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Boss & Co gunmaker aims to give expansion a shot

Discussion in 'Uncategorized Threads' started by Joe Potosky, Aug 27, 2008.

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  1. Joe Potosky

    Joe Potosky Well-Known Member

    Jan 29, 1998
    Gunmaker aims to give expansion a shot

    By Bob Sherwood, London and South-East Correspondent

    In a nondescript, unsigned building in a west London suburb, an engraver is carving the figures of three nudes on to a metal block. It will take him more than 500 hours to complete the work.

    But this is not art. It is a shotgun. And when it is completed, the engraver must repeat the design exactly on another gun to provide a matching pair.

    Every part of the gun is handmade, from the barrels to the trigger action and the stock carved from walnut. This is a “best London gun”, revered as nothing else in the rarefied upper echelons of game shooting.

    English handmade shotguns are still widely considered the best in the world with demand outstripping supply both for antique examples and new made-to-measure guns.

    While the most famous names are Purdey and Holland and Holland, the third of the “big three” London gunmakers is less well known, and the only one still independently owned.

    But for many of the shooting cognoscenti, and for those who can afford it, the small Boss & Co factory in Kew is the ultimate location for shotgun production.

    Started in 1812 by Thomas Boss and famous for producing the first reliable single-trigger over-and-under shotgun, the company was producing as few as two or three guns a year by the 1990s. Now the company is expanding again, up to a point.

    Graham Halsey bought the company six years ago with his brother Keith, a shooting enthusiast. “It was one of those amazingly rare opportunities when you can get an unbelievably luxurious top-end brand that has a history and do something with it,” he says.

    He shut the Boss shop in Mayfair, where the gunmakers worked in a cramped basement, and moved to the new factory. Production has increased to about 20 shotguns a year, with most customers ordering a matched pair, and a few rifles.

    Only clients who order a Boss gun get to visit the factory, where they specify the design, fit and choice of engraving. A typical over-and-under shotgun with the classic Boss rose and scroll engraving costs about £75,000 plus value added tax, and takes up to three years to produce. Extra work adds to the price, so the owner of the gun adorned with nudes is forking out about another £30,000.

    The increase in production has not come from lavish branding exercises, though. “We have taken on more gunmakers to increase production but the demand was always there,” Mr Halsey says. “I want to keep it as a special, understated, almost word-of-mouth, brand, and I don’t think we will try to increase production to any more than 20 guns a year.”

    As with many craft-based manufacturers, the skills base is a limiting factor. Mr Halsey has recruited some staff from a rival, and the company does train in-house with an apprenticeship lasting six years, although some of the gunmakers have been with Boss for decades. “There is a very small talent pool,” he concedes.

    Demand is global, ranging from aristocrats to rock stars, businessmen and Middle Eastern sheikhs.

    Though it is crucial to the brand for the guns to be made by hand in the traditional way in London, Mr Halsey did review the guns to see if they could be improved. After analysis, there were just seven tiny changes to the components.

    Turnover is now about £1.5m and Mr Halsey is keen to lift that to about £3m.

    The company is planning to produce some bolt-action rifles next year, which will sell for about £25,000. However, potentially the biggest development for the company is a plan to produce a more affordable shotgun, offering the prospect of greater scalability and volume.

    The Robertson gun, named after John Robertson, the former Boss factory manager who went on to own the company, will still be entirely English-made but will include components that are more heavily machined in Birmingham to reduce costs. The guns will still be hand-finished and will look very similar to a Boss, although they will not bear the name Boss. The Robertson guns will sell for £6,000 to £14,000.

    There are also plans for a new Mayfair showroom, but it is hard for Boss to build up a stock of guns. “It’s difficult to keep examples,” says Mr Halsey, “because people keep buying them.” This is the third in a series on companies using traditional crafts

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