Practice makes perfect. Preparation for a professional target shooter ahead of the Olympic Games involves an average of 100,000 rounds of ammunition over the four year cycle.
With about 10,000 athletes training and competing in international competitions and qualifiers ahead of the Games, it means that in one four-year Olympic cycle, around one billion quality .22LR rounds are needed. And Eley's market-leading Tenex products are used by 80% of professional target shooters.
"Whilst the Olympics only lasts for a few weeks once every four years, target shooters want to train with the best products on the market to maintain momentum before reaching competition stage," says Andrew Lane, CEO of leading ammunition manufacturer Eley. "Most athletes take a break after the Olympics, but once training budgets are confirmed and the qualifying season approaches, there is sustained demand from athletes for elite ammunition products in the run up to the next Games."
Eley was founded in 1828, and is the world's leading manufacturer of .22LR rounds for the target shooting market. Based in Sutton Coldfield, the business has an industry reputation for unrivalled accuracy, and sponsors a number of elite athletes that Andrew and his senior team regularly back in competition.
"We sponsor the Great Britain shooting team as well as the USA and Serbian federations, along with 50 other top athletes from teams across the world. This endorsement from the world's best athletes, is critical for driving demand in the underlying target shooting market.
"In a noisy market the only way to demonstrate quality is by winning at the highest level of competition, and to do this we focus on encouraging elite athletes to use our products. I attend at least three to four major events each year to gather honest, real-time feedback from those athletes who know the demands of the market, which helps shape the evolution of our processes and product range."
Eley makes its Tenex .22LR rounds at a factory in the West Midlands, the country's manufacturing heartland. Reflecting the international demand for its premium products, the business exports 94% of its ammunition to over 80 markets, including the USA, China, Australia and Europe.
Innovation and diversification remain at the forefront of successful long-term growth for manufacturers, and under LDC's stewardship, Eley has introduced three new products and moved into new markets.
"Biathlon is a new market for us, but one that fits in well with our ambitions and business model," says Andrew. "The competition is part of the Winter Olympics, and we've just committed to sponsoring the French team, the world's leading biathlon competitors. Moving into this arena opens new sales opportunities for us in the period when our summer Olympic Games athletes aren't competing. The next stage in our product diversification plan is to move into air pellets, with the aim of providing elite shooters with the world's finest products."
With an increased product range and demand from a wider pool of elite athletes, improved production capacity has been high on Eley's radar for some time. In a move that will further boost the region's credentials for driving economic growth and creating highly skilled job opportunities, the business has just completed the acquisition of land adjacent to its current base on the Minworth Industrial Estate.
"This expansion is not something that would have been possible under our previous management structure," added Andrew. "With LDC's support, we have secured additional space that allows us to store and process more materials on site, resulting in an increased production capacity. We produce 200million rounds of ammunition per year, and this uplift in capacity will help us deliver on our plan to drive profit growth and support the ambitions of more elite athletes."
The business currently employs 150 staff, and as the new site takes off this number is expected to increase. To combat the sector's skills shortage, Eley runs a successful apprenticeships scheme and recruits staff from other industries as diverse as automotive, pharmaceutical and lock making, and even the Post Office, drawing upon their experience to add extra insight and ideas, whilst retraining them as effective munitions manufacturers.
Eley's organic growth and new product development strategy has resulted in an annual turnover of £18million, but it's the medal podium where its success is really measured. Andrew is motivated by winning, and at the London 2012 Olympic Games, 14 of the 18 medals presented to target shooting athletes went to those using Eley's Tenex rounds.
"Winning medals and competitions is what keeps us motivated and allows us to grow. It's the clearest evidence that the quality of our product is better than our competitors and we are relentless in the pursuit of this standard.
"At Rio we want to beat, or at least match, our London 2012 medal haul, to cement our reputation for unrivalled accuracy."