Just Cartridges – Interview with Charles Bull
Q: Where were you born and educated?
A: I’m an Oxford boy who went to the Dragon School, then boarded at St. Edwards and finally did a degree in Estate Management at De Montfort University in Leicester.
Q: What were your interests at school?
A: Shooting, sport and geography (in that order). I played First XV rugby and have always loved cricket although I was pants at it.
I was also a keen cross-country runner – it was probably the country bit that made me keen.
Q: When did you get interested in shooting?
A: Now we’re talking! I got the bug as a nine-year old at the Dragon School, which had an indoor 25m small bore rifle range.
I say indoor, it was actually an old air raid shelter with water dripping from the ceiling and was bloody miserable in winter – the master in charge nurtured my interest and I really took to it.
At boarding school I carried on with the rifles and captained the shooting VIII.
I also did clay pigeon shooting and now, funnily enough, I teach pupils there how to shoot clays, and have done so for the last ten years.
Rifle shooting sparked my interest but shotguns, clays and game shooting are now my passion.
Q: First job?
A: I had jobs when I was at school! My dad was a little old fashioned and believed that his children should stand on their own two feet, but this has stood me in good stead and encouraged a good work ethic.
It also put a bit of money in my pocket to indulge my burgeoning interest in shooting.
I have been a milkman, fishmonger, farm worker and construction worker.
Q: What next?
A: After University, I didn’t fancy estate management and the entrepreneurial sap was rising, so I bought myself a van and set up a building business that eventually employed more than 20 people.
I then started Just Cartridges as a sideline and that also continued to grow.
In 2009 at the beginning of the current recession, I decided I had had enough of the stress of running a construction business for 20 years and decided it was time to get out and concentrate my efforts on Just Cartridges.
It was a bit of a life choice!
Q: When did you start Just Cartridges?
A: In 1999, almost by accident. Our local gun shop had closed down and we were all wondering where we were now going to get our ammo from.
One pal suggested driving a long way to pick up 10,000 but this seemed a bit of a pain to me, so I rang Lyalvale Express and persuaded them to sell me a pallet.
I then sold these to my chums and it just grew from there.
Q: How has your business developed?
A: It has grown incredibly. In 1999 I saw the start of the internet and how consumer buying habits were about to change for ever.
I bought the domain names for Just Cartridges and set up a website which generated a huge interest, and still does.
In 2002 I set up the distribution part of the business and now this accounts for more than 80% of the business.
From small beginnings storing just 30,000 cartridges, we now stock about 1.1/2 million which moves quickly – in the busy season we shift more than 250,000 cartridges every week.
I always try to stay one step ahead of the competition and do it by embracing new technologies that will improve our business.
For instance we now have a new website with clever things on it like a search facility and quick order system; we have also developed a specific mobile website for smart phones and now have a useful App for phones available in the iPhone and Android platforms.
Q: What problems have you faced?
A: The biggest problem we had to surmount was the legalities of remote purchasing. I spent many years and a lot of investment in getting this watertight, but we are there now and even have police authority to conduct our business in the way that we do.
Some other dealers have tried to replicate our system but I have to say that theirs are not strictly legal in all cases.
We have invested heavily in tailored software that carries out security checks over and above that required by the law and we are currently looking at even fancier software that could enable us to complete the whole transaction in cyberspace!
Q: How did you build your distribution system?
A: Good question – with a lot of effort and hard work! The problem with cartridges is that they are largely made up of lead, which by its nature is heavy.
We have managed to get the carriage rates down and in fact have been charging the same amount for some years now, even with the fuel price increases.
The only other problem is that we have to use carriers that are registered to carry Class 1.4S (which is the explosive element) and there are not many of those around.
Q: How supportive have the cartridge manufacturers been?
A: Some and some is the short answer. Lyalvale Express have always been very supportive, but let’s just say that some of the others initially required a little gentle persuasion.
For instance Gamebore initially would not deal direct with us, so we had to buy them through a third-party, which made life a little tedious.
However, they finally dragged themselves in to the 21st Century and we are now their biggest UK customer.
Q:What do you most enjoy about your job?
A: Developing the business. I spend quite a lot of time on strategy and marketing.
Our database currently has around 10,000 customers on it but when I lie in bed at night, I think about the other 1/2 million shotgun certificate holders who have not used us yet.
I wonder how I can persuade them to try our service.
In my view there is still plenty of room for significant growth of the business.
Over the 12 years that we have been in business, it has grown by 15-20% year on year which, given the current economic climate, has got to be good by anyone’s standards.
At the moment, we add around 1,500 new customers per year and we have a very good repeat business rate of more than 65%.
As you can probably tell, I also like crunching the numbers – gives me a good handle on how the business is faring.
Q:Any changes in mind?
A: I would really like to change the gun trade’s generally conservative and old-fashioned approach to business.
Like it or not, technology is here to stay and it will not be long before everyone will research, shop and pay for everything with a smart ‘phone. If anyone doesn’t believe this, either their head is firmly stuck in the sand, or they inhabit a different planet.
As a trade we need to move with the times and work to ensure that our business models comply with legislation and benefit from the advancement of technology.
I would like to see dealers working together towards a common good (and profit), instead of fighting against each other.
Competition is healthy, but sometimes working together can produce better results for all concerned.
Q:Do you find time for shooting?
A: I am passionate about game shooting, but I find it hard to get away from work in the season, as it is our busiest period.
But it has to be done as they say and for me driven grouse is the pinnacle of the sport, it really gets my juices flowing.
Sadly I can’t afford to do it very often, but I have been making the annual pilgrimage up North for nearly 30 years now and I have met some very good and generous friends along the way.
Out of season, when I have more time, I really enjoy embarrassing myself at FITASC.
Q:Who, or what, has been your biggest influence?
A: No single person has influenced me but I am inspired by entrepreneurialism and anyone who has made a success out of business like Richard Branson and Philip Green.
The single biggest “thing” that has influenced me has just got to be the internet – what an incredible tool, truly life changing for everyone in the world.
I would love to meet its inventor, Tim Berners-Lee, he surely must be an interesting chap to have to dinner…
Q:Any future plans?
A: Do more shooting of course! Business wise, I have plenty of plans for the future, but they are all commercially sensitive.
You will just have to watch this space!
Tel: 01865 300066