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Epic Armoury Unlimited: A bold business model

Par Vanessa Cotineau

Patrick Penning created the North American division of Epic Armory in 2010. Previously a blacksmith and owner of Fantasy Armor for 15 years, the saturation of the leather craft market led him to reevaluate his options. His experience in the Live Action Role Play (LARP) has made it clear that there is a gap in the industry. Epic Armoury Canada (then Unlimited) has earned his place against all odds, blooming for the past six years, with its eyes on the future of its business, but also that of the LARP community in Quebec, Canada, and even in the United States.

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How did Epic Armory begin in Canada?

We owned a LARP and for the purpose of self-financing, we decided to introduce products of the Epic Armoury brand, whose head office is located in Denmark. At the Montreal Medieval Fair, we quickly realized that there was a marked lack of quality in the industry at these prices. We sold $ 10,000 worth of merchandise in a day and a half, opening our stand on Sunday morning with only 2 swords to sell. We tripled the size of our booth the following year, but still had a long line of buyers. Our sales were so important that our supplier asked us to become the official seller of Epic Armory in North America.

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What is the place of Epic Armoury Unlimited in the LARP industry in Quebec?

There were two types of equipment previously: home-made – players from raw materials – and handcrafted, custom-made or high-end manufactures. There was no middle ground. While it could cost nearly $ 1,000 to a new player to equip himself, Epic Armoury can now do it for less than $ 500. In a sense, we have made LARP more accessible.

However, in Quebec, customers are loyal. To compete against Quebec companies, we worked hard to build loyalty to our brand, to explain the appeal of our products without denigrating those of the competitors. We are trying to put emphasis on a notion that is lost in today’s retail business: customer service. From this point of view, we also offer guarantees, not in terms of years, but depending on how the product is maintained by the buyer, should it come back to us two years later.

We have had surprising growth. There has been a tremendous enthusiasm in the LARP industry over the past few years. We arrived at the right time, with the right product, in order to bear this growth that we barely provide.

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What were the reactions to your arrival?

At first, the craftsmen had fears, but they quickly realized that we do not produce the same products and that we are not targeting the same type of customer. Our type of customer is one who seeks an excellent value for money. Custom orders remain the prerogative of craftsmen. We can therefore equip ourselves with a base in our home and then, depending on the evolution of his budget and his involvement in the world of LARP, turn to tailor-made confections.

During the first two years, we put the emphasis on explaining our concept to our Quebec customers. We were seen as a Walmart, mainly because our products are made outside of Quebec. But nowadays, what is not? Even the raw materials of craftsmen come from elsewhere. So we were told, “Yes, but you do not bring labor to Quebec.” But this is not true. We provide work for the shops that keep our products, their employees and we pay a lot of import taxes. We bring in money, but in another way, just like the shops that increasing their sales can hire more workers. Our margin of profit is very low compared to sales in stores, since Epic Armoury Unlimited is above all a distributor based on sales volume.

Distributing in stores is the way we have chosen. Creating a shop only based on Epic Armory products is not ideal. Although it may seem weird, having our products in addition to those of other craftsmen in a same shop enhances sales for all. The diversity and novelty of other craftsmen are necessary for the prosperity of the industry and the growth of the community.

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What is your vision for Epic Armoury Unlimited?

Epic Armoury goes on the road! In collaboration with a partner company, Dragon Crypt, we are going to tour the fairs in the United States. We are going there to develop a new market. Their clientele is roughly a hundred times that of Quebec, but they need to be informed about our products and what we can bring to their activities. The New York Fair, for example, has more than 250,000 visitors, but no foam swords are sold, other than wooden swords. LARP in the USA pay less attention to the concept of decorum, and organizations have an irrational fear of latex products because of the risk of deadly allergies, yet minimal. They will accept natural rubber masks or prostheses, but prohibit latex weapons, although less risky in this regard.

For my part, I am going to visit the stores in Quebec, but also across Canada, to know their needs and to advise them. We were able to increase Imaginaire’s store sales by almost 40% in one year by providing them with sets, changing their display and training their salespeople to our products and warranties.

Another project is the discussion forum I created for the classification and regulation of weapons. By classifying the weapons according to their characteristics – length, construction, degree of security, etc. – LARPs would be better able to identify those that are acceptable or not in their events. At present, each LARP has its own standards, which is not obvious to suppliers. The manufacturers do not all have the same criteria of creation, and the customers do not know what to buy in relation to the type of LARP. It is not a question of highlighting Epic Armoury and excluding the others, but of setting up a tool beneficial to all.

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