’s in between seasons. We often struggle to get to the CLA as it’s on a Sunday and we’re busy with fishing.”
All in all, while business might not quite have hit its holiday-season highs yet, the dealers I spoke to see no need to panic. Spurts of good weather provide enough sales to tide over the rainy days – and who would have expected anything less of a British summer!