Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Evolution of a Paintball Player

I’ve seen this so many times at our field I can predict the future more times than not now. That is the “evolution” of a typical young paintball player that starts his paintball playing “career” at TNT Paintball. This may be different than a paintball player that starts his career at other fields, although there probably are some similarities.

Step 1. A player comes for his first day of paintball ever at TNT, usually with a group of friends or family. They have a great time playing, using the rental gear of course.

Step 2. The player comes to play several more times in the next few months. He may use rental gear a time or two more, but usually he gets his own entry-level marker and a mask quite quickly. He buys a Discount Card for $20 from us that entitle him to get his paint for $35/500 instead of $45/500. The entry level semi is hard for him to control the amount of paint shot to stay within his limited budget, creeping closer and closer to 1,000 paintball per day, which he can’t afford.

Step 3. He has always watched the multitude of regulars at TNT that plays with pump markers and decides that getting a pump will help him keep his costs down. Besides, those pump players seem to be pretty good even though they can only shoot one ball at a time. His skills improve and he can once again afford to play, keeping his paintball consumption somewhere between 3-500 paintballs for a day of play.

Step 4. His itchy trigger finger and seeing all those cool players playing tournaments in magazines and on the internet call to him. He enjoyed shooting that semi, just couldn’t afford it. He enjoys playing against other “skilled” players. The field catering to tournament players is selling paintballs at $50/2,000. He saves up for (or asks mommy and daddy) for an entry-level tournament marker and hooks up with a local Rookie team.

Step 5. He practices regularly, plays tournaments and moves up the ranks as his skills improve. Usually there is a change in markers one or more times to help him improve his game. The pump he bought for play at TNT Paintball is quite often sold to help fund his tournament play. We hear through the grapevine, or an actual visit from the player, how the player is doing playing tournaments and the successes he is having.

Step. 6. We don’t hear anything for a while about the player and then one day he shows up at the TNT again with a pump he has either bought or borrowed from one of his old friends he originally met at TNT Paintball. He informs us that he has quit the tournament scene because it was too expensive and taking up too much of his time. He may still have his tournament level semi in his gear bag that he brings out every once in a while at the end of the day to shoot off the left over paintballs he has and show off his shooting skills at the target range or possibly even on the field (they always wait until the last game though because they can’t afford to play with it much longer and they know we will not tolerate them shooting high volumes for very long at all).

These are steps that many players need to go through. I don’t discourage the transition to tournament play. The fact that I am losing a customer is not the end of the world and I think a player needs to do what he feels is right for him. But having dabbled in tournament paintball myself at one time, I know it is very difficult to sustain over a long period. It takes a lot of dedication and has to be the main focus in your life. But lets face it there is very little “future” in being a career tournament player. The chances of making it to the point where you are getting a “free ride” and having all your expenses paid for are very small. To make it to the point where you are actually making money playing is much, much smaller yet. So unless a player is totally driven and has no other interests and does not want to commit to getting a career and starting his life in the real world, most will come to the realization that although their tournament play is a lot of fun, it is keeping them from their “life”. That’s when we see them again at TNT Paintball having fun in their free time. The evolution has come full circle.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Will Paintball Die?

Sometimes I wonder if paintball, as an industry, is on a course of self-destruction.

Over the years we have seen fields change from places where players would go for an adrenaline raising day of plinking away at each other with paintballs numbering under 100 to a day where players are shooting a case (or multiple) cases of 2,000 paintballs. Of course this has happened because fields competing with each other have continuously dropped their paintball prices enabling players to shoot those quantities. The manufacturers of paintballs are just as responsible for this trend. They too, due to competition, lowered their prices enabling fields to retail for less and less.

This has created a product that is so dissimilar from it’s roots that you can hardly compare it anymore. The cheaper paint prices have not attracted more players to the game, but on the contrary are keeping many people from picking up this high intensity form of paintball.

The problem is that the trend is basically irreversible. Paintball manufacturers are in the business of selling paintballs. It’s a competitive environment with emerging competition from offshore sources. Wholesalers can’t raise their prices. Since they are in the business of selling paintballs, they have no choice but to keep cutting costs as much as possible and trying to sell higher volumes of their product. With less people picking up the game, those that do remain are marketed to, trying to persuade them to shoot more.

The .50 caliber paintball is the perfect solution to this. It decreases production and shipping costs, reduces retail price to the players, ensuring they will buy and shoot more and is being touted as the savior for fields and stores because the cheaper wholesale price will bring back the margins needed for fields and stores to survive.

But is this what will really happen? Will fields and stores retain these margins and have more money to keep fields and stores open and to upgrade and maintain fields better? Or will fields and stores lower their prices of the new balls and pass those savings on to their customers in hopes of securing a bigger part of the pie, as they have throughout the history of our sport as wholesale prices came down? What kept fields and stores from maintaining the needed margins as wholesale prices dropped in the past? Why does anyone think things will be different now? Am I missing something?

Manufacturers have no choice. Low price competitors force their high volume sales tactics. Store and field owners, as a group, aren’t smart enough to figure out that they need to retain some of those wholesale cost savings for themselves. They WILL compete with each other to try to get a bigger slice of the pie and that will result in lower retail paintball prices, which will result in more paintballs sold/shot, which in return will result in even less people wanting to pick up the sport. Sounds like a course of self-destruction to me. It’s very depressing.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

I Hate Paperwork

I understand the necessity of keeping good records. I know I need to keep track of my employees hours and do all the necessary paperwork needed to make sure they get paid and the government gets their share. I know I need to keep track of PST (provincial Sales Tax) collected and send it in on time to the government so they can pay for schools and roads and healthcare. I know I need to keep track of GST (Goods and Services Tax) paid and collected so I can send it in to the Federal Government. I understand the need to Worker’s Compensation and filling out all the correct forms and sending in appropriate payments. I need to keep good records of sales and expenditures (there are lots of them). I know all this. But that doesn’t mean I like it. There are days when I think working my old construction job where I would no doubt earn lots more money and not have half the paperwork wouldn’t be so bad. But then, what would I have to write about? Gotta keep entertaining the world! OK, so nobody is being entertained. But it would be a heck of a lot less entertaining writing about my adventures in laying floors!

Anyway…enough ranting. It’s 11:08 pm and I have a mountain of paperwork to get through and need to get up early again to get ready for another fun day at the paintball field (which will create more need for paperwork…ugh!).

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Who to Market to?

I’m writing this for anyone aspiring to become a paintball field owner or those relatively new to owning a paintball field. Those that have been running a paintball field for a while should already know who they want/should market to. Besides, giving advise to someone that has been running his/her own business for a while usually just gets the “who are you to tell me how to run my business” look. Which is totally fair. I think anyone investing his/her time and money in a business has the right to run it however they want. But for those just starting out and still have an open mind, here you go.

The title of this post is “Who to Market to?” but it could just as easily be, “Who to Listen to?”. Throughout my life I have always heard that a business has to listen to its customers. I think that falls under the category of common sense. Listening to your customers provides feedback and the information you need to run your business to your customer’s satisfaction. Satisfied customers tend to come back.

What prompted me to write this is a series of surveys that the Paintball Business Journal has released. Those of you who are not members of the paintball Business Journal will not have seen these. I am not going to copy and paste the series of surveys here. Anyone that is really interested can join up ands become a member. Anyway, the series shows the results of answers to questions posed to hundreds of players. Some of the surveys say that over 1,000 players were surveyed while the latest one says 300+. I’m not sure how the surveying is being done, but the interesting part to me is the fact that it is “paintball players” that are being surveyed. I’m assuming it’s not being done outside the gates of paintball fields asking random people who just finished playing paintball a series of questions. Since phone books don’t identify people as paintball players, I have to assume that the survey is being conducted on-line somehow, maybe through one of the paintball forums.

The answers to the questions in the surveys tend to verify that assumption for me. For instance, in the latest survey this question was posed, “What area of the game of paintball do you see as good for the game’s growth (pick one)?”

The following results were given:
Advancing technology: 20%
Scenario paintball: 43%
Rec-ball play: 7%
Tournament paintball: 3%
Corporate paintball: 1%
Paintball on TV: 6%
Pump games: 7%
Other: 13%

The results show me that the respondents were mostly regular players. New players would have no concept on how most of these categories would affect the game’s growth, if they even knew what they were.

Let’s analyze the question and the results here a bit. First the question. “What area of the game of paintball do you see as good for the game’s growth?” What is meant by, “good for the game’s growth”? I would have to assume that means what will attract more people to the game so that there is as large as possible net growth?
20% said advancing technology. OK, I could see advancing technology as being attractive to a fairly large part of the population. There are lots of gadget freaks out there that seem to thrive on the new and improved versions of almost anything.

43% said scenario paintball. That’s almost half of the respondents. Now to me, scenario paintball means larger games lasting hours or even multiple days with missions and role-playing involved. It’s definitely an area that has seen a fair amount of growth in the past few years. But scenario games takes a bit of commitment. It takes planning. Quite often road trips are involved. Most of the participants are quite involved in paintball already (there are relatively few new players or renters). Yet 43% (the largest portion of all the available categories) believe that scenario play is good for the game’s growth.
Now, I agree that scenario paintball is probably not bad for the game’s growth, but 43% of the respondents choosing scenario paintball compared to only 7% choosing rec-ball play is outlandish. Did the respondents not understand the question? How possibly, could scenario paintball, that new players probably don’t even know exists, be chosen as more than rec-ball play (over 6 times as often) as good for the game’s growth? Did the respondents really believe that scenario games, where most of the participants are already heavily involved in paintball, will do more for promoting growth than local rec-ball play? Over 6 times more?

So let’s go back to the original topic? Who should you, as a new field owner market to? If you go by the responses of a question like that, you might think that scenario play is by far the most important thing to concentrate on if you want your business to grow. But if you are going to concentrate on scenario play, you will have to concentrate most of your marketing towards people already involved in the game. Will that really help the game’s growth. If you are in a big enough market and you do not have others already concentrating on scenario play, it may very well be a good thing for your business. But if others in your area are reading these results and also decide they are going to grow their business by concentrating on scenario play, what will that do to your business?

To answer that question, let’s compare it to where we were a few years ago when many involved in paintball decided that speedball was the direction to take for paintball to grow. It was a similar decision process. Those involved in the game said that speedball was the way of the future. New players, or those not even playing yet, were not consulted. The players already involved in the game made the decision. Speedball was concentrated on as the paintball genre to market. Turned out new players for the most part didn’t like it and didn’t want to take part. They didn’t want to step onto fields occupied by heavily armed experienced payers. So what makes 43% of the respondents think that scenario game fields, occupied by heavily armed experienced players, will aid in the game’s growth?

The point of this article is to open the eyes of future and new paintball field owners. Make sure you understand the information and data that is being fed to you. Listen to your customers. Yes! But make sure you know who your customers are. If you are running a local recreational paintball field, you need to realize that you must be appealing to new players. Existing players are not going to sustain your business without the constant influx of new players. Existing player bases die off without new players replacing the exiting players.

By the way, the answer to another question in the series, “If you could change one thing at your local field it would be?, 40% of respondents said’ “Cheaper prices” (almost twice as many as the next category). We charge anywhere from $120 to $180/case for paintballs. We have one of the most heavily attended fields in Western Canada. I very, very rarely ever have anyone tell me our prices are too high. (Edit: Actually that's not true. I have lots of people on paintball forums tell me our prices are too high. These people however are not in my market, and will most likely never be anywhere near enough to our field to contemplate playing there anyway. They are almost always players that have the desire to shoot high volumes of paintballs as well - hence why they want/need lower prices)

I have a feeling the people surveyed are not the types of people I should be listening to and are the not the types of people I should be marketing to.

Monday, August 3, 2009

West Coast Pump Weekend – Part 2

Well, it’s all over but the cleanup (actually with the help of my wife, we got most of that done today). The last of the campers left this morning to catch an early ferry. Sunday’s recreational games were lots of fun. I managed to play most of the day after some early morning administrative stuff got accomplished. I still don’t have a final count, but we must have had very close to 60 participants on Sunday. With the players that took part on Saturday, but couldn’t (or didn’t want to) on Sunday, we must have had close to 70 participants for our all pump weekend.

It was great to see many of our regular pump players and those that came from afar for the second or third time. It was also great to see many new faces. I’m really impressed and honoured that people come from as far as they do for a weekend of paintball at our humble facility. Thank you to all who make the effort and I really hope everyone that came found value for their efforts.

The Saturday night festivities went way later than an old timer like me can handle these days (some of us do NEED to get up early the next day), but from what I saw until I hit the sack and from what I heard from others the next day, everyone seemed to have a good time.

It’s always interesting to get feedback from others that have played at facilities in other parts of the world. It’s always great for that first time player to come up to us at the end of the day and tell us they had a great time, but it’s also interesting for a field owner to find out how his business stacks up to others in the world. Thanks to those who shared their thoughts with me. It was good get the reviews. I’m happy that the reviews were all good, but I would appreciate the reviews even if they weren’t.

Now, back to the regular grind until next year.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

West Coast Pump Weekend

It’s early Sunday morning of the first weekend in August. We are halfway through our third annual West Coast Pump Weekend (WCPW ’09).

Yesterday was our one and only Speedball tournament (for pump players) TNT Paintball puts on during the year and today continues with a day of all pump recreational play. It’s a lot of work every year to get things organized and pretty hectic on Saturday to get everything organized as quick as possible so the fun can begin for the players. As the organizer, I never get to play in the speedball portion of the event, but it does look like a lot of fun. I get lots of comments throughout the day and afterwards from those taking part, telling me how much fun it is. I’m hoping to get out today to take part in some of the rec games.

Attendance grows a little bit from year to year. We had sixteen 3-man teams yesterday and we’ll have more players taking part today during the rec portion of the event (I’m guessing about 60). Players came from as far away as Ontario and even had a few of our American neighbors join in.

We stress the fun aspect of the event and make sure everyone that enters knows we are playing the speedball tournament to have fun. Prizes are engraved beer glasses and bragging rights. It’s coincidental that the topic of the latest article on View from the Dead Box discusses “Expectations and Having Fun” http://viewfromthedeadbox.blogspot.com/

I totally agree with everything Baca wrote in the article. Those that want to stand on the podium at major events need to be serious about the game. Unfortunately for competitive speedball, there are very few people taking up paintball that want to commit themselves that much. Most people DO want to have fun. It’s why competitive speedball is such a relatively small part of the overall paintball picture. It may be the most visible (in the media) and even the most talked about portion of paintball, but when it comes down to it, the level of commitment and the resources needed to stand on the podium is just too great. Add in the dollars needed and then take fun out of the equation, and one can see why so few want to commit to the years of work needed to make it to the top.

Of course, Baca’s article has absolutely nothing to do with the fun 3-man pump speedball tournament we just completed. Thank goodness. Even yesterday, while everyone was having a good time, there were moments when players and teams were coming back in to the staging area with a look on their faces, that I rarely ever see during our normal rec play that we do the rest of the year. It’s that look of disappointment and maybe even a little disgust. Not disappointment with the tournament or the refs, or even the other team that just handed them defeat, but disappointment with themselves.

I see that look and it confirms for me that the decision we made many years ago to concentrate our business on recreational paintball and not tournament type paintball was the right one. We’ll probably hold West Coast Pump Weekend ’10 next year, but only because I know that look is rare at the “Fun” tournament we put on. If the tournament ever evolves or starts to attract teams that take the game too serious, we’ll probably pull the plug.

Oh yeah....the teams that placed at the event; first was War Party, second was Islander’s Army, and third was Wookie Dicks. Honourable mention goes to Team Eggroll who also placed in the finals. Congratulations to the winners. I hope everyone enjoyed themselves. Now lets get out there and have even more fun.