Wes Stanton visits a Haywards Guns open day and squeezes a few quick words out of owner Jonathan
It’s a busy Saturday afternoon, and as the car crunches onto the gravel outside Haywards Guns, I spot half a dozen people shooting a mini-compact Sporting just outside the entrance to the shop, a converted barn just off a leafy lane. The car park isn’t full but not far from it, and I stroll past the clay shooters to find Jonathan Ward in the middle of a deal over a gun, flanked by now 21-times World Champion George Digweed. George is a brand ambassador for Haywards Guns, and has had a long, loyal association with John Ward and latterly his son Jonathan. The most successful clay shooter ever comes to Haywards open days each month, giving advice on gun fit and cartridge selection to shop customers.
George has signed a boxful of Haywards Guns baseball caps in chalk, enviously eyed up by some of the youngsters in the shop (and some who are not so young, too). As I stop to chat to George, Jonathan is selling another gun to a customer, and as he finishes the paperwork, I manage to persuade him to take a break for a few minutes’ chat.
Being John Ward’s son, it was inevitable that Jonathan should find his way into the gun trade. He joined the family concern in 1996 when just 16 years of age, working in Redhill until 2000, then moving on to manage Ray Ward Gunsmiths at West London Shooting School until 2006. The Ward family owned the business until 2006, when it was acquired by Dr James Hay – a keen customer of the business who refinanced the company and catapulted it forwards into a new era of success.
Besides the gun trade being in Jonathan’s blood, he has also experienced the top end of retail sales – Harrods. The Beretta concession in Harrods was the first time guns had been sold in the plush Knightsbridge store for decades, and Jonathan had the benefit of Harrods-style training. He’s certainly focused on the customers that come through the door (within eight feet, according to Harrods’ training, you must offer to help).
And, as Jonathan leaves our brief meeting on the sofa to sell yet another gun, I get a sense of why Haywards Guns is working. The guns on sale at Haywards are sub-£10,000 in price – and the customer traffic from the clay shooting community is substantial, no doubt owing to Jonathan being out and about on the local clay circuit (he shoots in AA class for English Sporting, and is a former Surrey All Round champion).
But on top of that is the flow of ideas that come from Jonathan himself. He clearly puts in the legwork at local shoots with flyers and promotion for the shop as well as supplying them cartridges and clays; runs monthly try-before-you-buy days; has a keen sense of the brand value of Haywards Guns, and is clearly focused on getting the name engrained in shooters’ minds. With marketing advice and mentoring from owner Jim Hay, he has access to a whole bevy of ideas. “If the shop’s got no customers, close it and go and shake some hands,” is a principle adopted by Jonathan, which makes lots of sense for a service-based business.
Though the focus is on clay shooting, the shop also has an air rifle range, stocking Air Arms and Webley among others, and there’s expertise on-hand in the form of Lee John, who is pretty knowledgeable when it comes to rifles – they also do Sako, Tikka and Anschütz, and stock a range of centrefire ammo.
“It’s taken us a couple of years to get established,” says Jonathan, “but I have a good backer and we are well funded. The open days we run work really well, and though we have a lot of customers from the Brighton and London areas, I had a chap last week drive down from Lincolnshire because we had the exact gun he wanted.” Jonathan glances at his watch. “Are we done, Wes? I’ve got a shop full.”
And with that, Jonathan goes back onto the shop floor, and sells another customer another gun.
Buncton Barn, Buncton Lane, Bolney, West Sussex, RH17 5RE
Tel: 020 3432 2848
Upcoming open days: 10 August, 12 October, 7 December