EJ Churchill on staying positive during coronavirus

With the World Sporting postponed until next year, EJ Churchill’s Rob Fenwick talks to Jasper Fellows about what they’re doing to stay positive.

We all knew it was inevitable, but it was still a bitter blow when the announcement came that the CPSA World English Sporting and Sportrap Championships were postponed until 2021. Rob Fenwick and his team at EJ Churchill were gutted.

They were well advanced with their preparations for what would be a truly outstanding celebration of shooting. “They were set to be some of our biggest events of all time, with over 1,572 competitors signed up to take part, 20 percent of them coming in from abroad.,” he says. 

“We had planned our entire summer around the Worlds. There’s so much forward planning that has to go into putting on a world-class event with so many entrants. Take the traps for example; Promatic have to have a plan in place at least six months in advance of the event, just to be able to supply us with enough traps for all of the stands.

“Then there’s the issue of staffing. We have to boost our staff numbers so that we have enough people to look after the grounds and competitors during these extraordinary events.

“We had planned to take on three summer term students to help with the organisation, but unfortunately we have had to cancel their involvement. It’s a great shame for everyone involved.”

Rob Fenwick has worked at EJ Churchill for the last 20 years

EJ Churchill have been able to work with many of their suppliers to postpone the event rather than cancel it entirely. Rob says “We had done a huge amount of work on the estate to set the stage for all of our events throughout the summer.

“Fortunately much of our work, and that of our suppliers, can be carried forward until next year. Now we’re just hoping for some lovely weather in July 2021!”

With its own gunsmithing facilities, corporate entertainment company, sporting agency, on-site gun shop and more, EJ Churchill is much more than its World Championship level events.

“What a great business model until the coronavirus came along!” exclaims Rob, adding a touch of joviality to what could otherwise be a rather depressing situation.

“Of course our shooting ground is closed. Every single event, roughly 150 or so, from 1 March to the end of June has been cancelled, and that could easily be extended. The gun shop is closed for walk-ins, and so is the sporting goods store.

“We expect the game season to be hugely affected so our sporting agency is going to have some lean times ahead. Every single aspect of the business has been impacted by this global shutdown.”

The ground had planned its entire summer around the World Championships

You don’t become the director of a hugely successful shooting ground without being a keen businessman. Rob and his team have come up with some smart ways to keep on keeping on. “There are plenty of aspects of the business that we can keep up and running,” he explains.

“We are still doing online sales, with a small team staying at the shooting ground for packing and dispatching products to customers. We’re even selling a few guns virtually through videos and photos that we have been uploading for clients to get a really good idea of our stock and hopefully make a purchase.”

He continues “It’s a great time to commission a gun from our smiths too,
and of course we are able to safely secure any guns until such time that their new owners can come in and collect them with their licenses.”

There are even some parts of the company that are benefitting from the current situation, Rob explains. “The grounds and security teams are still working; they can work on their own, without coming into contact with others, and there’s always a huge amount of work to be doing keeping the grounds looking their best. It can be tricky getting around to all the corners of the shooting ground when we have clients out across the estate.

“So we’ve been able to go out and rake up all the clays and wads and get them in the recycling. We’ve also been giving many of the stands and gun racks some much needed TLC, and repairing earthworks, fencing and edging that had been looking a little worn.

“The estate always comes into its own in the summer, and we will have the place looking better than ever when we are finally able to re-open to the public. We are also taking the opportunity to install Promatic Claymate systems across the estate,” Rob continues.

“Soon we will have over 200 easy to use, automated traps to play with, across seven disciplines, five towers, our grouse butt and more. We are building a shooters paradise!”

More than 20 per cent of the competitors were coming from overseas

“Then there are those projects that always need a bit of work, things that the general public perhaps don’t encounter as often but help the business to run smoothly – like our accounting software or CRM systems. We’re working on updating these, as well as building a brand new website and online shop.” 

Rob also has plans to keep shooters entertained while they are stuck at home. “We have been working on putting together videos for people to watch at home – we employ some real experts here and they have some really great knowledge to pass on.

“This is one way we can continue to pass on their advice, without being able to hold face-to-face lessons for the time being. I have even been thinking about putting together some sort of fun podcast with George Digweed. It will probably just consist of him giving me loads of stick, but it would be a laugh!”

This is Rob’s secret to success. Despite the tough times that we’re all going through at the moment, he’s still able to put a smile on the situation and think up some new ways to keep the business going.

“I hate the current situation we are in, but I can fully understand why the government has called for a lockdown. Personally I think they have been doing an amazing job and the schemes they have put in place will save a lot of jobs. 

“Before we shut our doors I had to address all of our staff and explain our business plan going forward. It was one of the hardest speeches I have ever had to make. I became very emotional – the fear of the unknown is petrifying.

Promatic were lined up to supply all the traps for the Championships

“I have worked at EJ Churchill for 20 years and have built up the most amazing team and a business that we are really proud of. To have to close that down for reasons that were beyond my control was very scary.

“However, since the beginning the crisis our chairman, Sir Edward Dashwood, and I took the decision to be as positive as we can and use this time to our advantage.

“We’ve stayed hard at work doing what we can during these trying times. I have also been able to see more of my children Rosie and Emilia, and my long-suffering wife, Jane. That has been lovely.”

“However, neither I, nor any of the team here at EJ Churchill need any encouragement to get going again once we re-open. We’re really looking forward to seeing the shooters return.

“We can’t wait to show everyone what we have been working on while they have been away – and I think we will appreciate them more than ever!”

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