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Apr 30, 2018

The bushcraft and survival business is booming for Heinnie Haynes

James Gregory, responsible for Heinnie Haynes marketing and web content, talks to Mark Hayhurst about the online-only business and their future

With the rise in the interest of bushcraft and survival, Heinnie Hayes have been at the forefront of supplying enthusiasts with the tools and equipment they need.

The Cardiff-based business was established in 1996 as an online retailer specialising in the sale of collectors knives.

Over the years, the business has grown steadily, which has allowed vast expansion to the range of knives, tools and equipment that Heinnie Haynes now supply. The Heinnie Haynes range still includes knives, from the basic everyday tool to the once in a lifetime, top of the range hand-crafted masterpiece.

All clothing items are hard wearing, useable kit, for tactical professionals in the field or for the weekend in the countryside. Heinnie Haynes sell everything needed to kit out your EDC pack, from fire steels to sharpeners, and flashlights to watches.

Now, 20 years on, Heinnie Haynes have a dedicated warehouse and team of staff located in Barry, Wales.

Heinnie Haynes’ James Gregory said: “ Managing director Bruce Bollington set up the business in 1996 just as the dot.com thing was going nuts. He started it from his attic in his own house. He started selling multi-tools such as SOG, Gerber and Leatherman that kind of thing – nothing else. And then he discovered the knife market and then that’s when the business moved into survival and bushcraft.

“Our site has become the place for the more committed outdoor enthusiast – not your weekend camper with a gas stove. Knives and multi-tools are 50 per cent of the business but because of the controversy over knives we have diversified into bags, clothing, flashlights and that kind of thing.”

The business began to diversify about ten years ago, shortly after it was set up.

James said: “Bruce spotted that high-end knives were a good seller and there were big margins in that area. And so then we discovered that there were related areas to that that people were willing to spend on quality kit.

“And that is the hallmark of Heinnie, everything is top quality kit. A lot of the clothing we do, TAD Gear and Kitanica for example, the jackets sell for £800. It’s proper, full-on quality stuff that you wouldn’t find in the high street.

“It’s always been about that and it’s the same with anything that we do. We do have a bargain range and we sell a lot of it at a lower price range but the quality has still got to be good.

“We occasionally have things we have seen and ordered in, look at it and go ‘oh no that just can’t go on the site - it’s just not up to standard’. We are all enthusiasts ourselves and we can say what’s good and what’s not. So we can convey that to the customers as well.

“Often we have had recommendations from customers as well. They have seen items and they ask if we can get them in. Often we can, if we can get a supply chain going, then we do and it’s often quite successful. So it’s a good relationship we have with our customers.”

Despite being an online-only retailer, Heinnie Hayes pride themselves on also having the personal touch

James said: “Unlike many similar business, we do take a lot of orders over the phone because people ring up and ask for recommendations and want a bit of insider knowledge. It’s a very straightforward process to order online but if they want a bit more information then we are sitting on the end of a phone waiting for their call.

It’s always been Bruce’s ethos that it needs to be a bit more personal and if you give someone a good shopping experience then you do find that people come back.”

And Heinnie Hayes are discovering that the market is definitely changing and expanding.

James added: “It has become much bigger and the interest in outdoor activities and bushcraft is massively bigger than it was five years ago really.

“There is a desire for bushcraft out there, and I think people like Bear Grylls and Ray Mears have just filled that desire really. People wanting to get back to a simpler way of life. I guess we are all knocking ourselves out week after week, so to be able to go out in a tent with the bare necessities is quite a freeing experience. It’s taken hold of large section of society and its just meeting that need.

“I think there is greater access to outdoors – the wild camping community is massive now. There are obviously issues with that but there are still areas that can be used for that kind of activity. There are still places you can go like Brecon and Dartmoor and obviously Scotland has different laws. But there are still places you can go, even if on a smaller scale.”

However, there are a few things, that as a business, Heinnie Hays will have to overcome – especially in the now sensitive area of knife sales.

James said: “Nowadays one of our biggest sellers is our UK-friendly carry knives. These must be a folding knife that is both non-locking and has a cutting edge of less the 7.62cm (three inches).

“There is also new legislation that might be coming in banning sending knives through the post. That may have a big impact on what we do. The courier services would take on the responsibility of checking when delivering.

“There’s no laws been framed yet but there has been a consultation period which has come to an end. We are waiting to see what the outcome of that is going to be. We may be able to sort something with couriers but until we know exactly how it is going to work we just don’t know.

“But it could have quite a significant impact if the couriers need to able to prove the age of a purchaser of a knife in person.

“We have never had a problem because we have always done things absolutely by the book. We have got systems in place to make sure that underage people can’t get the knives. However, there are bigger retailers, mentioning no names, who have failed miserably. But it is the people like us which will suffer having done things properly and the bigger sellers will get away scot free.”

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