Despite the old shop undergoing several renovations, Ben tells us the time to move had come. He says, “We had permission to build onto the old shop and extend it, but we realised that even with that it would still be too small.” The reason the guys need extra space is the continued expansion of the business, which is looking at investing more in its manufacturing heritage.
Merlin as an archery business started building bows in 1975, hiring its first employee in 1985. After winning a Midas Business Award for Innovation, it started a move into the retail side of things. Now with 23 employees, and with retail accounting for most of what is keeping the staff busy these days, the team decided they had the means to re-incorporate a larger manufacturing effort. “When we moved into retail,” Ben explains, “we learned a lot about what a customer wants, and how people buy. We learned an aspect of sales that changed our perception of manufacture.”
The bow-building is still going on at the old premises for 12 months, but once some new machinery has been installed at the new location, it’ll all be brought together. About 10 per cent of the space Merlin has is being dedicated to the showroom – the rest will be used for manufacture and storage.
That’s not to say that the retail space is an afterthought though. Keeping the ‘station street’ theme of the outside and location of the new building, extensive glass display cabinets and floor-to-ceiling wall-mounted displays showcase a variety of products for all kinds of archery. Four workstations in the middle of the room allow the customer to see exactly how their new bow is set up and put together. An interesting feature of these is that each workstation has its own computer screen that can connect directly to the Merlin website, allowing a customer to explain what they’ve seen online and show the staff what they had in mind. With retail now accounting for 75 per cent of the company turnover, the website plays an important role, but Ben insists that a good, well-stocked shop will always be necessary. Offering a live stock check, the website keeps the customer fully updated on exactly what the warehouse has in stock, so you won’t make an order and then have to wait weeks before it becomes available. “The only time we’ll take an order from someone for something we don’t have is when it’s clearly marked as a special order,” says Ben, “Otherwise you should be able to know exactly what you’re getting and when to expect it. We believe that transparency is important, and that you shouldn’t take money from a customer unless you can provide that product. There’s a risk we could lose some orders because of this, but it gives our customers that knowledge.”
As well as the shop, there is also a new full-length indoor range. An ideal place for buyers to try out the kit, Merlin reveal they have big plans for opening up the range for use by the wider archery community. Ben explains that they often see a gap in training; that between completing a beginners course and going on to elite level archery, there aren’t many opportunities for archers to get the good-quality yet accessible coaching that will allow them to improve their skills. “We want to address that,” he says, “and make it less elitist.” Some of the ideas in the pipeline include seminars from top-level shooters, equipment setup and tuning sessions, and coaching for club archers of all levels. A waiting area, complete with sofa, is available for accompanying non-archers.
Now the new shop is up and running, the Merlin team will be turning their attention to increasing the manufacturing of their own products. Ben says, “Within two years we plan to have 50 per cent of turnover ‘Made in Britain’.” A huge £75,000 investment in tooling means that production of die-cast risers is soon to begin. Although forging a riser means they are able to be made to a good quality at quite a reasonable cost for the middle market – accounting for their popularity with beginner and intermediate archers – they are very heavy. This can mean that some new archers, and juniors in particular, can struggle with the mass of the bow. A hot-chamber die-cast magnesium riser, however, will be much lighter and more accessible, and is the direction Merlin see themselves going. Having already made the initial investment in the machinery, Merlin estimate they’ll be able to keep the costs reasonable as well as having the flexibility to make both right-handed and left-handed versions of a 23-inch and 25-inch riser.
It’s all go at the moment, but the team are expecting it to get even busier. With stock increasing all the time, Ben predicts they’ll need another five employees in 12 months’ time, mostly associated with the expansion of manufacturing. It’s a lot of work, but the sense of excitement at Merlin Archery is proof they’re not done yet. As Ben puts it, “We aim to be the number one for all things archery. Product choice, service, and facilities.”
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Great Central Trading Park
Great Central Road
T: 01509 233555