Tuesday, September 29, 2009

What’s Different?

When opening a business most future entrepreneurs look around at their future competition to evaluate what they are doing right and what they think they are doing wrong. They will also look at other businesses in their industry they may not be competing with, possibly in other locations, that they want to emulate. If someone has found a formula for success, why not cash in on that and copy it? There is nothing wrong with that.

Unfortunately, most future business owners don’t do enough research. Paintball field owners are for the most part guilty of this. Most future field owners look around their potential market area, see what others are doing, copy the good and try to improve on the bad. But for the most part, they are copying what everyone else is doing with only minor changes, hoping it will be enough to attract a larger portion of the market to their field. Usually they concentrate on one aspect of the business to improve on over their competitors. For instance, one field owner may figure that kick-ass tourney fields are missing in the marketplace and will build great turf fields to attract all the players that find that important. Others may think that prices are too high and will offer lower prices to attract a larger portion of the market to his field. There is nothing wrong with taking any of these approaches if the field owner is committed to them and follows through with his plan. If all works well, it may work and he may get a bigger part of the pie.

In reality, this is small thinking though, in my opinion. Doing things better or making minor changes to attract a larger portion of the pie is fine, but why not go for the gusto and do what you need to do, to enlarge the pie and attract a whole new customer base? Every market in North America has all kinds of people that would more than likely love to play paintball, even though they may never have tried before or even given it much thought. What does a field owners need to do to attract those customers? What does a field owner need to do to keep those customers once they came once? What can a field do to stand out and be different from all the other fields to cash in on that potentially huge market? Doing the same as every other field with only minor changes isn’t going to do it.

If you are a potential field owner, I can’t tell you what that difference is. It’s probably different in every marketplace. I do know it doesn’t include marketing to paintballers. Those already playing paintball don’t need to be marketed too much. You either have what they want or you don’t. You need to be different so that those not already playing paintball feel the need to try it, and they feel the need to try it at your field. Don’t be afraid to do things different from what everyone else is doing. There is no success without risk. Just make sure it’s calculated risk.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Staffing a Paintball Field

We have a lot of staff that work at TNT Paintball. Other than my business partner and myself, none of them work at TNT full time. Over time, we’ve had some that have worked close to full time hours, but most work on a very casual basis, basically working a day here and there, mostly to support their own paintball habit. We have a few refs that work at a regular schedule (i.e. every Saturday).

Most of our staff is drawn from our regular customers. This works well for the most part, as they already know, for the most part, how we operate our business. We usually have a pretty good idea what their character is like from watching them play and how they act in the Staging Area between games. We still need to make sure, they understand our general philosophy.

A little while ago, one of our staff that began his playing days at TNT (like many of them have), graduated” to tournament paintball. This is not uncommon, and in general I don’t have a problem with them working at our field and playing tournament ball somewhere else when they are not working for us. But we have to be careful. Sometimes, these staff members start to adopt some of the philosophies they pick up at other fields they hang out at and bring them back to our field.

This was the case with this particular staff member. A little TNT philosophy lesson may be in order here, before I go on. When signing customers up upon arrival, they often ask how many paintballs they will need. I usually tell them that our average customers shoots a little over 500 paintballs if they stay all day, but the exact number varies from player to player a little. Most choose to buy 500 paintballs and then they might come back later in the day to get another 100 or 200. Sometimes a couple of guys will split another 500 between themselves. This has worked pretty well for us and seems to be a good amount for people to have fun, without “starving” themselves of paintballs.

The staff member in question though, started pushing higher paintballs sales. He would say things like, “The average customer uses 500 to 700 paintballs but if you really want to have a good time, you might want to get 1,000. That way you won’t have to worry about running out.”

I took him aside and asked him why he was doing this? He replied that he was trying to increase sales and make us more money. The problem here is that this particular staff member was using his experiences and his new found love for shooting high volumes of paintballs, and letting it affect how he operated when working at TNT Paintball.

I had to explain in great detail our philosophy of having players shoot an average somewhere between 500 and 700 paintballs per day. I explained to him that I didn’t want that average to increase to 1,000 paintballs per day, even if it meant that we were making more money from each individual customer. It took him a while to understand what I was trying to get across to him. He was shooting well over 1,000 paintballs per day at his new found speedball hobby and I guess assumed, because he was having fun shooting lots of paintball, that everyone would automatically have more fun as well shooting more paintballs.

My point here is that if you have staff, in any business, you need to make sure they understand your general philosophy. You may have a general mission statement that your staff is aware of, but they need guidance to make sure that general mission is actually achieved, the way you, as the owner/manager envisions it. There are far too many businesses, and many paintball fields are very guilty of this, that let their staff run their businesses the way they (the staff) want to run them. A business owner can’t let this happen.

Hiring and managing staff, is probably the single most important (and difficult) part of running a business. A business’ staff needs to be an extension of the owner/manager’s vision. If it’s not, the business is being pulled in different directions. Businesses need to have a consistent direction they are moving in and everyone involved in the business has to be made aware of what that direction is and what they need to do, to make sure it stays on course.