Monday, June 15, 2009

“Too Hairy for me”

It was the middle of August 2001. We had only opened our brand new paintball facility a couple of months before that. We were wet behind the ears as far as running a paintball field goes and business was still slow. We didn’t know it yet, but our competitors had been undercutting our prices since we opened. I guess they wanted to nip the chances of success of the new guys in the bud.

We didn’t have much overhead yet because my business partner and myself were doing just about everything ourselves. But we didn’t turn much potential business away because we needed to pay the rent and wanted to please everyone.

We got a call from a manager of sorts of an international high tech electronics manufacturer. They were having a sales convention in town and wanted to take all the sales reps that were in town from all over North America out to shoot off a little steam. There would be about 30 of them (30 was a big single group for us then) and the company would pay for everything. They were all renters and first time players ranging from their 20’s into their 50’s. Someone would be there with a company credit card, so payment wasn’t going to be a problem. The participants were to have a good time and were not to pay for anything themselves. That included paintballs and anything they wanted to eat or drink.

The catch was that they couldn’t be there until 6:00 pm. I told them that we couldn’t go past 8:30 as we were limited to daylight and we had to pack all our equipment up and clean everything in the little bit of daylight that was left. We informed them that we would keep breaks very short and have them play as much as possible in the short time.

Our average player back then, as today, shoots approximately 600 paintballs in a 9:00 to 4:00 session, breaking between games for 5 to 10 minutes and about ½ hour for lunch. This group was different. We geared them up and went through the safety orientation as quickly as we could. While doing the orientation, I could tell already that the players were getting impatient and wanted to get out on the field. I stressed the safety rules, so that at least those were drilled into them.

The guy in charge, the one with the credit card told me to bring out a bunch of paintballs. I asked how many? Should there be a certain amount for each person? He said, “No, just bring a bunch out and keep it coming. When they are empty, just keep bringing them out.” Cases of paintballs were $160 then, just as they still are today at our field. I took out 5 cases if I recall to start with.

The group started playing and right away everything was different from anything we had experienced before. The firing of our Model 98’s went crazy right from the first blast of the horn until the end of the game. I was in the staging area and I had staff refereeing the group. When the refs came in after the first game, they told me that it was just insane out there. No one took their mask off, but many other rules were ignored, way too many for the refs to catch. I had a little “chat” with the group and told them that they needed to follow the rules.

The next game, the same thing happened. Shooting paintballs like crazy and general disregard for any game rules. I went to the guy in charge and asked what we should do. Like I said, we were pretty green still. He said, that as long as they weren’t hurting anyone, just let them play. Since it was a private event, I went along with it. We were selling lots of paint.

I did start to notice a few players standing in the staging area watching the action after the second game and not participating. After a couple of more games, I saw more yet just watching and not playing. I went over and asked if there was a problem. Why weren’t they in there playing? The response was that it was too hairy for them. Here they were with the chance of a lifetime, as far as I was concerned, to play paintball with as much paint as they wanted, and they were sitting out.

I sold 18 cases of paint in 2 hours. The average player shot roughly twice as much in 2 hours as my regular customers shot in 6 hours. They went through paint 6 times as fast as our regular customers. Before it was over, close to half of them were sitting out and watching the gong show from the sidelines.

What did I learn that night? I learned that as a field owner, I need to stay on top of things and stay in charge. I can’t let my customers dictate how things should be run. I learned that selling a lot of paint in a short time can be quite lucrative. I learned that when paintballs are free to the end user, they will shoot a lot of paintballs, even if they are first time players. I learned that many people do not want to play in that environment, even if it’s free. I have a feeling those players that said it was too hairy for them will never try paintball again.

Some people are naïve enough to think that the cost of paint doesn’t influence how much a first time renter shoots. I know different.


  1. I feel smarter just reading your blog and yes, cost does influence how much a first time renter shoots. It's up to the field owner to provide the "right" amount for the best experience.

    I would also like to take a different look at the scenario. It's a classic business situation of money right now or the possibility of more later. You made a killing (in paintball money, lol) in a very short time but there are a lot of factors here (I know you know this but I'm just listing them in the hopes tha tmaybe more people will get this):

    1) Will the players that sat out play paintball again? Probably not.

    2) Will those same players recommend paintball to others? Again, probably not. This is FAR worse economically speaking in terms of future value than number 1.

    3) Will the players that played through the day play again? Absolutely.

    4) Will those same players recommend paintball? Again, absolutely.

    5) When they come again, will they shoot A LOT of paint and play in a reckless style? Probably yes to both.

    6) Will that cause more first time players to have a bad experience and not play again and (more importantly) not recommend paintball to their friends? Most likely.

    Since statistically speaking, more people discuss a bad experience than a good experience, this is a recipe for disaster and why so many fields wonder where their business went when they have "regulars".

    Again, love the blog!

  2. Anyone that has run a field long enough has run into the scenario you described. The difference between you and I and a few others and the nine out of ten fields that go out of business each year is that we paid attention and learned. Great post!

    1. Indeed we really need to pay attention unless we really want it to be wasted

  3. sockkers, I agree. There are a lot of people who are apprehensive about trying paintball for the first time. I know I was. I turned down both of the invitations to an annual paintball event a friend organized, because I didn't really know anything about paintball and thought of getting shot by something that might hurt me didn't appeal to me that much.

    If an apprehensive person hears negative stories, that seals the deal. They will probably never try paintball. On the other hand, if they hear people tell them how much fun they had and that the discomfort wasn't that bad, they might give it a try.

    Mick, thanks. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out if a good portion of your customers are leaving less than excited about the time they had, you're probably doing something wrong and your business will suffer in the long run.