Stan Piecha talks to the team behind a major success story in the trade – German Sport Guns.
German Sport Guns (GSG) has proved that, providing you have the right people in place, all with a shared vision for producing fantastic quality products within everyone’s price range, it is still possible to set up a profitable company in the shooting industry.
Most of the major global weapon manufacturers have a long history in the trade so it is quite remarkable that GSG – which has made a huge impact thanks to its innovative range of replica guns – was only started a decade ago.
In fact, this month it will officially celebrate its 10th anniversary.
But, while the company is relatively new to the industry, the men who founded the organisation have years of experience behind them.
Dietmar Emde, Manfred Nienhaus and Michael Swoboda were all well versed in the ingredients needed to make good replica firearms because they all held leading positions at Umarex!
They all respected each other’s skills and often discussed the possibility of starting their own company.
In 2002 the three wise men decided it was time to act upon their dreams of going it alone, handed in their notice and set up their own business in Arnsberg – the town where Umarex is based.
Dietmar was placed in charge of developing and constructing the guns, Manfred became the marketing and sales manager, while Michael, a qualified gunsmith, put his masters degree in business administration and import management to good use.
Unlike the state-of-the-art premises of Umarex the trio moved to an old, tiny factory built at the turn of the last century, which had originally been used for the production of light fittings.
It had a small office measuring 30 square metres and 450 square metres of storage and manufacturing space.
Using their contacts and knowledge of the industry, they started by distributing a few brands in the airgun and airsoft business but it wasn’t long before they clinched the exclusive German distribution rights for one the largest manufacturers of airguns in Europe – Gamo.
The contract was quickly followed with the exclusive distributorship for all Cybergun airsoft products for the German market.
At the same time, GSG received a request that would really put it into the field of manufacturing – development orders from Sig Sauer and Gamo.
Its task for Sig – the international company that makes the weapon of choice for use in many of the world’s leading military and law enforcement organisations – was to start the development of the Sig Mosquito in .22 calibre.
The work for Gamo involved producing a new air pistol.
A rocky road
However, the road to success was not without its complications, as Michael explained to Gun Trade World: “The initial difficulties we experienced were obtaining our licence to deal with and to produce guns. But even when we overcame that hurdle, then financing the business became an issue.
“We started with only a small credit line without any loans, which meant that, in the beginning, our suppliers were helping us with long terms for payment. On the invoice for the first shipment of airsoft BBs was written: ‘Customer can pay when they want!’”
After completing the development of the Sig Mosquito – which obviously greatly impressed the company – it received an order to produce the pistol and quickly realised that its premises were too small to cope with the growing order books, so moved to a warehouse with 600 square metres.
Outgrowing its headquarters is a recurring theme in GSG’s short history for, in 2007, it moved to the industrial area of nearby Ense-Höingen where it had 2,000 square metres it could use for production and distribution.
It was from there it shipped its first-ever container of GSG-5s to the US, which turned into an instant success for the company.
The military look-a-like of the famous Heckler and Koch sub-machine-gun caused a big hit among connoisseurs of replica guns.
Even collectors who had every calibre of ARs and AKs and other military-style weapons admitted the .22 rimfire GSG-5 had the fun factor that none of the other models could match.
Production of the model went into overdrive, with several thousand being made each month. To cope with demand it was forced to open another plant and, when it also started making several weapons such as the GSG 1911, the AK47 and the Sturmgewehr 44 (StG44), it again became stretched and this year opened plant number three.
Michael added: “This new location houses all the CNC machines and we have three shifts in operation for our workforce. The redundant area of Plant One is reserved for the assembling of the new StG44, where we have several thousands in back orders already.
“It is quite remarkable to think that in 2002 we started with three people and at the end of the first year we had generated a turnover of €1.3 million and expanded the team to 12.
Now, 10 years later, we have 140 employees with an expected turnover of more than €20 million for 2012.”
Michael continued: “I feel one of the strengths in our distribution area is the close relationship we have with our suppliers worldwide and always knowing what the market is looking for. We were the first company to develop a tactical looking rifle – the GSG-5 – in calibre .22 and later on the GSG-522 and with the Kalashnikov – one of the most recognisable brands – we can offer a complete line of military-style firearms.
“The Rimfire GSG-1911 is one of the finest replicas in .22 and manufactured according to military specifications. It means interchangeable parts and, for all the shooters who already own a 1911, the chance to customise their pistol, and that has given us a real advantage over our competitors.
“When it comes to new ideas we listen to our customers, either in Germany or the gun shops in the US. It means we take notice of the people who sell our products.
“In May we started producing the legendary Schmeisser StG44 with the message: “German History Meets German Engineering.” It is a perfect replica gun and comes in a wooden box identical to the one issued to the German army during World War II. Its beautiful patina makes this gun unique and a must for all enthusiasts.
“We have been very fortunate that the global recession has not affected us in the least and this year will be our best ever. Even if we expect a cool down in the gun market in the US – especially after the elections – we are well positioned for next year with products under the GSG brand or OEM products.”
To mark its 10th anniversary, GSG will be offering a limited number of real gold-plated GSG-522 PKs and AK 47s… totally fitting for a trio of businessmen who have shown the gun trade they really do have the Midas touch.
German Sport Guns GmbH
T: +49 2938 978390
F: +49 2938 9789031