Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Jane Doe Plays Paintball

OK, I’m writing this as it may be relatively easy for most people to visualize.

Jane Doe decides to play paintball for the very first time (I use Jane rather than John, because for my example, it will probably be even more easy to visualize, but John may have the same experience). Jane goes to Bill Bob’s Paintball Emporium. She’s never played so she asks Billy Bob how much it’s going to cost and how it all works.

Billy Bob is very helpful and explains to her that her paintball outing is going to cost $50 and will include the use of the field, supplied referees, all the rental equipment she will need and all the paintballs she will need during her outing. Jane says that sounds great.

Billy Bob informs her that the only other decision she needs to make is whether or not she wants to play in the “casual experience” game or whether she wants to play in the “extreme experience” game. Jane asks for clarification. Billy Bob tells her that it is exactly the same thing, including the same price. The only difference is that in the “extreme experience” game, everyone is given three times as many paintballs. That means that not only will Jane be able to shoot three times as many paintballs, but Jane will most likely have three times as many paintballs shot at her.

Jane opts for the “casual experience” game. At the end of the day, when Billy Bob asks Jane if she had fun, Jane tells him that she had a lot of fun and will be back. She had so much fun, next time she is going to try the “extreme experience” version. Billy Bob is happy and Jane leaves with a big smile on her face.

Six months go by and Jane returns to Billy Bob’s Paintball Emporium. This time Jane chooses the “extreme experience” version. Jane finds if much harder to move around and difficult to even stick her head up to get all her paintballs shot. She never does get close enough to a flag to grab it. It was still fun, but not nearly as much as her first paintball outing.

At the end of the day when Billy Bob asks how Jane liked it, she tells him that she didn’t have as much fun as her first outing. Next time she will play the “casual experience” version again. She says it costs the same, but it’s more fun. Billy Bob says he understands and looks forward to seeing her next time.

Will Jane return to play paintball again? Hopefully. But at least Jane has a choice. She can pay the same amount and choose to play in the environment to her liking. How many paintball fields out there provide that choice to their customers? I don’t mean the choice of playing in an all rental game either. I mean playing in a game where she will shoot less paintball and have less paintballs shot at her? If fields are arming their customers with as many cheap paintballs as they feel like purchasing, how does that affect Jane’s paintball experience? Would Jane have come back a second time if she had chosen the “extreme experience” version the first time?

Monday, December 28, 2009

Thought of the Day

It’s easier to run a paintball company during times when the paintball industry has good positive growth than during times when the paintball industry has negative growth.

If you are the head of a large corporation that manufactures and markets paintballs and paintball products, you might be considered to be a great businessman if you are doing this during times when virtually everything in paintball is growing. If you sell out near the beginning of a negative growth period, you might be considered wise.

The reputation and profits you have from being in business during those times might give you a head start when you decide to enter the market during tougher times. But during times when an industry is relatively stagnant in growth, it will truly take a great businessman to build something from the ground up. Just being in the right place at the right time isn’t going to cut it.

Smoke and mirror marketing isn’t going to do it either in these times of instant and easy communication. All it takes is one person to peak behind a mirror and within minutes the rest of the world knows what’s going on behind the fa├žade.

No. For a business to succeed in such times it needs products and/or services with good value. In times of past, you could get by with having products and/or services with perceived good value, but even that is tougher and tougher. It’s hard to fool people these days, almost impossible to do it for any length of time. If you are trying to market something that doesn’t work very well in these times, chances are you are going to have a tough time doing so, no matter how great your reputation may be with some people.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Big Box Stores dropping Paintball?

Baca Loco on VFTD (http://viewfromthedeadbox.blogspot.com/) in his latest post says that “paintball sales in all the box stores has declined in recent years and is losing shelf space everywhere”. Apparently WalMart is phasing paintball out of their line-up altogether. I don’t know if that is true, but Loco’s sources are usually pretty good.

I would assume that this is due to first time players not getting excited about paintball and not planning on returning for a second outing. I know over the years, I’ve had many players that were so excited about their first time playing, by the end of the day they were asking where they could buy their own gear. I didn’t send them to WalMart (sorry Sam Walton), but I did give them advice on where to go. But I’m sure there are lots of people that have a great time on their first outing and do go to places like WalMart to buy their first set of equipment.

I wonder if WalMart has put 2 plus 2 together and realizes that the cheap paint they are selling is a big reason people are not having fun on their first visit and therefore not buying their first set of equipment from WalMart? Probably not. Let’s face it, they are not going to put that much thought into the problem.

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.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Why do people play paintball?

I read a post today of a young man today who is giving up paintball. At least that’s what he says he is doing. His reason is that chasing the dream of being great player leaves people poor and wasting their life. He had only being playing for two years.

It got me thinking about why people play paintball. I’ve heard his story before, quite often actually. But for the most part, the people I know that play paintball regularly, play for fun. They have no ambition to be great players, to get a free ride, or even get paid for playing. Now eventually, virtually everyone quits playing the game they first fell in love with. There are lots of reasons players get side tracked and drop out of paintball. We all know that. But for a relatively new player to quit because he realizes that paintball holds no future for him and is sucking the life out of him, is really quite sad in my opinion.

It comes down to expectations I guess. What do you, as a player, expect to get out of playing paintball? For me, all I expect is to have a good time. I don’t care if I win or lose, although I do have more fun when I get more eliminations that than the number of times I get eliminated. But even those days when the ratio is against me, if I can get one or two really good eliminations, I can go home happy and look forward to my next day of play.

If I went to field and felt I had to perform at a certain level every time I went, or if I needed to get more eliminations than anyone else, and if that did not happen, I would be bummed out, I too would probably quit, when I came to the realization that the game was no longer fun, but was a stressful job instead. When I think of it that way, it makes it clear why tournament paintball is having as much problems as it has. The ratio of people that choose stress and poverty over fun and relaxation is quite low I bet. Actually I don’t have to bet, I am positive it is. So if you are a player that has just recently discovered paintball, make sure you understand what awaits you on the path you choose to travel. And if you are a new field owner or a person contemplating opening a field, think about which path you want you want to set your business up on.

Rambling

Stark white walls stare back at me. Minutes tick by. The keyboard waits patiently for me.

Paintball is a big part of my life. It’s how I’ve made my living for the better part of 9 years now. Writing is a small part of my life that is relatively new to me. I’m not very good at it and most often refer to it as rambling, rather than writing. I don’t even really know why I write. I’ve never been the artistic type. To be honest, I’d probably be better suited to write technical manuals. Too bad I’m not the technical type either. Maybe I could learn Chinese and translate manuals for large Chinese companies exporting to English speaking countries. God knows they could use some help with that.

Nevertheless, almost a year ago, I started this whole blogging thing and since much of my life these days revolves around running a paintball field, it seemed fitting that I should write about that. But admittedly, after 9 years of running a paintball field that is doing “OK”, the business itself is almost running on auto-pilot. Sure there are always little fires to put out and some minor decisions to make. There is some maintenance involved and even building the odd new structure, or possibly even a field. But after a while, there is very little “new” stuff. It repeats itself. I think that is why, after close to a year of blogging, my writing has become less frequent.

After covering all the basics, how much new stuff is there to write about? Sure, I could write about what others in paintball are doing like other blogs do, but what would be the point? There are already enough people doing that and what would be the fun in doing that? I’ve always considered myself an individual, not a follower, but not really a leader either. I like to be in control of my own life, but I don’t feel the need to lead and control others. At the field, I need to be in control, as the person running the show, but I have a tough time commanding people and demanding effort from my employees. I would rather lead by example and “suggest” things my employees should be doing. Most of the time they take me up on my suggestions, some more than others. Those that do rarely don’t get called in to work very often.

I think it works much better if employees understand why they need to do their jobs in a certain way, rather than being forced to do their jobs in a certain way, without a conscious understanding of why they should do it that way. Since I have a multitude of employees that seem to meet the necessary criteria to do their jobs, it makes it that much simpler for me. Having said all that, a manager of a business, and a manager of the people involved in that business, must never get too relaxed or complacent. A degree of control is necessary.

But I don’t have the drive that some business owners have. I don’t want to open a second location. I don’t want to open a retail outlet. Others would possibly make an effort to build their business up and then sell franchises. Not interested. Maybe I’m just plain old fashioned lazy. I don’t know.

Anyway, the white walls are no longer staring back at me. I’ve rambled and achieved very little in this post and I’m torn between deleting the whole thing and going to bed. But since you are reading this, I obviously have not chosen to do that. I haven’t written anything in a few days, so I’ll post it up just to make it look like I haven’t totally slacked off. If anyone has any topics that an old paintball field operator might shed some light on, let me know. Until then, I’ll just keep rambling every once in a while.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

68 Caliber Marker Giveaway

After recently giving a brand new Tippmann SL68 away at 68 Caliber.com, to the winner of a draw anyone could enter, they've now trumped that by doing a giveaway for a brand new Phantom. It's grey/black and very beautiful and has both matching stock class and direct feed bodies. Clear parts as well. All you gotta do is register in the forum and write a short 100 to 500 words on "Why I Play Pump". End of the contest is Dec. 18, so get your entries in. More info at http://68caliber.com/

100 words too much effort? This is 112 words and took about three minutes to write (only because I type slow).