With 188 years of experience, bullet-maker Eley Hawk is aiming its products at the modern gun enthusiast. Frank Holwell interviews managing director Eduardo Hernando.
When 18-year-old skeet shooter Amber Hill steps up and takes aim for Team GB at this summer’s Olympics in Rio, an extra loud cheer might be heard emanating from the vicinity of Minworth, Sutton Coldfield.
That’s because the teenage shooting sensation will be using cartridges manufactured in the heart of the West Midlands by Eley Hawk, one of the oldest and best-known cartridge manufacturers in the world.
Hill is one of Eley’s brand ambassadors, and someone who the company has sponsored since she was 12. “She was spotted as a natural from a very early age when she first picked up a gun,” says managing director Eduardo Hernando, who joined Eley Hawk from Spanish parent company Maxam in January 2015.
“Amber’s a natural talent, but one that has been nurtured over the years. If she wins gold, she’s going to give us part of her medal – maybe we could just bite a little bit off!” he jokes.
Founded in 1828, Eley Hawk develops, manufactures and tests all cartridges at its factory on the outskirts of Birmingham, where 40 staff proudly continue the heritage of a famous brand renowned and revered in the sport.
Producing more than 300 different types of cartridge, which belong to 20 different ‘families’, the factory makes up to 90 million every year for the estimated 600,000 Brits who regularly shoot live quarry, clays or targets.
“We are very much a vertically integrated company,” says Hernando. “Our three main competitors buy components and put a cartridge together from different sources. We control everything from the origin of the powder to the production of all components, and we extrude the tubes. All that integration allows us to get the economies of scale and maintain stability and the quality.”
Maxam is an industrial company with five strands, which includes manufacturing civil explosives for mining and road building, large calibre munitions and wind energy.
Eley Hawk, which commands a UK market share of between 20 and 25%, is part of the Maxam Outdoors division, and accounts for around 15% of its business. Rather than rest on its laurels and 188-year heritage, Hernando and his team quickly set their sights on the future, updating everything from the famous shield logo to its catalogue – and the small matter of launching five new products within the first 12 months of joining.
The hard work has paid off, with turnover hitting £10m in 2015, equating to an impressive year-on-year growth of 13%. Eley’s Pigeon Select range has seen an incredible 150% growth in just six months.
“What we’ve done in 12/ 13 months is pretty intense – I now have some grey hairs – but it
has put us back in the game in a big way,” says Hernando. “The good thing about our business is it’s not focused on clothes for children or drinks for adults – it’s broad, but that’s also the challenge, to try and connect with all of them.”
He adds: “We have 188 years’ experience in loading cartridges, that’s an asset, but at the same time we don’t feel like an old fashioned company living on its reputation, so we had a lot of work done on bringing in new products, marketing them in the proper channels.
“Our average customer is an adult who has been shooting for many years, however this adult has an iPad, is keen on magazines, they are well informed, so we needed to provide what our customers require through the medium they require.
“The new products are much more user-focused rather than marketing-focused. We need to make sure we have gone through the cycles of development with a small focus group of consumers by our side, so we take on board their opinions and attitudes and feelings toward the product. It’s a social process and lived with passion – we’re far from being simply a commodity producer.
“This is an on-going race, and even when you achieve good results, you need to carry on. There was a three-year plan set and there are two more years to continue on that. The major focus for this year is to carry on gaining that acknowledgment in the market through our products, marketing, presence – the ‘recipe’ is listening to the customer, and developing products and solutions alongside them.
“We shoot, but we spend more time here and with our families than in the field, and I will have my opinion which may be different from the majority of customers, so we need to
listen to them.”
In terms of brand awareness, Hernando says Eley is number one in the UK, likening them to Bentley or Jaguar in the luxury car market. Sales-wise, they are in the top two. “With regards to Europe, the UK is one of the most competitive markets, but I also think it’s very healthy,” he adds. “You see that when you go to shows and to championships. The amount of people entering or attending, it’s massive compared to elsewhere.
“It’s also healthy because of the number of companies producing products, however it’s an immature market in that it’s not high tech – we’re manufacturing cartridges in a sport that has been going on for centuries.”
Next month, Eley Hawk will meet hundreds of its customers when it sponsors the clay shooting lines at the inaugural UK Game Fair, which takes place at Stoneleigh in Warwickshire from 22-24 July. “It was sad to see the Royal Show fail a few years ago, so we’re hoping that this will take on the mantle and amplify and grow that,” says Hernando. “You have all the manufacturers in one place; you can have a go [at shooting], eat, buy, enjoy, bring your kids – it’s a very welcoming atmosphere.”
While it was an intense first year in the UK for Hernando, the Spaniard has found time to explore his new surroundings with his wife and two young children, enjoying the likes of Sutton Park and the wealth of fine-dining restaurants around Colmore Row in the city centre, including Michelin-starred Adam’s where he celebrated his wedding anniversary.
I really enjoying working here; all around Birmingham, you can see the city is growing,” he comments. “There are cranes everywhere, buildings being refurbished; the [HS2] high-speed train is coming in a few years – there is life, money, investment and people; that’s very positive.”
UK Game Fair 2016
Leading brands and personalities from the world of field sports and the rural life will be at the inaugural UK Game Fair, at the National Agricultural and Exhibition Centre, Stoneleigh, from 22-24 July.
A showpiece for the country pursuits community, the UK Game Fair will be a celebration of the British countryside, with a key focus on first-time tasters of shooting, fishing and working dogs, through its ‘Experience’ campaign.
Over 500 exhibitors and more than 100,000 visitors are expected at this new three-day event, which will focus on shooting, fishing, hunting, gamekeeping, estate management, rural crafts, working dogs and artisan food, with celebrity chef demonstrations, tastings and competitions.