Sunday, May 31, 2009

Lucky Guy

I overheard a conversation a few of my customers were having today while I was standing at the BBQ rolling hotdogs (Yes, hotdogs are rolled. Burgers get flipped). I wasn’t eavesdropping, as those having the conversation were speaking loud enough for me (and others if they cared) to easily hear.

It was a group of friends that had come up to play. All were renting and looked to be about 15 to 16 years old. There were four or five of them standing around wiping off hits and such after coming back to the safe zone, having just finished playing a game. The back and forth went something like this:

“Aw man. That was fun.”

“Yeah, paintball has got to be one of the most fun things in the world.”

“We really should do this more often”

“Yeah, but it’s pretty expensive.”

At that point my ears perked up even more. As a field owner, obviously I want to know what my customers are thinking. I want to know what they like and what we can do to make them want to come back again…often. But I also want to know what might be keeping our customers away. The conversation went on:

“Yeah, but everything costs money, and look at all the stuff they’ve built here. Could you imagine how much work it was to build all this?”

“Yeah, and sure it costs a lot, but is there anything more fun than this?”

They then went on to tell each other different situations they were in and how they got eliminations and how they were eliminated. All the regular stuff you hear any group of new players talking about at any recreational field in the world.

It’s moments like this where I feel very happy about what I do for a living. Sure I could be working at my former profession in construction and most likely be making considerably more money in less time. I’d even make some people happy with the quality work that I’m sure I would do. But having a hundred or more people come on any give Saturday or Sunday to something that I built together with my business partner, and have them have the time of their lives, is much, much more satisfying. I’m a lucky guy. Not a rich guy, but a lucky guy.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

The One Cent Solution

“Paintball is too expensive.”

“If paintball were cheaper, I would play more often.”

“ A lot of my friends don’t play paintball because they can’t afford to.”

The above are typical comments seen on a regular basis on paintball forums I visit. They are all legitimate statements. The second and third are most likely totally truthful.

I like taking my family to carnivals when they show up in town. There are a few that roll through, set up all those fun rides and games, stick around for a few days and then leave again to set up in some other city or town. But as much as I enjoy taking my family to these carnivals, I don’t do it very often. Basically, I can’t afford to do it very often. I mean, I could probably afford to more often, but then I would have to give up other stuff that I need/want to spend my money on. My point is, that there are very few of us that can take part in as much fun activities as we would like to. There are limits to our financial resources.

Paintball is no different. It costs money to take part. It doesn’t matter where you go or how you play, it’s never free, unless someone else is paying your way. Of course, if playing paintball were cheaper then either more people would take part or the people interested in paintball would take part more often, just like any other fun activity.

So here’s my suggestion. All we need to do is convince the paintball manufacturers to sell their paintballs to fields and stores for about $10 to $12 per case and then in turn, the fields and stores could sell paintballs to participants in the activity for $20 per case (or 1 cent per ball). We currently charge an average of about 8 cents per ball at our facility.

With this huge price drop, we would get a huge influx of participants because now our average customer will only be spending $5 for that bag of 500 paintballs instead of $40. They will save $35. Those already playing the game will be able to play much more often and those not playing because it’s been too expensive will start coming, not just once but many times. They will tell all their friends about this great activity that is really not that expensive to take part in. We’ll have a huge number of customers and the paintball manufacturers will make up for their loss in mark-up in a huge increase in sales due to all the new players will attract.

Once again we will see huge growth in our sport; growth like we've never seen before. This seems like the perfect solution to the declines we’ve seen in our sport lately, doesn’t it?

Monday, May 18, 2009

I cringe when people think I should be smiling

On a regular basis I have people say to me, “You must love the sound of that?” when they hear an extraordinary amount of paintballs being blasted during a game.

I always answer with, “No, actually I don’t. I cringe a bit when I hear that.” Then they look at me oddly, as if I didn’t understand what they meant.

I have to admit, the first couple of years that we were in business, I did get excited when I heard lots of paintballs being shot. With our paintballs costing anywhere between 6 and 10 cents per ball, the thought of all those paintballs being shot was quite exhilarating. It took me a while to figure out that although I might be taking more money to the bank that day, it was costing our business in other ways.

After a while we came to the realization that those customers are not shooting money, as some have suggested in the past. Those people are shooting paintballs and they are shooting them at other people. Now shooting paintballs at other people while playing paintball is more of less the objective, but being the one shot at with huge volumes of paintball can be quite intimidating, especially if you are not used to it, and many of our customers are not used to it.

We really didn’t come to that conclusion until some time after we had built our second field. You see, our first field was a fairly large forested field with lots of natural cover and bunkers and buildings built by us where we thought more cover was needed. For the most part, those that didn’t want “in you face” action, could hang back and hide if they wanted to. When we built our second field, Urban Assault, it was a much smaller field. Once the game started, players could shoot at each other almost immediately. The play was condensed into a much smaller space and those that were a little more timid found it much more difficult to find a spot with less action. On the other hand, some of our customers loved it; much more than our original woodsball field. Right away we noticed, there was much more paint being blasted as soon as the games started.

I literally remember smiling and thinking to myself, “Yeah, now we are going to make some real money.” But it didn’t take long to realize that some players didn’t like the field as much as the larger woodsball field. They didn’t tell us that they thought the field was too intense or that they didn’t like the fact that there was more paint shot on the field. You see, most people don’t like to admit that they don’t like the intense action. I guess they think they might be thought of as chicken or cowards. So they just say things like, “Yeah, I don’t really like that field as much.”

“Do you mind if I ask why not?”

“I don’t know. I just like the woodsball field better.”

Over the years we have built our field with diversity in mind. We know some people like intense, in your face action (most of our regular gear owners do). But we also know some people don’t. We rotate all of our groups so they can experience all the fields. Hopefully every one of our customers will find some of our fields to their liking. But I am very much aware that some of our customers are not really all that comfortable on our smaller fields where they cannot hide from the intense action. So when I hear a lot of heavy marker fire and I know there are a fair number of newer (and chances are, timid) players, I cringe instead of smile. I think I’m an odd field owner.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Mother’s Day

I gave up spending time with the mother of my children and my own mother to run paintball games yesterday (Mother’s Day). I had taken everyone out for dinner the night before, so I did earn most of the Brownie Points that I would have normally earned on Mother’s Day anyway.

But Sunday morning I dragged myself out of bed at 6:00 like I do virtually every Sunday morning, got all my last minute stuff done and drove to our warehouse where our truck is parked and all our paintball gear is stored. After doing all the little stuff I need to do there (my business partner is usually up until about midnight Saturday night doing most of the preparation for the next day), I rolled out just before 8:00 and headed to paintball field to meet the staff members we had lined up for the day (they too were kind enough to give up being with their mothers to cater to our customers of the day).

We are located in a fairly remote area and there is no one living near enough to the facility to make sure our belongings are safe. Therefore, we don’t leave anything of great value there. We unload much of what we need out of our 5-ton truck (26’ box) and at the end of the day load everything back up.

We open up for customers at 9:00. By 9:15, we had two customers show up. We didn’t bother signing them up and getting them rental gear as we need a few more to actually play paintball. By 10:00 we had 5 customers there. Still not enough. At that point I made the call and cancelled paintball for the day. We packed everything back into the truck. And everyone went home. The staff is paid for 4 hours (minimum required by law) and the customers that did show up were given apologies and free passes to use on their next visit.

Father’s Day is one of our busiest days of the year, but Mother’s Day is traditionally quite slow. This is the first time I recall not having a game at all, but it’s always quite slow. We need to get more moms (and other females) playing this game.

Paintball is, and always will be, a game enjoyed more by males than females. We can wish for that to change, but I think it’s in our wiring. Girls just don’t enjoy getting dirty and feeling “unnecessary” discomfort for the sake of a game as much as men do. That’s just the way it is. Give a man a day to spend however he likes, and there is a good chance he might go to play paintball. Give a woman a day to spend however she likes, she’s more likely to head to a spa. That’s just the way it is and as much as we want that to change, it’s not going to happen.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Evicting Players

I hate being the Heavy! I hate being the guy that ruins the fun of others. However, as co-manager of a paintball field, it’s my job to make sure people follow rules and our customers are safe. This past weekend we had a higher than normal number of players that we ended the day for sooner than those players had anticipated their day of paintball would end.

On Saturday we had three players that decided they were going to shoot paintballs at our field that were not purchased from our field (we are Field Paint Only). Now this happens every once in a while. Usually the player plead ignorance and we tell them to put the paintballs away and as long as they purchase our paintballs and shoot only our paintballs from that point forward, we give them a second chance. The three players yesterday were different though. They started giving the ref that was dealing with the situation a hard time. They made a scene and explained how it was not fair that we made them use our paintballs and that our paintballs were way over-priced. Most of you that read this blog regularly know our philosophy on paintball pricing. Those that don’t can take a few minutes and read some of the previous writings (the Economics of a Recreational Paintball Field 3-pat series written in January would be most helpful). Anyway, they really gave us little choice but to ask them to leave, which they did without making too much of a fuss at that point.

We also told someone that they couldn’t play anymore after removing his mask on the field for the 4th time. That was definitely more than enough warning.

Today we had to tell two more players that their day was done early after removing their masks. We had a few mask incidents today and our refs had lectured the group as a whole a couple of times as well as giving stern warning to the individuals who lifted their masks. Some days there just seem to be more incidents than other. I don’t know why.

The refs had just finished giving the one group another lecture about masks, telling them that the next person that lifted their mask was going home. Less than five minutes later, on the way to the staging area, a player took off his mask well before he got to the door. It was right in front of the whole group, so the ref had no choice but to send the young man packing. He wasn’t happy, but he handed in his gear without complaining. Not three minutes later, another player did exactly the same thing. He happened to be a friend of the first player that was told he was done.

Again, this player wasn’t happy, but he handed in his gear to me. As he was handing in his gear, he told me that he was almost at the Staging Area Door when he lifted his mask, but that he understood that a rule was a rule and he broke the rule. He also told me that it was his first time playing and although he wasn’t happy that he had to quit, he was going to come back. I felt sorry for him, but I really couldn’t do anything about the situation. I certainly wasn’t going to reverse my ref’s decision.

What amazed me though was the attitude of this young gentleman. Although he said he was having the time of his life and we cut it short, he wasn’t totally p’d off at us. He had to hang around for about 2 more hours before the people he came with were finished and he intently watched the action from behind the netting. He came up to the window where I was working a couple of times during that time. The first time he came to ask for information about equipment. He basically wanted to know where and what to buy. I gave him the usual information and off he went. The second time he came back to buy some snacks. He had a $10 bill and bought $3 worth of snacks. He then proceeded to put the remaining $7 in the ref’s tip jar and said, “I love this place. Your staff does a great job. I’m coming back real soon.”

All I could think was that this young man was brought up right. I hope that my kids go through life with attitudes similar to his.