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- Last updated: 01/12/2016
Family-run Italian business Chiappa Firearms is becoming better known in the UK for its wide range of high quality but value for money lever action rifles and replica firearms. We look into how it is making its mark on British soil.
Originally established as Armi Sport in 1958 by Ezechiele (Oscar) Chiappa, Chiappa Firearms now sells its range of guns in 65 countries worldwide and recorded a 2013 turnover of €35 million. Today the group employs around 90 people, is run by its founder’s son Rino his daughter Silvia, and incorporates several businesses. These include ACP (laser training systems), Kimar (blank, signal and small calibre firearms), Costa Metalli (metal surface treatments such as blueing) and Chiappa Firearms Ltd, based in Dayton, Ohio, which was set up in 2008 to support the company’s key American firearms market.
Chiappa Firearms has come a long way since it was set up by Ezechiele, a visionary who breathed life into the replica firearms market. A passionate businessman with a natural technical ability and a desire to ensure his firearms were historically accurate, he started off working alone at Armi Sport, producing just one pistol model, the Corsair, for the first four years. In 1962 he added the Kentucky pistol and the following year a range of Kentucky rifles, aimed at American customers such as Intercontinental Arms and Levi Arms.
The management of the company was taken over by his son Rino in 1987 with the two working closely together to introduce fundamental changes, in particular the application of modern production methods to firearms production. The automation of the manufacturing processes took place throughout the 1980s and was the forerunner to today’s production facilities that include a new corporate headquarters, which was completed in 2002 along with a development centre for R&D and project control.
In 2007 the company began to restructure its distribution programme for North America with the establishment of a factory and support centre, which provided warranty services, repairs and custom shop services. In 2009 it expanded this operation by moving to a purpose built new facility.
While the USA is clearly a key market, the UK is also viewed as significant. To this end Chiappa Firearms appointed Edgar Brothers as exclusive UK distributor in spring 2014 and has already started to make a name for itself in the UK, as Edgar Brothers managing director Derek Edgar explains: “Chiappa produces a great range of products but because they weren’t being distributed in the UK by a major distributor, it was not a well known brand. Our primary interest in Chiappa was due to its excellent quality lever-action rifles, which are built with incredible attention to detail to the original designs. Having looked at the line at the SHOT Show we saw that the quality was very good and the range was highly varied. The added benefit for Edgars was that Chiappa has fitted into the gap left by the loss of Marlin Rifles so there was a lot to interest us and I’m looking forward to working with the company to build UK market share.”
For Chiappa itself the UK market is expected to be significant as Susanna Chiappa, the company’s commercial director, points out: “The UK market is important and I’m not just talking about the turnover we can reach but also about establishing our name in a country which has a long history of shooting and firearms. We did a lot of research into the UK and into distributors and identified Edgar Brothers as the best so we signed the agreement to work with them just under a year ago. They are already making a great difference and are giving us a great deal of insight into what the UK market wants. This is invaluable in helping us look at developing new products for the UK and customizing existing products to fit the market.”
Chiappa has a wide range that includes replica firearms such as its renowned lever-action rifles, a family of Sharps BPCRs, muzzle loaders, the Rhino range of defence and target shooting firearms, small calibre guns and airguns. UK shooters can choose from a range of around 20 products distributed by Edgar Brothers, including the 1892 lever-action carbine, which has a full length tube magazine, saddle ring on the left of the receiver and a forend kept in place by a barrel band. Chiappa has developed a full a barrel band. Chiappa has developed a full range of 1892 models with four different barrel lengths (12, 16, 20 and 24”) in six different calibers including a take down version.
“The 1892 Lever-Action Carbine, a carbine version of the 1892 model which fits into the classic lever action market, is our best selling Chiappa firearm,” says Derek Edgar. “It retails at a tremendous value for money £890 and is popular for use in cowboy action shooting competitions and target shooting.”
Other popular guns are the new 22 LR 39A, a take down .22 which splits in half at the forend, and the Little Squirrel, a single barrel, single shot foldable smooth bore with an external hammer. “This is the perfect ‘camp rifle’ and pairs very well with Fiocchi 9mm slowburn ammo,” says Derek. “When we started distributing Fiocchi we sold a lot of that ammunition but we didn’t sell a rifle to go with it; this one is already proving very popular.”
Shooters that like guns with military history may be interested in the US M1 Carbine, a lightweight, easy-to-use semi-automatic that became a standard firearm for the US military during the World War II and Korea and even Vietnam. The Chiappa FM1 series is a 22 Long Rifle, semi-auto replica of the M1, featuring a blowback system and an adjustable rear sight, which can be removed to leave guides free for optics mount. The barrel and bolt are made of steel; the trigger guard and magazine are polymer and the action a zinc alloy. Both wooden and black synthetic furniture are available. “We recently tested this model and it shot extremely well. Needless to say it will be a very popular product,” adds Derek.
So what is so good about Chiappa? “The bottom line is that they produce very well made guns,” says Derek Edgar. “I went to the Chiappa factory in Italy recently to see the production process which is state-of-the-art and very impressive so quality is superb and has meant that the reaction to Chiappa from our dealers has been very good; they can see the quality, the good wood fit, and the guns are easy to sell and easy to use; you just take them out of the box and shoot them.”
The heart of Chiappa’s manufacturing ethos lies in its modern production facilities, which feature state-of-the-art machinery, CAD/CAM systems and slick organisation in terms of production processes. The production manufacturing facility in Italy covers some 6,400 square metres and in the USA 3,600 square metres with Chiappa priding itself on 100% in-house production. This includes components being designed using a CAD system, casting using the “Chiappalloy” which has superior mechanical characteristics, machining, finishing and assembly. Finishing includes polishing metal parts by hand or automatically using porcelain pebbles in a machine installed in 2014, and hand oiling walnut gunstocks. Each of the finished firearms is then tested in Chiappa’s 50m-tunnel range at its factory in Italy.
As previously mentioned Chiappa firearms are distributed to some 65 countries around the world but as Susanna Chiappa explains the company is not standing still in this area. “Yes we are well distributed in Europe—especially as we are now targeting the UK market. We also have good distribution in the United States and Canada, and are now focusing on establishing our brand in South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. We are also now targeting South America and Asia, which are very new and at present limited markets. But the UK is key in our minds; we are very proud to be able to say that British shooters appreciate our products and as our partnership with Edgar Brothers is already showing Chiappa Firearms is already making a good impression in the UK market—which is great news all round.”