Westley Richards & Co. – A Company and its Character.

American troops, Buna, New Guinea Campaign, World War II.

My Father, a Veteran of WWII combat in the Pacific Theatre had a few sayings and was not one to suffer fools. He could best be described as a very gentle man. Four amphibious combat assaults will apparently teach one much about themselves. At thirteen, I lost him too early. It is a strange phenomenon that we continue to learn from our parents long past adulthood, and even after they have gone ahead. There seems to be to be a certain imprinting that takes place and endures.

Hunting in the great depression

He had many sayings, which were as a practical matter his philosophies. He lived by them without much, if any, variation or discussion. One of these sayings I often think of and find can be applied to business dealings and the contingent relationships. “When all is said and done, let more be done than said”. I never met my Grandfather, he had passed early as well, but my Father spoke of what he learned from him in tough days during the American Depression. They fed themselves and family, gardening, hunting small game, and fishing. I hope that I have those qualities in my character.

Character can exist in many things and manifest itself in many different ways. It can make up and distinguish an individual, group, or nation as to how they conduct themselves and behave; it can separate distinguishable things into categories; identify a nature. It can separate things by its essential elements or traits; it can be a set of qualities that make a place or thing different from other places or things.

A good friend of mine for some thirty five years and a knowledgeable gun lover of the highest order just recently returned from a three week tour of Scotland, Ireland, and England. He had reserved a good part of the last week of the trip to visit London Gunmakers and a few dealers he was familiar with. In our conversation I expressed to him that I would like to make that exact trip. His response was, “Don’t. Instead see the tourist things in London, the famous Gunmakers are a waste of time, and no fun. I felt like I was at my in-laws”. This statement did shock me just a bit. He went on to tell me that he went into one of the most famous makers, at a most famous location and of three employees, not one, spoke even a single word to him. He is a good sport and can find humor in almost anything, and left the subject alone after the comment, “I suppose they would have taken cash, but they didn’t ask for it”. I actually found this hard to believe yet he assured me his account was accurate. He went on to tell me about his experiences at a couple of the other famous makers and felt it was a little better, but not by much and he just did not feel welcome. He came away with the impression that because he was dressed comfortably for a full day of activity that he was somewhat disqualified at a glance. He tells me that his experience at some of the dealer shops was an altogether the opposite experience, telling me what he saw and may follow up on. This man does not have a pretentious bone in his body nor any “chip on his shoulder”. If he is right, that he was dismissed just on his casual appearance a big mistake was made. This gentleman can impact an order book in a serious way if he so chooses, and likely has time for the wait.

PurdeyThe magnificent facade of James Purdey & Sons. 

I do feel that this is an extreme example and at least hopefully not the norm. In full disclosure I have not made the trip, so have not had this experience personally at the London locations. This was not the first time I have heard this, but this time from a most reliable source. I have experienced it in a different environment at the large shows of SCI and DSC in the United States, admittedly not so extreme. The very nature of these shows is a little more relaxed. The puzzling thing that has occurred to me on many occasions is that I have looked at a maker’s guns and walked away without having either been taught anything about their particular guns nor have they solicited any questions or business. Maybe I am just lucky to get to see their guns or need to wear a suit.! They are not doing anyone favors by letting them look at their goods. Isn’t the purpose of being at these shows, for lack of a better description, an attempted outreach to new customers? This approach is baffling to me.

This seems to me to be a relationship model, maker to customer, which is completely inverted. It is at minimum in my opinion an organizational character problem. If in the previous account of my friends experience the front line sale force will not make contact, certainly there is little hope of anything more. The periodicals that I read which are both American and English are full of very well done, slick ad copy. These ads do give you a sense of what a company can do, at least for someone! This perceived ‘stuffiness’ is I am convinced at least one of the reasons there is a healthy used or secondary market in English guns. Of course there is the favorable pricing, immediate delivery, but I am suspect that it is also to avoid this stuffiness!

There are exceptions in my experience;

rigby-heritage-rifle-marc-newton-of-rigby-with-the-sci-donation-rifle-stock-blank-in-the-rigby-workshop-where-the-gun-will-come-to-lifeMarc Newton in the Rigby Workshop.

I believe over the last three years at DSC that Mark Newton, MD of John Rigby & Co. has recognized me, if not by name, and made an effort to answer any and all questions and go as far as to sit down and take a few minutes to have a friendly visit. They set their space up in a manner that facilitates, and invites this. This seems to me to be the purpose and value of being there. From what I can see they are on to a good thing, and I for one wish them well and greatly appreciate the way that I have been approached. I believe that they, “get it”.

I do believe, and this from personal experience, that Westley Richards is the standout in all phases of service and customer care and I hear this consistently from friends of mine who are clients. They also have great advertising content, with excellent photography, but this is not the end of it. They show a diverse catalog of new and used guns, along with restoration services, traditional in-house made leather goods with custom one-off capability. There is also a comprehensive retail side of clothing, foot wear, etc. It is approaching impossible to thoroughly cover all of the in-house capability that Westley Richards currently have. Even with this large offering of goods and services this is still not the end of it.

While this is all outstanding, it goes much deeper than this. There is a transparency that you will not see anywhere else and much of it displayed on The Explora. I think Ross Seyfried said it best in a previous post, “those in the workshop understand old things and their history”. Westley Richards staff know and understand the historic legacy and standards that comes together to form the character of the company. Because the folks working there gain an understanding of the company’s history and where it came from they gain an insight into its character. Those in leadership know that this understanding is just as important as the technical and trade skill competency. Should a project’s complexity require it, advice is available to a client not only from experienced and qualified manager of a particular department but from the owner of the company. I am sure it could be found at the smaller boutique makers as well. This same advice may exist at other makers and I am just not aware of it. If so and you find this opinion offensive; my apologies. I do not think though that so much knowledge across such a broad spectrum of products, guns, and rifles exist anywhere else. Not to mention used guns and restoration capability. It goes beyond sales, yes that is an element, but it manifest itself more in the manner of consultation and a way of doing business.

Where does this come from? It comes from knowing the company’s history. It comes from a family’s investment, dedication, and toil in a company through good and bad times. It comes from Walter Clode knowing the company’s history, where it came from, all the way to the turn of the last century and beyond and spending time in the land where many of the companies guns were sold and lived, repatriating those guns to be given a new life. This knowledge and experience being passed on to Simon to steward this legacy and at the same time moving the company forward as conditions require yet not forgetting the past and acutely understanding the character of the company. This cycle of work, failure, success, adjustment, and work builds character. The character of Westley Richards is one of perseverance, doing the best work that they are capable of doing, and being in a position to consult clients in a manner that gives the customer confidence. The strength and competency of the individuals who understand the history of a company, when in a collective creates a company whose core competency as a company then becomes one of character. When the day to day work and customer contact is being conducted in the context of a constancy of purpose, “to build the best gun that we can build”. When the leadership is making decisions in a cycle of continuous improvement, not forgetting the history and hard won character of a company. All of this separates, distinguishes, and creates a window of transparency into a company. I believe that knowing who they are is the strength of Westley Richards.

I believe they are very much a company that exhibit, “when all is said and done, let more be done than said”.

Gary Duffey

11 thoughts on “Westley Richards & Co. – A Company and its Character.

  1. Gary, I really enjoyed reading this post and I’m sorry that your friend received a frosty welcome at gun rooms that i believe to exhibit some of the best craftsmanship in the world. A great shame.
    I would just like to echo your words about Rigby & Co, after meeting them at Dortmund show in Germany myself and two friends expressed an interest in the Rigby big game for a moose hunting trip to Sweden and a Namibian safari. We were invited to a range day and treated to test shooting a full range of Rigby rifles, we met a young gunsmith, Jamie, who spoke very highly of the way he was treated and his passion for the job was nothing short of infectious. I never bought my Rigby, instead opting for an older second hand Mauser that just fitted me perfectly and in a more “Sweden Friendly” calibre.
    However, days like the range day i enjoyed with good friends and enjoyable company are not forgotten. When the need arises and the situation allows ill be certain to be back in touch with them.
    It is certainly on my to do list to visit the Westley Richards, I so enjoy reading these posts and I’m also the happy user of some of the leather products they make in house.
    Examples to the rest of the trade that we can only hope they follow!

    Andy

  2. Great Story! I could tell a very similar story about a man in a high end jewelry store, not necessarily dressed in tier 1 clothing, but had more money in his pocket than most of the locals could have made in a year. A potential big sale was lost. Your comments about these historical gun makers are dead on based on my limited experience. I met Marc at DSC two years ago. He engaged conversation with me like we were old friends. He and another Rigby employee I can’t remember, taught me the details of the double and single square bridge models. I had ordered several minor items from the Rigby web site, maybe two months earlier. I had not received any type of response, I mentioned it to Marc. When I returned to my hotel room that afternoon, I had an email waiting, from a lady at Rigby who advised me she was preparing my order!
    In a couple of weeks or so I will be going to John Rigby and Westley Richards. I hope to see Marc and his crew again, and hope to meet Simon for the first time!

  3. Interesting-I had the same experience on my trip to England a couple of years ago, from the London builders. After which I visited Westley Richards where I was treated as though I was a customer and not just a nuisance. I think that having a hands on owner at the helm of the company makes huge difference. The captain of a company leading the proper way, Simon sets a great example for his employees to follow, and his team follows his lead in his exact same manner… with the utmost in professionalism. My hats off to the Best team in the British Gun Trade!!!!

    BTW- by the time I finished at Westley Richards that trip. I had ordered a takedown Bolt gun in .425, Double rifle in .577 and a small bore 28g Shotgun. The ole story of never judge a book by it cover, was certainly the case!!!

    In Christ
    Vance,

  4. A very famous fishing tackle company had a similar attitude in their shop in Pall Mall. They are no longer there. Take care craftsmen of Britain, choose your salesmen with care!
    Visiting Westley Richards in Birmingham is how it should be done.

  5. Not to take anything away from Westley Richards, but my experiences visiting the London gunmakers this past spring were quite different from those noted above. I was quite casually dressed, a typical tourist in khakis, a goretex rain jacket and a Tilley hat (sorry about the hat but I am a retired Canadian and it was cold). Anyway, with the exception of William Evans where I got a hearty “What can we do for you today, Sir?” when I descended to the gun room downstairs, I was acknowledged with a nod at first at the others and then treated with grace and enthusiasm when I asked questions and to handle some guns. As an aside, I much preferred the older guns, both in appearance and that indescribable “feel”. The only place where I was first totally ignored, and then felt poorly treated was the London “Gallery” of a famous Italian maker. Maybe It was too close to closing time.

    Anyway, before I came home I bought a fifty year old William Evans boxlock ejector in beautiful condition, from the WE shop. I had asked about their records and when the gun was shipped to me, copies of the various ledger sheets documenting the build (on a barrelled action bought “in the white” from Webley and Scott for £17!) and sale were enclosed. Prices have certainly changed since 1965! Overall, excellent service all round.

  6. I have worked in London for over 30 years. Very occasionally I will make a foray into a high end Mayfair shop of some description. It is rarely an enjoyable experience. This is usually down to the attitudes of the sales people. Unless you are a ‘celebrity’ (my goodness, what an awful cult that has been built up into) or dressed to look like Princess Grace (who I always thought lovely, incidentally) then they appear to be highly reluctant to fawn over you. Perhaps we should be grateful!

    My dress has always been a bespoke suit and silk tie, highly polished black shoes (ex Army!), top pocket kerchief and a covert coat in winter. All very traditional. But I still get this feeling of inferiority when I reluctantly walk into one of these shops, very much due to the staff. They always seem to look down their nose at one and never engage in pleasantries or conversation. I am usually reasonably outgoing and tend to get on with most folk, so I do try.

    My rambling point here is that perhaps we should not expect the Mayfair gun shops sales people to be all that different from their neighbouring peers. They probably all rotate jobs between themselves anyway. I have been into Purdey’s and H&H dozens of times, though usually for a specific reason or to see someone in particular. I have spent whole mornings or afternoons in the Long Room. In these instances I have always been treated most courteously.

    However, there is no excuse for what amount to plain bad manners. One would have thought sales people in Mayfair do the job because they like and get on with others. I find it rather shameful that fellow shooting enthusiasts coming to our country, often with high expectations and excitedly to visit a revered name in gun making, leave so disappointed.

    I’d like therefore to apologise on behalf of UK shooting enthusiasts to all those coming from abroad who have suffered at the hands of indifferent Mayfair staff. I do accept that I have made some sweeping generalisations and that there are exceptions. Let us hope their example is followed more often in the future.

  7. Alas, a potential customer can be ignored and/or treated poorly on this side of the pond as well as ‘over there’ to employ a phrase our soldiers used for two world wars. But from all accounts, snobbishness has been perfected by the Mayfair crowd and it isn’t at all new.

    My anatomy professor the late Dr. Floyd Foltz had a major NSF grant for studying comparative cerebral spinal fluid and a license to shoot anything he wanted with Ker & Downey in the early 1960s. He wanted a used but not abused large bore double rifle and shopped the London makers. One clerk replied to his query that “If you haave to ask the price, you probably can’t afford it.” He found what he wanted in ‘Bundukis of Nairobi’, if I recall the name correctly.

    I too, appreciate the congeniality of Simon Clode and I am grateful to all of you who contribute to his blog. The very best wish I can send you all is found in Numbers 6:24-25.

    Miles

  8. Ha – that’s funny. I’ve experienced a bit of that on Audley street. And what do all those shop clerks do, anyway. Very strange.

    BTW: A couple years ago I was at the Southern SxS here in the U.S. One of the UK makers was there, and the owner was representing the company.

    He had several guns out on his tables. I tried to talk to him about them, but he had zero time for me (even though he was free). I swung back to his setup later in the day, and this time he was just plain rude.

    I’ve seen the same owner at a couple other shows, and his demeanor is always the same.

    Gregg

  9. A good article, and I can echo the sentiments to some extent. I’ve yet to have the pleasure of visiting WR or meeting Simon, but from contributing to this blog I reckon he would be approachable and friendly, certainly Steve has always been helpful with orders.

    Marc Newton I have met, he sold me my shotgun when he was with Paul Roberts and he is a great guy who deserves his success. On Facebook he is especially friendly.

    Long may it continue!

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