We pay a visit to probably the UK’s biggest shooting retailer to find out more about their growth and the brands they now distribute
When Gary Lamburn purchased The Sportsman Gun Centre in 1993, the business was in transition. The deal for the mail-order gun store was completed for less than the value of your average European-made rifle.
Now the company is turning over millions and spans three of the largest shooting superstores you’ll see anywhere this side of the Atlantic, in Exeter, Dorset and South Wales.
We meet him in the Exeter superstore, which opened in 2007, covering a vast 22,000sq/ft with 6,000sq/ft dedicated to the retail showroom, presently holding 4,500-5,000 guns at any one time.
If you add in the Dorset and Newport stocks, they have somewhere in the region of 7,000 gunsto choose from. Now that’s an armoury to be envious of! It’s certain any rifle shooter could find what they want amid the racks – though, of course, Sportsman is more than a retailer.
Gary explains: “We are just having a company restructure. Sportsman Gun Centre, as everybody knows it, will remain as our main brand for the retail shops. But we are launching a separate stand-alone company for our trade division. Hopefully at the British Shooting Show we took our first steps to working more separately as wholesalers.”
There, they didn’t sell a single item themselves but instead partnered up with other retailers to act as a supplier of their brands – which include Steyr, Strasser, ATA, Kofs, Nightforce, and the most recent addition, Battenfeld Technologies, which includes names such as Wheeler, Tipton and Frankford Arsenal.
“We had a 40-foot container arrive from them!” says Gary. “It is marvellous because if you look through their product range, they cover everything. It is nice to get it all under one umbrella.”
There’s no doubt that Sportsman is becoming something of a one-stop shop for the rifle shooter looking to load up on firearms, optics, clothing and accessories; Gary cautions that gaining distributorships is not easy but the product of years of work.
“Getting our shotgun brand, Kofs, was four years in the making. We recently took on Smith and Wesson after two years of being vetted. These are not quick decisions – they’re slow burns.”
Next up on Sportsman’s calendar is a visit to The Game Fair as a major exhibitor. It’s clear he values the event and hasn’t lost sight of what it’s about.
“It is the duty of wholesalers to do shows like the British and the Game Fair – they are fundamental to the industry. It’s all about getting the punters through the gates to support the retailers that are there.” Despite the rise of the internet, it’s clear that Gary’s keen on the traditional basics, selling the right products in a face-to-face setting.
And on that note, it’s time to take a tour of the shop and its huge selection of products, covering everything a sportsman might need – from knives to NV, scopes to stalking boots.
It’s a true wonderland for rifle shooters and keeping it stocked with the latest and best products is, it has to be said, a mammoth task, but Gary is clear about how to ensure it gets done: “It’s all about hiring the right people.”
Who? Sportsman Gun Centre
Apple Lane, Trade City, Exeter, EX2 5GL
01392 354 854
Long Ash Lane, Wardon Hill, Dorset, DT2 9PW
Unit 3 Maeglas Retail Estate, Newport, Gwent, South Wales
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