Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Canada is not Immune

I sometimes get involved in “discussions” on forums with paintball players regarding the virtues of higher priced/lower volume paintball over lower priced/higher volume paintball. Often when they find out our field is in Canada, they shrug my opinion off because our field is in Canada, and apparently Canadian fields are more expensive because the Canadian dollar is worth so much less and Canadians are dumb enough to pay the high prices.

Recently a fellow Canadian paintball field owner (not here in BC) contacted me asking me for my opinion about a couple of things. He informed me that a field not too far from him had recently lowered their prices. Their outdoor field was selling paintballs for $40/case and a $10 field fee (or for $20 you can bring your own paint and play). 500 paintballs are $15. Rentals are $15. (All names are being withheld to protect the innocent)

So a first time player needing rentals could spend $65 and get everything he/she needs and a case of paintballs to blast away. Our average customer spends almost that, so I am sure that lots of players are doing just that (buying and shooting a case of 2,000 paintballs). Gear owners only need to spend $50, so I am VERY sure that many of the gear owners are shooting a case. The field owner that contacted me was concerned because this field had these very low prices and another field even closer had also just lowered prices to extreme lows.

I have always assumed that it wouldn’t take too long for some “entrepreneurs” in the paintball industry in Canada to provide paintball to the masses at low prices in hopes of attracting lots of players just as fields in the USA have done. Will it work? Sure, sort of. It will attract a higher number of players that like, or at least don’t mind, playing in a high volume paintball atmosphere; those players that want to be able to shoot lots of paintballs but not spend a week’s salary to do so. But the number of people in the general population that prefer that style of paintball is limited.

It’s daunting when you are the field owner that does not want to, or can’t drop prices to match or beat those prices. I’ve been in those shoes. But when it happened to us, we dropped our prices anyway. It was a knee jerk reaction and we were na├»ve and didn’t know better at the time. Of course, that’s when we found out that dropping prices of paintballs doesn’t increase overall attendance. It increases the amount of paintballs players purchase and it increases the number of players that don’t mind playing in that environment; but only temporarily. After a while, very few players come more often because the prices are lower. Offsetting that (several times over) are the players that don’t like that environment and end up not coming at all.

My advice to any field owner facing a situation where their competitors have dropped their prices to ridiculous levels is to ignore them. There is no point trying to compete to attract a share of the relatively small number of participants who enjoy that environment. I suggest those field owners do exactly the opposite. Build some fields that are visually appealing and look like they would be fun to play on. Price paintballs so players are encouraged to only shoot about 500 or so per day (about 700 maximum). The market for “regular people” in the general population that will prefer to participate in that environment is much greater than those that want to play in the 1500 to 2,000 paintballs/player environment. This means if the competition is charging $40/case, raising prices to $80/case is probably not enough. At $80/case, many players will still shoot over 1,000 paintball/day. When we dropped our prices from $160 to $100/case, our attendance dropped from what it was in previous years during the same periods. It wasn’t a drastic drop, but a drop nevertheless. As the drop in prices decreases below $100/case, the drop in attendance will drop further and more dramatically.

The hard part for a field owner that decides to go this route is to weather the storm until a natural customer base forms. As could be imagined, if one field is charging $120 to $160/case of paintballs while various competitors are charging $40 to $60/case, many unknowing customers are obviously going to choose the cheaper option. Most people don’t understand that the price of paintballs is not like a regular commodity. Who would go somewhere to buy their milk for $8 when they get it everywhere else for $4?

This is where the field owner needs to make sure they understand they are in the business of selling fun and not in the business of selling paintballs. Once they understand that, they can market fun rather than trying to attract players with low paintball prices. One way to do this is to not even mention paintball prices in the marketing. A new potential customer doesn’t really care how much paintballs cost. They want to know how much their day of paintball is going to cost in total and most importantly, they are going to want to have fun. New players have no idea how many paintballs they will be shooting. When I tell people who ask how many paintballs they will use and I tell them that our average customer shoots about 500 paintballs, many are amazed that people shoot that many paintballs.

The majority of people paying $60 for a day of paintball will have more fun playing in a group where most are shooting 500 paintballs in a session than they would in a group where most are shooting 2,000 paintballs in a session. In both scenarios, they have paid exactly the same for their day of fun. But at the end of the day, what is important is how much fun they had, not how many paintballs they shot.

I no longer worry when my competitors drop their prices. I make sure my customers get good value. That means they are going to spend a certain dollar amount and feel they have received their money’s worth of fun. A long as my customers are leaving with smiles on their faces and stories to rehash with their friends and at the water cooler, I know we will be OK.

So as Canadian field owners follow the trend most US field owners have been following for quite some time now, I will sleep well knowing that I am going to keep providing a fun environment and not fall prey to others who are more worried about selling paintballs than providing fun.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Suggestion from Customer

I had a suggestion by a first time player yesterday at the end of the day when he handed in his gear.

“You should charge by the amount of fun each person had. I’d owe a lot!”

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Changing Demographics

In a recent interview with the Paintball Business Journal, Richmond Italia is quoted as saying, “Our sport is hurting and needs a cure fast. And I believe this is it [cheaper .50 calibre paintballs]. Most don't realize the number of players we lost to airsoft due to the fact that it is cheaper. Or how many are gone because they just can't afford it [to play paintball].

In a survey conducted by the Paintball Business Journal, the change that more players would like to see than any other change is lower paintball prices. I guess that confirms what Richmond is saying.

Does anyone else find it ironic that some think that players are dropping out of the sport during times when paintballs have been cheaper than any other time in the history of the sport because paintballs are too expensive?

So when has paint been cheaper for players? The answer is never of course.

Paintball is expensive. Or at least it can be expensive. It always has been and will continue to be out of the reach of some in our society. Lots of activities are that way. Many can’t afford to play golf. Most can’t afford to acquire everything they need to take up water-skiing. That’s just life.

We just hear more complaining (the complaint has always been around to some extent) about paintball being too expensive because over the past few years the demographics of paintball players has changed. The majority of players today are people who either get their income from mom and dad, or have jobs that are only part-time and don’t pay very well. The industry has been marketing to that demographic. And it’s worked. They are here. They are broke. And they are complainers.

In the process of this marketing change, we have changed the game completely. Fair enough. You have to give the customers, if that is who you want as your customers, what they want. But please do not complain when you have shifted your marketing efforts to a specific demographic, that you have alienated the rest of your previous demographics.

Golfers don’t complain nearly as much that their chosen pastime is too expensive. That’s because the average golfer isn’t working part time flipping burgers. Yet the paintball industry has taken it upon itself to market to the younger crowd, to do whatever is necessary to make them happy, with no consideration for those that don’t want to play in the new version of the game they have created for the new demographic.

So now that everyone has been staying away from the game, the younger crowd’s hours have been cut back further at the burger joint, all of a sudden there is a situation that we need a “fast cure” for. And apparently that cure is to further head down the road of making the impoverished sector of society our target market and to hell with everyone else.

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Silent Majority

How many people who play paintball throughout the world on any given Saturday or Sunday, are players playing for the first time or are players who play only occasionally and only for recreation? I believe that would be the majority of people.

How many people who post on paintball forums and who express their opinions to manufacturers are players who play regularly? I don’t know how many, but I am quite sure that it is far less than the number of players who play only rarely for pure recreation.

Who are the manufacturers and higher ups in the industry paying attention to? Who SHOULD they be paying attention to? The vocal minority, or the less vocal majority?

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Father’s Day

I know Father’s Day was over a week ago, but I’ve been busy with moving and had limited Internet access and limited time. Also, I had a visitor yesterday that had played Father’s Day for his first time ever, which inspired me to take a few minutes to write.

Unlike Mother’s Day, which was the first day in a long time we didn’t have enough players to play a game, Father’s Day was quite busy. Actually it was one of our busier days that we’ve had and combined with the Saturday the day before, was the busiest two day weekend we’ve had in our eight year history. This was great considering we didn’t have an advertised special of any sort for Father’s Day this year. We did let dads (and moms) play free as we have every year since we’ve been open, but just didn’t do any advertising this year.

My visitor wasn’t a friend, but rather someone who had played on Father’s Day, had forgotten a hat at the field that was important to him, and came to my home to retrieve it. I found out he was retired, so it wasn’t a big deal for him to take the time to come out. It was an hour and a half roundtrip for him, but the hat was a memento from his job he had retired from, so he wanted it back. Besides, it was a beautiful day for a motorcycle ride, which is what he and his wife arrived on.

I had to stick around our new home to wait for the telephone guy (why is it those guys can’t give you a better idea when they are going to arrive?) and they were in no hurry, so I had a chance to talk to them a bit.

It was his first time ever playing and since we cater to a lot of new players and obviously want more new players in the future, his feedback was of interest to me. He said he had a great time. Both he and his wife had no idea that paintball was such a big deal. They had no idea that there were that many people who played the game. They had done some research on the Internet and stumbled upon a review site for paintball fields. Apparently our field has some good reviews so they decided to try us out. They said that during their visit they talked to several people at our field and everyone. They heard nothing but good comments from everyone there. It’s these kind of conversations that really inspire me to go on with what I’m doing, even if I’m never going to become a millionaire running a paintball field.

The only negative feedback I got was that the porta-potties were a little rank. I told them that it was probably the busiest weekend we’ve ever had and that combined with the hot weather, definitely wasn’t a good combination. I apologized for that, although I’m not quite sure what I can do about it, but I will give it some thought, and see if we can’t at least improve the situation. A paintball field owner’s problems vary greatly. Who knew that one day I would be pondering how to make porta-potties smell better?