Saturday, January 3, 2009

Part 3, Economics of a Recreational Paintball Facility

Prices and Satisfied Customers

This is a multi part article. If you have not read "Parts 1 & 2, Economics of a Recreational Paintball Field", you should stop reading now and read those first (You will find these below). Otherwise, this will most likely not make much sense to you.

Alright then. If you are still reading, then you either see some logic in my writings, or your just sticking around rubbernecking to witness a train wreck. Either way, welcome back.

In the previous two parts of this article we determined that recreational paintball fields' customers are more concerned about the cost of anticipated fun, rather than the prices of the necessary individual components provided by a field to play paintball. We also determined that customers tend to spend roughly the same dollar amount to achieve the goal of having fun. Lastly, we determined that the only real variable fieldowners have when providing the needed components to their customers, is the amount of paintballs they will supply those customers. I told you that from my experience as a fieldowner 500 to 700 paintballs per customer for a day of paintball seemed to be about right for the majority of recreational paintball players (if you are wondering how I arrived at those numbers and haven't read parts 1 & 2, do so now!).

OK, so how do fieldowners achieve this? Well, they could make up a package which would include field fees, rentals (if needed), enough propellant, and somewhere between 500 and 700 paintballs (let's say 600, cause it's right in the middle). So all your customers will get everything they need and 600 paintballs for the dollar amount you determined was the average your customers tend to spend in your area for a day of anticipated fun at recreational paintball fields.

OK, that was simple enough, except for a few problems. What if some of your customers shoot their 600 paintballs off faster than their friends? Should they sit around and watch their friends continue having fun? What if some of your customers come later or have to leave earlier? Maybe they won't need 600 paintballs. If they are playing at the same average pace as everyone else, they'll feel they got ripped off having to buy the package with 600 paintballs when they could have made do with less paintballs. They will feel like they should have had the option to pay less for less paintballs. Will your customers feel you are "forcing" them to play exactly the way you want them to? Most people enjoy their "free will" and don't like being told exactly how to live their lives.

These are some of the reasons I don't think the idea of making a "package" up with the exact number of paintballs you would like your customers to use. I definitely like to "guide" my customers to the number of paintballs I would like them to shoot, but I don't want them to feel I'm forcing that amount down their throats.

So how do we do this? Well, it's really quite elementary, my dear Watson. We know what we want to provide our customers (everything they need plus approximately 600 paintballs) and we know how much our customers want to spend for their day of paintball fun. Now all we need to do, is price our individual items accordingly (you can still do it as a package, but I'll get to that in a bit). Earlier I said in our area, that amount is approximately $60 (the $60 is actually an average for gear owners and non-gear owners). We've priced our separate components such that $60 will pay for everything they need to play paintball for the day, including 600 paintballs. This way, the customers spend what they have allotted for their day of anticipated fun at our paintball field and we provide them with the amount of paintballs we feel achieves the the objective of the majority of your customers having a lot of fun. But with our pricing structure, we give our customers options, so they don't feel we are forcing them to buy a certain amount And in all honesty, the amount of paintballs shot (and the amount spent) varies from person to person. But pricing everything individually and letting customers purchase paintballs in the amounts they want to buy, let's them feel like they are in control.

If a player wants to play a shorter time period, they can buy less paintballs. If a player runs out a little earlier than his buddies, he can buy a few more paintballs. We also give small price breaks. This way our customers feel they are getting a better deal if they buy larger amounts of paintballs and share them between themselves. And yes, these price breaks will mean that some players will have a few more paintballs if they spend the "average" that most players spend.

So that's the general concept of a pricing structure at a recreational paintbal facility, but there is still one more very important thing to discuss. Actually this is the most important part. This part will, in my opinion, separate the optimally successful fields from the less than optimally successful fields (and possible failures). It has to do with how you price the various components, specifically the paintballs. We know that the "average player" tends to spend and "average amount" for a day of fun at a paintball field. We've determined that we need to price our products, such that the average player will purchase these components and end up with approximately 600 paintballs.

So using the $60 average for our area, theoretically we could charge $35 for field fees, $10 for rentals, and $12/bag of 500. That would be close to $60 and would be close to the amount of paintball we said would be optimum. We could offer bags of 100 for $3, so people could get the extra 100 to achieve 600 for $60. As you can see, you could play around with these prices many different ways and still end up with everything your customer need including 600 paintballs for $60.

But there are some fundamental problems with our example. First, $35 for field fees is going to seem high for your potential customers. They are going to look at that and say, "that's $45 and I haven't even bought any paintballs yet". That's a problem and that might scare away a lot of people before they even give your field a try. Second, at $12/500 (and probably $45/case of 2,000, paintballs are real cheap. So when your customer is having fun shooting a lot of paintballs, he's going to think to himself, "hey, I only do this once in a blue moon, another $12 isn't going to break me. I think I'll get another 500 paintballs and really go nuts." Short sighted fieldowners would think, "Hey, that's great! My customer just went from spending the average $60, to spending $72." But fieldowners that are trying to achieve an atmosphere that the majority of players are going to enjoy, will realize that they are actually hurting the long term success of their business by pricing paintballs so cheap that it is relatively easy to purchase another bag of 500 or two.

Therefore, a more successful pricing strategy will have the field fees and rental rates "reasonable" and will price paintballs at a level that purchasing many more than the amount the fieldowner determines to be the optimal amount, become prohibitive. I suggest having paintballspaintballs available in bags of 100 as well (for a slightly premium price) so players can buy another 100 or 200 towards the end of the day if they want to. A bag of 500 should be priced such that two or three players will feel they want to "share" that extra bag towards the end of the day, rather than so cheap that a single player won't think too much about purchasing another 500 paintballs for the last hour or two of play.

I won't go into specific dollar amounts that you should price you paintballs at. Knowing what you've learned from reading this article (if anything of value) you can come up with your own formula. You can see what our pricing structure looks like by checking out our website, ( ) but keep in mind that this is based on what the average player tends top spend on a day of fun at a recreational paintball field in our area. Your area's demographics may be different and prices may need to be adjusted accordingly.

I just want to backtrack momentarily and talk about "packages" (cause I promised I would). I don't have a problem with offering packages. When we first opened our field, years ago, we offered three separate packages. Each included field fees, rentals, all day CO2 or air, lunch (yes we provide lunch for everyone), and varying amounts of paintballs. Small price breaks for the larger packages were offered. We also sold paintballs separate at the same prices we sill sell at today. This worked OK, except for the fact that it was a little too complicated for our first time players (which we have many of). Our customers spent too much time scratching their heads and asking us for advice on which package would be right for them. It was annoying for us and confusing for our customers. It didn't take us too long to abandon the idea and offered only one package with 100 paintballs and everything else needed. This made it simpler for our customers and ourselves. I think a year later we took the 100 paintballs out of the package altogether and lowered the package price accordingly (actually we slipped a slight price increase in, but no one seemed to notice). We found we were bagging too many bags of 100's, which is time consuming.

Today, we have two packages. We have a rental package which includes everything needed except paintballs and a gear owner package which is exactly the same except there are no rentals included. All paintballs are sold separately, but priced such that in the end, our average customer is spending $60 and is shooting approximately 600 paintball per day.

Thanks for reading. If you are a paintball player who has wandered in here and wants to inform me that I'm nuts, try to do it gently and remember that I've probably heard it all before. If you are a fieldowner or a potential fieldowner, hopefully I've given you some food for thought. Hopefully you'll have a better understanding of why our pricing structure works for us and why our customers are leaving happy and coming back with their friends, unlike what is currently happening where playing paintball is "cheaper" because paintballs are being sold for very little markup.


  1. Wow, that's a very well thought out article.

    I agree completely that when I was a younger and new to the game I though the way you describe, that I had a spending cap that I wasn't looking to go beyond in a days play. Where the field fee was more, I would buy less paint.

    Now, as a player, I find more value in the quality of the field and the staff than I do in the cost of the day's play. I am willing to pay more to be at a better maintained and run place than the cheapest place possible.

    What I think I am trying to say is that as players mature (or make paintball a higher priority in their recreation) cost is a less important part of the total perceived value to the player.

    1 question:
    Why are rentals priced so high?
    I have seen rentals go for $30-$45 which seems high to me. But then I have also seen group rates that clime as high as $65 per person. Why isn't the rental gun used as a loss leader? Rental users are almost exclusively new to the sport. Wouldn't it be in the field owners long term benefit to get those players on the field for the lowest cost possible if by your theory they are trying to get as much fun for their money as possible? A rental player has to pay considerably more for their gun rental and then has less to spend on paint and therefore will add to being outgunned on the field that their better equipped, more experienced opponents have.

    Good article, keep writing.

  2. There will always be a difference in the amount spent per player. A more mature player with a good job will have less of a problem spending a little more. It doesn't seem to be a big issue though (although there are some individual players that we have had to take aside and ask to reduce their consumption a bit, but it's rare.

    On the rental issue, I agree. Our rentals are $10 for marker, mask, and camo top. Not too much, but I have often thought about making the difference between what a gear owner pays and a renter pays even less.

    Fields that charge very little for paint or are BYOP need to make their money somewhere else. They tend to charge more firl field fees and rentals. That's really where the difference in philosophies shows up. Every field owner needs to make a certain amount of money from each player (or a certain average amount from player). Whether you do it from paint sales, field fees, or rentals (or a combonation of field fees and rentals), the money has to come from somewhere. The real difference of course is that fields charging low paint prices are going to see much more paint in the air at any given time. That is really the only difference. But it's a HUGE difference. That determines the atmophere of the play and in the end, the amount of fun people have.

    By providing low paint prices (less mark-up on paint) and making up the loss of gross profit on field fees and rentals, a fieldowner is basically setting what kind of atmosphere he wants at his facility. He's saying to his customers, "Go ahead. Shoot lots of paint. I don't care". And then he wonders why so many "regular" people are choosing to stay away from his paintball park. He's the one that created the atmosphere keeping them away. Of course he'll more than likely try to find someone/something else to blame. No one likes to find fault with themselves.