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It's Showtime! Dallas Safari Club & Safari Club International 2024

January is traditionally the season of American hunting shows. As usual, they drew the best of British gunmakers. Now we are all un-packed and back home, it is time for reflection.

The majority of British gunmakers are small businesses, turning over a few million pounds each year.

By way of comparison with other household names in the industry; companies like Midway USA, Cabellas, Colt and Beretta we are financially insignificant. What makes a handful of relatively modest British firms punch above their weight in terms of global recognition is history, allied with tradition, artistry and handcraft excellence.

Over the years, everyone has tried to make British type guns to compete with the British but, let’s face it, nobody has ever managed to crack that code and deliver the aesthetic, the soul and the inside-and-out quality of the best British makers.

Nobody ever gets it quite right. If an exception is required to prove the rule, then Hartmann & Weiss may now stand-up (with due respect to Peter Nelson please).

The hunters, shooters and gun collectors of the world have had a love affair with British design, quality and functionality since the mid 19th century. That love affair continues but like any romance, it requires effort to keep the flames of passion burning.

That is why so many of those small British gunmaking businesses invest significant sums of money exhibiting at American shows every year.

The likes of Safari Club International and Dallas Safari Club are experts at squeezing money out of attendees and exhibitors alike and a presence at the shows is a major cost that has to come off the bottom line of the company accounts at the end of every tax year.

Not only must exhibitors pay a fee to be there, they have to make significant donations to get a decent position and the extra costs ring the tills every time any small service or adjustment is required; like power or cleaning.

So, what it is that makes the likes of Westley Richards, Boss & Co, Rigby, Purdey, Holland & Holland, Frederick Beesley and John Dickson keep spending the money and investing time, effort and personnel to rub shoulders with Texans?

The answer is public relations. Customers like to know you are spending the money, taking the time and putting in the effort to come and see them. A show presence shows commitment and a willingness to invest in the long-term relationships on which successful businesses rely.

Americans seem wary of start-ups or new ventures. I suppose they have mostly seen too many come into view promising the earth, only to disappear 12 months later. They want to get to know you, to stay in touch and form a bond, which has to be maintained. Part of that maintenance involves exhibiting in their back yard.

That being the case, the shows offer us a chance to renew friendships to review project ideas and to solidify conversations by telephone and e-mail into orders with deposits paid and work set into motion.

A lot of deals are sealed face-to-face at the American shows. They have become an essential part of running a British gun business.

Dallas Safari Club and Safari Club International (in Nashville again this year) were the big events of early 2024 for Westley Richards. We had our usual stand, with custom-built, glazed cabinets displaying new, used and historic Westley Richards guns and rifles. In attendance we had Trigger, L.D. McCaa and Diggory Hadoke.

Trigger was taking orders and discussing new ideas for commissions, L.D was showcasing his stock of used Westley Richards models and Diggory was talking to visitors about the records and history relating to more vintage interest, like the Westley Richards .425 magazine rifle on display that was made for F.C. Selous. In fact, it was the last rifle he ordered before he was killed in action in 1916.

The stand was a hive of activity throughout the four days of DSC. The uninitiated may be underwhelmed by the footfall but this clientele is all about quality, not quantity. These shows tend to attract a dedicated, knowledgeable and serious attendee, in general.

Of course, not everyone will have the same interests. When someone in a cowboy hat asks you on the Westley Richards stand "Where y’all out of?” you know he is probably not a devotee of the British gun trade.  However, visitors were invariably interested, polite and receptive when shown examples of what we make.

The network of inter-related industries that converge at these shows is crucial and so much unquantifiable benefit is created by meeting again with professional hunters, outfitters and their clients. Many referrals and recommendations come this way.

What does the future hold? Dallas Safari Club is moving to Atlanta, Safari Club International gained a boost by moving to Nashville last year but with scheduling questions arising for 2025, the proximity of Houston Safari Club’s event and the spectre of something of a face–off between rival shows, which could force many exhibitors to choose between them, we may be witnessing a period of reflection and perhaps even a decline in the power of the shows.

The internet, personal meetings, the increasing concentration of wealth and therefore the shrinking number of important clients to see, all suggest that the big show’s may have seen their heyday. Certainly, the Game Fair in England, which was once a hugely influential and well-attended showcase for the industry has become a shadow of what it once was. The powers that be should take heed.

For us, the January 2024 event was a welcome return to old stamping grounds. We shall see if they continue to prove as fertile as they have been during the last twenty-five years, in those to come.

The Explora Blog is the world’s premier online journal for field sports enthusiasts, outdoor adventurers, conservationists and admirers of bespoke gunmaking, fine leather goods and timeless safari clothes. Each month Westley Richards publishes up to 8 blog posts on a range of topics with an avid readership totalling 500,000+ page views per year.

Blog post topics include: Finished custom rifles and bespoke guns leaving the Westley Richards factory; examples of heritage firearms with unique designs and celebrated owners like James Sutherland and Frederick Courtenay Selous; the latest from the company pre-owned guns and rifles collection; interviews with the makers from the gun and leather factory; new season safari wear and country clothing; recent additions to our luxury travel bags and sporting leather goodsrange; time well spent out in the field; latest news in the sporting world; and key international conservation stories.

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