Thursday, December 17, 2009

Crunching the Numbers

A paintball field is a really simple business. At least that seems to be the general perception among many people, including paintball players. That’s why most fields in the past, have been opened up by paintball players with a passion for the game, rather than business people looking for a profitable venture. Before we opened our field, my business partner and myself played paintball every once in a while, but we were not fanatic paintball players. We played once or twice per year with groups we organized. On the other hand, we were not business people, at least not people with an education intended to lead us to owning or running businesses (I had taken a few accounting and marketing courses, but nothing too serious). But over the years we have learned a bit and I now consider ourselves business people. Although there is a definite limit to what types and size of business we would feel qualified to run.

I’ve always thought the industry would be better off if there were more business people involved rather than players turned field owners running fields by the seat of their pants. I still believe this. There is a need for professionalism in the industry and since paintball fields are at the front line, dealing with the end users (players), professionalism at that level is very important. But although paintball fields seem like really simple businesses, there is a little more to running a field than crunching numbers.

At the heart of every paintball field business is the necessity to provide its customers entertainment. If the number crunchers are looking at numbers alone, we have a problem. I am reminded of Tom Hank’s character in Big. With the help of Zoltar (the arcade wish maker), his mind is transformed back to that of a 10 year old while keeping his adult body. Fate places him in the employment of a toy company where he quickly challenges the number crunchers to evaluate the toys for their entertainment or fun value. A Paintball field owner too, needs to understand that without fun being constantly at the forefront of their conscious thinking, their field will not do as well in the long run. Yes, it’s nice to go home at the end of the day with a big bank deposit, but if the higher than normal income came at the cost of players not having as much fun, how long will those big deposits happen? How long until the numbers of players showing up at the field decrease because last time they came, they didn’t have as much fun?

So does that mean that players turned field owners make better field owners than non-playing business people because they understand the game better from a player’s perspective? No, not necessarily. If a non-playing business owner made decisions based on data and graphs alone, he would probably fail in the long run (unless you could somehow capture “fun” in spreadsheets and databases). But if he had input from staff and most importantly from his customers, and interpreted that input properly, along with doing the number crunching, he has a good chance of success.

A player turned field owner can learn good business practices, assuming he is mature enough and willing to do so. But the big hurdle for that type of field owner to overcome is his interpretation of fun. Many people draw from their own experiences and their idea of fun and falsely conclude that everyone’s idea of fun is the same. This is especially true if the field owner is a veteran or hard core paintball player but many of his customers are first time or casual players.

Looking back, I consider myself lucky that my business partner and myself were not hardcore players. We were occasional players, organizing groups of friends and co-workers once or twice a year to have fun. We did exactly what I talked about in the last paragraph. We built our business exactly the way we thought it should be built based upon our experience of what we thought was fun. It just so happened that it is very similar to what most people, who are not hardcore players also consider fun. And it has worked out fairly well for us.

On the other hand, I’ve met many field owners that were hardcore tournament players before opening their business. Like us, they built their business with their idea of fun in mind. Most of them have not done as well. It’s not because their fields are not fun for similar thinking players. It’s the fact that that there are less similar thinking people on this planet. Now don’t take that comment as an anti-tournament type field or player statement. It’s not meant to be anti-anything. It’s just reality. The majority of paintball played on any given day on this planet is played by first time and occasional players, not by hardcore paintball players. If a field owner understands what the majority of people want in the form of fun, they will always outperform those that do not. Of course, he still needs to crunch the numbers to make sure he is providing that fun without taking a loss.

No comments:

Post a Comment