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 naïve 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.