Some years ago, Mick Bell moved to the Borders to follow his passion for fishing. His rod and tackle retail ventures boomed initially, with products imported from China, but fishing in the area began to decline.
Now, the fish and tackle business is decimated. Two fishing shops in the area have closed in the past two years. Gun shops haven’t suffered nearly as much as fishing tackle retailers, but it was a twist of fate that gave Mick the inspiration to transition from angling gear to shooting glasses.
“I first came across the glasses in east Asia about six years ago whilst I was out there with my fishing rod business,” says Mick.
“The technology was developed in Japan, but manufactured in Shenzhen province. The original licence was sold because the initial designer was worried he would be copied and he wouldn’t see a penny of profit.”
“As far as I’m concerned, there are only two patents worth having, an American one and a Chinese one. The Chinese are viewed as having a very lenient view on copyright but it’s not true and I would argue that a Chinese patent is worth 10 times a US patent – so we did a deal to take the whole thing for a licence fee agreement.”
The initial product that Mick found featured flexible acrylic lenses. “You could punch a pencil though them,” Mick remarks.
Initially designed for driving, Mick saw the value in the solution to a problem that faces game shooters who are out in all weathers. After years of development – including an upgrade to shot-proof polycarbonate lenses – Komodo Pro Glasses launched at The Game Fair in 2017.
Seeing Is Believing
“They had to tick all of the boxes,” says Mick. “I had a business plan in place. I planned to sell direct for two years and then in year three or four we would start to branch out to the trade. I didn’t intend to go to the retail market until next year – but we now have 15 stockists, all of whom approached us.
Mick is now looking to implement this business model across the UK. He explains: “I’m actively looking for four new retailers within the crosshairs of London; North, South, East and West. We will also be looking for new retailers in other counties through a mixed media strategy and we will be doing a postcard campaign soon.
“We are going to limit our retailers to one per county, except in exceptional circumstances, say in London, Birmingham and Manchester. Most retailers stock the same kit, from one shop to the next, no matter where you go. Adding this exclusive product creates a catchment area for the gun shop.
“I’m sure that it won’t take us long to fill up a few of the remaining counties because we are also looking at expanding into mainland Europe, especially France and Spain,” explains Mick.
Komodo Pro were in attendance at all of the game fairs and exhibitions last year, and found that consumers were absolutely committed to the products. “It’s a no-brainer for anyone that shoots driven game,” adds Mick.
“There is, dare I say it, a large gap demographically between grouse and clay shooters, and our target market won’t worry about spending £185. Over Christmas we were even selling them in pairs. Wives were buying two at a time: one to gift their husbands and a second pair to take skiing or wear while driving.”
As well as using 2019 to target a distributor and optician in every county, Komodo Pro will also be launching their Second Gen model. Designed with the help of shooting instructors, the new versions will feature a reduced ‘pinprick’ sensor and lenses that are 25 per cent bigger.
No doubt we will get out first glimpse of the Second Gen Komodo Pro at upcoming trade shows, and Mick is keen to learn from the product’s popularity at other events.
“The best part of The Game Fair was that we had sold our entire stock by Friday, so we had the rest of the weekend to visit the nearby gin shop and cigar stall – and I’m ardently a fan of both. But we kept an eye on our stand, so people could see our model pair and get a feel for them.
“Our problem last year was getting the supply. We had run out of stock three days before The Game Fair so had to chase the factory. We had the new stock from Guangdong within three days but the couriers were holding things up, so I had to race to Edinburgh Airport and beg them to let me have them, or else I would have had no stock on my stand at all.”
Since then Komodo Pro have had a major reorganisation of supply, taking on what stock they can, up to 100 units. For retailers, the minimum order quantity is five pairs. Mick argues: “Retailers are already under high pressure without being offered low trade margins.”
Komodo Pros retail for £185, with the current network already making the most of it, as Mick says: “Reid Outdoors are taking five pairs a week, but realistically a retailer should be able to sell 10 pairs a month – that’s £850 profit.
“The really interesting thing is the difference in mindset between some retailers,” Mick continues. “For example, when we take on a stockist, we supply them with a mannequin head and a flexible display light for them to display the product. I checked in on one store and they had put lipstick on the mannequin and given it a Hitler moustache. In addition, the glasses had been trodden on and looked cracked.
“On the other hand, I went into a shop to buy cartridges recently and the guy couldn’t have done a better job if he tried. I was dressed like a tramp at the time or else I would have asked him to stock Komodo Pros there and then. When I go back I’ll take some with me – I think he would be a fool to turn them down.”
Mick confesses that he is not entirely sure how the revolutionary tech works but explains the concept. “They are polarised to UV400 so they work to block out glare but it’s how they work after that is interesting. It uses a photovoltaic cell, which charges the glasses, but also allows a stepless change. It happens so fast, you don’t notice it.
“Behind the energy cell sensor, the microchip is converting the electric pulse into two wires into the lenses, and there’s an oil within the lens which then works its magic. There has been a similar form of tech that ran on batteries – this was trying to get away from that and harness solar power.
“The changes now are minor, just tweaking them slightly, because they already achieve their main objective of allowing you to shoot into the sun. It is utterly unique; there is nothing on the market like it.”
There are 30,000 people who shoot game in the UK, and with over 1,000 pairs sold already, Komodo Pro have already achieved 3.5 per cent market saturation.
Nevertheless, Mick hopes to sell double that amount in 2019: “If we can sell 2,000 units – 1,000 to the trade and 1,000 direct – I’ll be a happy boy and it can help me fund my shooting.
“And if our ad campaign doesn’t seem to be working, I think I’ll jump in the car and start aggressively targeting gun shops,” Mick continues. “It’s been a learning curve but the one thing I know is that customers won’t argue about the price – they simply need to be introduced to the market.