I am sort of ashamed to say it, but I never really look forward to January. For the past 30 years it has meant the show season in USA, 3 large shows in a row, my finding out the ‘state of the gun trade’ and what the New Year holds for our business, it is my nervous month. I have always felt that how we do during this one month trip pretty well reflects how the year will pan out. It is not an exact science, but a pretty accurate guide. If you can’t sell guns in America you’re going to find it very difficult everywhere else!
This year I left England with the knowledge we face ever increasing obstacles, hunting in Africa is threatened, probably more so than at any time in my career. There is the Cecil saga which has left many concerned about being publicised, there are trophy importation bans, there is ISIS which leaves many concerned about travel in general, the Oil price is on the rocks, it is an election year, the stock markets are tumbling, the list goes on and the news is not good. It was with all that in mind that I arrived in Dallas on January 5th for the start of my stay this year. I was concerned to say the least!
However, on the positive side, I do always always look forward to January for other reasons, it is a time when I get away from the factory to say hello in person to all the people I email and phone during the year, it is a time to meet old friends and a time to make new ones. There are familiar faces at every event, people like me who have been covering this circuit for years, and whilst everyone is competing for the business they are all extremely generous with their offers of help and assistance to set up, transport and take down exhibits. Whatever else it may be considered, the hunting community is a very robust one, a dedicated group of generous, enthusiastic and friendly people and my sincere thanks go out to everyone who made the this past month both memorable and possible. On top of this in the positive mode, English driven shooting is going from strength to strength, it is also one of the best Quail seasons in Texas on record, so all is not lost!
So how have these shows developed over the years, have they got better or worse for the consumer? I am not sure I can actually answer this fairly but my view is that they have probably got worse and for one reason only, their size. Understandably the organisers want more stands and exhibitors, it is their purpose to make money for their organisation, in the case of Safari Club the annual convention accounts for a huge amount of their income, would I be wrong to say 75%? I don’t think so but would be pleased to be corrected. The result of this is that anyone is accepted, you have the money and the donation and you get space, hunting related or not it doesn’t seem to matter. There was one booth selling second hand saddles in Las Vegas and I felt they would be more appropriate at a horse show but then horses are used in hunting so perhaps…..
My feeling is that the 2 main shows Dallas and SCI are becoming diluted, the likes of Bass Pro and Cabela’s I don’t feel bring anything to the table, they sat on the sidelines for years and when the show got popular they barge in, throw money around, take a load of space and bring no new blood as customers. Customers, visitors and new members is what the shows need and it should almost be a criteria for new exhibitors acceptance, are they going to bring new blood in the aisles or just dilute the existing visitors. I could go on for ages about the decline of the quality of exhibitors, but it is not my place to do so.
The shows are so big now it is unmanageable for most people to get around with ease, this is after all a retail show not a trade show, it is supposed to be pleasure for visitors and little I heard from my visitors suggested that it was. The motor cart people had the easiest ride literally, probably the only people able to cover the whole show in a few days and the numbers of those is certainly on the increase, traffic police will soon be needed!
So what do I conclude after a month in USA and how did our year start off? Thankfully it went very well, way beyond my expectations, we took our expected amount of orders for new guns and rifles, which this year had a definite lean towards the small bore shotguns. These orders are now hard to win and we compete heavily with all our English competitors for the business, most of whom are present at these shows.
Westley Richards will continue to offer an excellent quality product at the most competitive price possible and this combined with making the experience of making a bespoke gun enjoyable and fun seems to keep the customers coming back. Times are hard and quality really counts.