Six years later he relocated to Maine to launch Cole Gunsmithing and eventually became one of four certified Beretta services centers in the U.S. In 2005, he started offering the “Cole Custom” 680 Beretta, which included upgraded wood and engraving for the venerable over/under in a stroke of marketing genius that helped cement Cole Gunsmithing’s reputation as the top Beretta shop in the U.S.
To this day Cole Gunsmithing is renowned as the “Italian shotgun experts.” Mr. Cole and his team work on a variety of Italian models from mass-market break-open and semi-autos to custom-crafted Fabris with their six-figure price tags.
Rich Cole at the bench in the Cole Gunsmithing Naples, Florida location.
Riding the momentum, Mr. Cole opened a second location in Naples, Florida in 2014. Although the original 3,000-square-foot Harpswell, Maine facility continues performing high-quality gunsmithing, factory warranty work, spare-parts distribution, polishing and bluing, gun and upgrade wood sales, the modern 7,700-square-foot converted warehouse on Shirley Street in Naples proved to be an afterburner of growth.
But then came a surprise. The guy known as the master of Italian shotguns began to hear about and take an interest in the Blaser F3 – which is made in Germany. The Blaser F3 design is quite a departure from the Italian production approach. Cole Gunsmithing has recently become the newest American distributor of the Blaser F3 and F16 shotguns, with its first shipment of approximately 10 Blasers fresh in the Naples showroom. Come January, Cole Gunsmithing expects to send one of its gunsmiths to the Blaser USA headquarters in San Antonio, Texas for training on the technical aspects of Blaser shotguns.
“I have tried to ignore Blaser since we have always been the Italian shotgun people,” said Mr. Cole. “But I can’t ignore a brand that has so much flexibility and seems to be sought after by many competition shooters. The Blaser F3 has interchangeable barrels. The ability to easily access barrels in all four gauges is a highly sought after feature not yet offered by the Italian manufacturers. In addition, the gun design is solid, an overall good value, and the company offers good service. Although our passion for Italian products continues, we feel we must diversify a bit in order to meet the demands of our customers.”
The Blaser F3 Super Sport.
(See the Shotgun Life story “The Blaser F3 Four-Barrel Set is a Quick-Change Artist” at https://www.shotgunlife.com/kw84.)
The Blaser F3 is unique because the single receiver can readily accommodate the company’s 12, 20, 28 and .410 gauge barrels that all weigh 3¼ pounds in the 30-inch version.
“It is a modular design,” Mr. Cole said of the Blaser F3. “You have this tremendous barrel interchangeability.”
Some other shotgun manufacturers do offer multi-barrel sets, but usually require that the receiver be sent back to their service centers for proper fitment. By contrast, the Blaser F3 is “plug-and-play.”
“People don’t necessarily want to send their gun across the country to have barrels fitted,” noted Mr. Cole. “The interchangeability is a real advantage to the consumer as far as I’m concerned.”
The Blaser F3 certainly fills a gap against Cole’s other top clays over/under, the Beretta DT11.
“We’re taking on Blaser because Beretta doesn’t have sub-gauge barrels for DT11,” he explained.
Mr. Cole expects each Blaser F3 barrel set to cost about $3,300 with a full set of factory Briley Spectrum chokes.
“Blaser has been on my radar for years,” said Mr. Cole. “At first, I thought Blaser was a passing fad. I was skeptical about a modular gun becoming successful. I've continue to watch it and the F3 has done so well, developing a following of loyal shooters. A big piece of our focus has always been subgauge barrels, so its difficult to ignore the Blaser F3 with its fully interchangable four-gauge capability.”
The Game version of the affordable Blaser F16.
With Blaser, Cole Gunsmithing is filling a product niche for a quality, modular over/under that capitalizes on their growth in the clays community. Currently, Cole Gunsmithing sells 10 clays shotguns for every one wingshooting model. And to get more granular, Cole Gunsmithing sells 10 sporting clays gun for every trap or skeet shotgun model.
“We know how to head off a lot of problems for customers,” said Mr. Cole. Along with full state-of-the-art gunsmithing and gunfitting facilities, “We have professional sales people and we’ll be a good fit for them.”
Mr. Cole’s business decision to become a Blaser dealer effectively signals a third phase of growth for Cole Gunsmithing following establishment of the Naples operation. Consider phase three a conglomeration of expanded footprint and product mix.
In November, Cole Gunsmithing opened a small retail operation at the Sarasota Gun Club in nearby Nokomis, Florida. Mr. Cole said the busy shooting venue created a “logical timing for us to get together with Blaser with so many clay target shooters there.”
And Cole Gunsmithing is getting ready to open a store at the sprawling National Shooting Center in San Antonio, Texas, which is home to Blaser USA. Starting in April, the operation will be part time for sales and service. The National Shooting Center is on the grounds of the National Sporting Clays Association and National Skeet Shooters Association and Mr. Cole said he expects to fly in his experts for major tournaments.
In essence, Mr. Cole is saying that his company’s core business remains a priority as exemplified by the Cole Special Berettas.
A Cole Special pair of Berettas.
To produce a Cole Special Beretta, Mr. Cole adds high-grade Turkish walnut and receivers often adorned by hand engraving from the studio of Italian Master Steffano Pedritti. For case coloring on the action, Mr. Cole sends the shotgun to Turnbull Manufacturing Company in Bloomfield, New York. The Cole Specials come with 30-inch or 32-inch barrels sporting Beretta chokes with stocks that can be custom fitted by Mr. Cole. He continues to strive for the best balance of value, performance and aesthetics.
Advancing the market for the famous Cole Special Berettas, Mr. Cole recently received a shipment of Beretta DT11 sporting guns with high-grade Turkish walnut blanks hand-selected by Mr. Cole, thus making the National Championship and Olympic winning shotguns available with a custom stock at a price point of about $9,000.
“We bought a new CNC router to make custom stocks for Berettas,” he explained. “We do a digital laser scan and make a pattern stock to accurately produce a finished stock that’s ready to be sanded. We’re using the new equipment very efficiently and effectively.”
Mr. Cole also tapped Beretta for Model 686 20/28 gauge combos with 32-inch barrels, screw-in chokes and upgraded walnut. These two-barrel, subgauge Beretta over/unders typically ship with 30-inch barrels. But in response to Cole Gunsmithing’s clays customers Mr. Cole believed that the slightly longer barrels provided a shooting experience that is “not as whippy as with the 30-inch barrels. The gun has such great shooting dynamics. It handles fantastically without any recoil.”
The concentration on distinctive Italian shotguns has expanded Cole Gunsmithing’s relationship with Pedretti. “We’ve been working with him on custom Perazzis, Berettas and Zolis,” revealed Mr. Cole. “Under his supervision we have some beautiful Berettas and Zolis arriving from the Pedretti studio with deep relief floral scrolls, but when it comes to Perazzi he will be doing the engravings himself.”
For clays enthusiasts going after unadulterated performance, though, in December 2017 Mr. Cole became the sole American distributor for the fully adjustable skeletal shotgun stocks from TSK of Torrebelvicino, Italy. Every aspect of individualized fit is adjustable in the space-age stocks to yield maximum performance with the lowest possible recoil.
“We’re trying to expand our footprint sort of slowly,” said Mr. Cole. “Our business is based on quality gunsmithing. We have to be cautious and scale the business intelligently, while not missing opportunities when they present themselves.”