Thursday, July 2, 2009

Paintball By The Numbers

Why is tournament paintball in decline? Is it really in decline? Is rec play down? In raw numbers? Dollars spent? Or both? Is the impact uniform across the country or does it have any regional variations? Are scenarios and Big Games as strong as ever? If so, why? Are they playing with restricted ROF or paint limitations? Is tourney ball seeing a decline because the game is too expensive? Or because fewer new players are entering paintball of any sort? (Meaning we're losing the raw material of future tourney ballers.) Or because high volumes of paint are scaring away those same new players and perhaps keeping some number of would be players away as well?

There sure are a lot of questions. And not a lot of answers. Or so it seems. Wouldn't it be nice to know what's really going on? Other than the fact tournament paintball is at the mercy of an industry that seems incapable of finding its backside with both hands. What the hell is industry doing other than trying to find more efficient ways for the haves to sell to the remaining retail outlets while trying to marginalize the have nots? Here's an idea. How about a model field program that all the Big Boys participate in. If you want to know what's happening at the grass roots try getting down there and see. The basic idea is to operate say, three, fields in diverse markets and see what's working and/or experiment with different ideas and try to find ways to make things work better--for everybody. (I know, I know.) Find answers to some of the questions currently plaguing the game. If everyone in industry participates nobody gets an advantage and everyone gets the benefits of any advances while sharing the cost of making the effort. Make it a PSTA project. If the PSTA could develop a package based on real life experience with proven methods to help make the local field(s) a success it would have actually accomplished something.

Not too keen on that idea? I didn't think so.

Fortuitously Jeff Perlmutter of PMI fame is looking into a variation of the concept. He wants to acquire and then operate as model parks a number of local paintball fields around the country. (See the interview over at the Big Bullet.) His idea is to find a system that produces a positive paintball experience and reproduce it at all his parks. (And perhaps spin if off as a franchise or something similar?) Jeff and his folks could do the work for the industry. Who knows, a little industry support now might reap real dividends in relatively short order.

Still not too keen on the idea? Here's a simpler version that might be worthwhile.

A field owners questionnaire aimed at discovering what's working in different places around the country (or even the world.) I hesitate to even suggest this on the basis that somebody must already be doing something similar, mustn't they? If for no other reason than marketing and sales need some sense of what's happening on the retail front in order to do their job effectively. Right? (For those of you who are field owners [Reiner, Mick] have any of your suppliers ever done anything similar?) Combine the answers from the questionnaire with a sales history and there may be enough data there, when combined with potentially hundreds of others, to begin to understand some of the the things happening in the paintball market, and why.

Of course it isn't as easy as suggesting it ought to be done--even generating a truly effective questionnaire would be a challenge--but maybe it's a place to start thinking about the challenges in a different way. Or not.


anonachris said...

Sheesh... I hope Mr. Perlmutter has something up his sleeve, because you'd think his days at PMI would tell him there is no money in running a paintball field/store there is only money in selling things to people who are trying to make money running a paintball field/store.

So either he forgot that lesson, or he's going to try and franchise like you said and achieve profitability through superior cost/vendor management (and volume) a la Walmart.

raehl said...

Actually, there *IS* money in running a paintball field. I'll tell you the secret:

Charge $100 or more per case of paint.

There you go. Actually, in all fairness, there are some fields out there who have made it work at $80/case, like EMR ($80/case), CPX ($90) or Skirmish ($99)

I think what Jeff has up his sleeve is that the paintball park business is dominated by owners who are not smart enough to realize that charging $45-$65/case is killing their business.

Separately, to understand why Scenario/Big Games are doing well, you only need to go to one and look around. Average age is around 35-40. It's where all the people who USED to play tournaments 15 years ago ended up. (Not the same individual people, but the 40 year old with money who played tournaments in 1995 is the 40 year old with money who plays scenario games now) The always-poor but incredibly athletic and fast teenager drove the participants with money out of tournaments.

Reiner Schafer said...

It will be interesting to see what Jeff's strategy is. Reading between the lines of the interview, I got the feeling Jeff envisioned paintball to be a certain way, but along the way we went down some roads that he thinks we shouldn't have gone down. I think he's looking at trying things his way, closer to the way he envisioned the game to be.

The industry has, for the most part, been cannibalizing itself. Field owners for instance have put more efforts into attracting existing customers from other fields (mostly with lower and lower prices) than they have put into attracting new customers.

I have a feeling Jeff wants to build parks that will be fun for everyone, not just avid paintball players. I can totally relate.

In the end, to be successful as an industry and have the maximum amount of participation, we need to create a product, or multiple versions of the product, that are fun. Paintball at 20, 15, 12, or even 10 bps is not fun for casual, occasional, or first time players. Overall, too many paintballs in the air is not fun for those players. By supplying a product where many are shooting close to a case of paintballs (even first timers) we are keeping a HUGE number of potential players out of the game. I have a feeling Jeff knows this.

Reiner Schafer said...

Baca, you were asking about questionnaires. I don’t recall anyone ever doing large scale surveys of field customers. Questionnaires are a very tricky thing. First you need to format the questions in such a way, to make sure you are not steering the respondents in any particular direction. Then you need to administer the questionnaire so that your respondents are from demographic you are trying to get information from (possibly as wide of a sample group as possible). Then you need to interpret those responses and analyse them. That in itself is a very difficult task.

Here’s an example of how easily, in my opinion, something like this can go wrong. If I were to ask my customers, at my recreational paintball field, if they would play more often if the price of paintballs were cut in half, I could virtually guarantee you that the response would be almost 100%, yes. On face value, that would tell me that if I cut my paintball prices in half, I would have my current customers playing more often and I would most likely attract new customers that are currently not playing at my field because paintball prices are too high. It’s the logical conclusion. Nearly 100% of the respondents tell me that is what will happen. Yet I know from experience that in fact that will not happen. A few will come more often, but many will not come back after experiencing the environment those new paintball prices will create. So did the respondents lie? No, of course not. They answered absolutely truthfully.

My point is that the responses from surveys and questionnaires cannot be taken at face value, and may in fact totally mislead the people trying to gather information.

Hopefully what Jeff Perlmutter will do will provide us with good information, or at least business models we can learn from. Many paintball fields (and stores), which are the greeters and hosts to new paintball participants, have been run by unprofessional hobbyists for far too long. We’ve basically put the future of our industry in the hands of people who for the most part, have no sense of how to run a proper business. Then we wonder what went wrong.

Baca Loco said...

Actually Reiner, I was interested in the possibility any of the industry peeps had tried to follow up with you as a field owner to find out what made your business tick. Not so much the views of your customers.

Shannon said...

Yes, I realized that is what you were after. I was just giving an example of how surveys can be misleading.

As far as I can remember, "industry peeps" have never contacted myself or any field owners I am in contact with for such information (what's working and what isn't). Who are these industry peeps that you think may have some control over the direction paintball goes in the future? The people heading up the manufacturers and wholesalers have their own agenda and , quite frankly, don't have a good track record of choosing the right direction. They are still getting it wrong. This is of course just my opinion. I'm sure they feel they have and continue to do things just fine. I for one, don't need them to tell me what's good for my business.

That leads me to the next point. The control of the industry has, and will continue to be, with the field owners, for the most part. And that's the problem. Most field owners are not particularly savvy business people. I know I'm not. I'm just a casuall paintball player that got into the paintball field business because I thought it would be more fun that most other jobs and I thought there was money in it. That's the same reasoning most field owners used when making the decision to get into the paintbal field business. We're not trained business people. We're just regular people who wanted to run their own business. So now we have thousands of inexperienced, uneducated people making the decisions that steer an industry. We make the decisions every day that determine whether the industry's bread and butter customers have fun and therefore whether or not they will continue to be customers. "Industry peeps" do not have that power. And I don't think they will have the power to influence thousands of individual entrpreneurs, each with their own vision of what they think is the right way to run a paintbal field.

No, the problems facing the industry will be "fixed" by economic pressures, as always. Entrepreneurs (current and future) will see what works and will copy it. Those that continue what doesn't work well, will dwindle away. The whole thing will just take time.

Baca Loco said...

Yes, of course, but that is where volume of data comes into play, in part.

You may not need them to but by your own admission there are plenty of poorly or ineptly run operations that are the local faces of paintball that do need some guidance and if it isn't going to come from PBIndustry--who, as you noted, have a vested interest, then where is it going to come from?

And if you really believe that thousands of inexperienced peeps are making the critical decisions that drive the direction of the various branches of paintball you would be mistaken. They are without doubt making decisions but they aren't close, collectively or otherwise, to making the driving decisions.

And whether or not they are responsible for the state of the customer at present is an open question. And the whole point of the post. You have an opinion. And a model that works for you where you are. Should all of paintball model itself after your field? Maybe , but your experience alone doesn't confirm or deny that supposition.

But without some real answers we're all left simply guessing and promoting our individual opinions.

Reiner Schafer said...

Shannon? Apparently I have split personalities that I'm not aware of. Shannon is my daughter-in-law. I'm such a non-techy, it's not even funny.

I'm not saying manufacturers and wholesalers do not have any influence. They do. But on a local level (and when you get down to it, paintball is expanded at the local level, like it or not) the local field owners have the most influence on expanding the sport. So yes, I disagree with you. Local field owners are in control of the industry's destiny. Most just don't know it. And as far as I am concerned, most are screwing it up.

Real answers are hard to come by. And yes, it seems that for the most part, there is no real effort being made to find them. Every one in the industry seems to have their own agenda. Manufaturers and wholesalers seem to be concerned only with next month's sales and if they need to steal sales form each other or shift from one genre to another so be it. Fieldowners seem to only be concerned with what they need to do to get the largest portion of the current pie to show up at THEIR field next Saturday and Sunday. There is very little long term planning going on. Well I guess there is Richmond Italia doing some planning, but as far as I can see, his planning revolves mostly around how much money he can end up collecting in his pocket. He's spinning a good line (or at least trying to), but in today's world of instant communication, it's much harder to manipulate an industry as it was in the past, even with spending a pile of money. We'll have to wait and see how he fares. Jeff Perlmutter is doing some long term planning, on a smaller scale. He hasn't laid out exactly what he is planning with his paintball parks, but at least it sounds like he's headed in a direction to bring the fun back into recreational paintball. Again, we'll have to wait and see.

It would be nice to see some entity taking the bull by the horn and getting to work on setting the industry straight, but I don't think that entity exists. It's like everyone is waiting for a guardian angel to step forward and make things right. But there is no guardian angel. There's just you and me and thousands of others like us, each with our own ideas. So I guess we agree that we are all simply guessing and promoting our own ideas. Welcome to free enterprise. It's working for me and it's working the way its supposed to. Those that guess right and have good ideas, survive. Those whose ideas are not so good, don't fare as well. And whose fault is that? All they have to do, is open their eyes and look arond to see what is working and what isn't.