The Bristol army surplus store still going strong after 60 years
It has been a Hotwell Road landmark for more than 60 years but family-run Marcruss Outdoors has moved with the times. Set across three floors, it has four departments selling camping/ski wear, workwear and wet weather clothing/boots, but most people know it for its ground-floor range of army surplus and Airsoft guns and accessories. The business was started by Frank Pinson and his son Trevor in the mid-1960s.
They took over what had been an army surplus store for many years before that. These days, it’s run by Trevor’s sons Marcus, who looks after the army surplus and Airsoft side, and Adam who oversees the camping and workwear. The name ‘Marcruss’ refers to Marcus and one of Trevor’s other sons, Russ, who is no longer involved in the shop.
: Whitchurch BYO Indian restaurant is still one of Bristol’s best The ground floor of Marcruss Outdoors has an overwhelming amount of army surplus and Airsoft equipment. If you want camouflage netting, genuine British Army windproof jackets, Airsoft rifles or RAF pilot goggles, this is the place.
Marcus, 54, has worked in the shop since he was a teenager when he helped dad Trevor on Saturdays. Trevor has now retired and Marcus is in charge and he’s the first to admit that the past few years have been challenging for specialist independent retailers, especially the current ‘cost of living’ crisis. “It’s reflecting on trade already and I have noticed my figures going down the minute there was news of massive price hikes in energy costs.
As soon as people hear those headlines, it alters trade hugely even if people’s bills aren’t increasing immediately.” But Marcus has been in the shop long enough to have seen turbulent times before and they often help shape the next stage for the business. It happened during the last recession.
“When we had the last recession, I decided we needed to change from specialising in old army surplus, which was becoming increasingly hard to source. I decided to do something new so we went into Airsoft about ten years ago just as it was becoming a big thing.” Equipment for the team-based shoot-out game has become a huge thing for Marcruss Outdoors.
As I’m talking to Marcus in the shop, a group of young men are trying out Airsoft pistols and buying protective gear. The shop doesn’t sell air rifles or any other form of gun, just plastic shooting ‘BB’ guns for Airsoft. To buy one, people have to belong to an Airsoft club and have a player number.
The Hotwell Road store sells a range of genuine army surplus clothing (Image: Paul Gillis/Reach PLC)
Marcus says: “It’s a popular sport with a wide range of people, aged from about 12 to 50.
They all go off with their plastic guns and ‘war’ for the weekend. “I was looking at going under in the last recession which is why I made the change. You have to have a couple of strings to your bow.”
Although Airsoft has in many ways saved the shop, the army department is still one of the main reasons people visit Marcruss Outdoors and why it’s so well known. The stock includes genuine surplus clothing from British Army contractors and appeals to wide range of people. “We get an eclectic customer.
When it comes to the workwear and waterproofs, we get scaffolders, ground workers and people who mow golf courses, as well as people on motorcycles.
Marcruss Stores sells army surplus, camping equipment and workwear (Image: Paul Gillis/Reach PLC)
“We do have collectors coming in for the army surplus but not so much as we used to. I remember when we had piles of steel ‘Tommy’ helmets, but these days they tend to be found in army memorabilia shops rather than army surplus shops like ours. “We have a safari-style pith helmet in the shop at the moment but I remember stocking ten of those and having to restock them a week later.
Now you’re lucky to sell one in six months.” The range of army bags and waterproofs on the ground floor, and the camping gear upstairs, means that Marcruss Outdoors has always been a one-stop shop for festivalgoers, especially people heading to Glastonbury. “We still get people coming in for festival clothing but it’s mostly wellies and ponchos,” says Marcus. “We also have bright yellow and orange festival camouflage trousers and jackets, which people are buying for parties and festivals.”
The thing that strikes you as you look around the shop is how cheap some of the clothing is, but also the fact it’s good quality and made to last. There’s even a clearance rail with surplus RAF trousers for GBP2 a pair.
Glastonbury Festival ticketholders often stock up at Marcruss Stores (Image: Paul Gillis/Reach PLC)
Marcus says: “A basic camouflage jacket is GBP14.99 and for that sort of price it’s affordable to most people and they are well made. We do find a lot of people who can’t afford to spend too much on clothes buying those kind of items so we cater for everybody.”
The shop saw a surge of people looking for gas masks at the start of the Covid pandemic and there is also an increase in army surplus sales whenever a war breaks out around the world. Marcus says: “People have always bought more army surplus when there’s a war going on. I remember there was a surge in sales during the Gulf War and we get a lot of serving military people in here getting extra bits of kit to go off to war.
“I had a guy in recently who had just been deployed to Estonia and he was buying extra kit because they don’t get issued extra gear. He just wanted to make he wasn’t short of stuff. “In the 1980s and 1990s, we had nine shops around the West Country including Gloucester, Torquay and Weston-super-Mare.
It became unviable during the last recession so we consolidated it to the one shop so now people come from all over the South West and we get orders online from all over the country.” But Marcus says he’s worried about the next few months. One of the biggest concerns is the green air zone scheme being introduced in central Bristol.
“I think it could essentially kill us off because it starts from Ashton and unless people are allowed to come into this area, nobody’s going to shop in here. We had all this with parking restrictions and although we’re lucky to have a car park, free on-road parking for half and hour is very awkward for customers in such a large shop so I’m very worried about it.” Marcruss Outdoors, 177-181 Hotwell Road, Hotwells, Bristol, BS8 4RY.
Tel: 0117 9292119.