Over the Hill: Paintball is Hurting! Part 1 of 2
article by Jason Casebolt
If you have been too busy playing paintball rather than analyzing paintball (I have no life) then you might not have noticed that the paintball industry is in a downswing right now. At first this might seem like a lie, with paintball sports participation breaking new growth records every year. Unfortunately, this is a textbook business example that could have been predicted. Here are the details…
The signs are there. Rumors are floating around that some major paintball companies have scaled back their magazine advertising. K2 (the parent company for Brass Eagle, Viewloader, JT and WGP) blames its lower-than-expected earnings on its Paintball Division. Worse yet, have you tried selling a used marker? That is the biggest punch in the gut yet!
Product Life Cycle:
There is a concept in business called “The Product Life Cycle”. It applies to most products or industries with an outstanding degree of accuracy. I am going to explain what it is and how it is a perfect fit to what is happening right now with paintball.
The Product Life Cycle is a sequence of stages that starts from the time a product is introduced until the time that the product interest decreases or even ceases to exist all together. The Cycles goes as follows: Introduction, Growth, Maturity, and Decline.
In the Introduction Stage, the company introduces the product to the market and seeks to build awareness and a user base. Also think of this as the “chance taker” stage. Usually the prices for the end user are higher in order to recover research and development costs. Distribution is limited until it is clear that the user base will accept the product. Promotion is targeted toward the early users of the product and is not nationally comprehensive.
Paintball’s Introduction Stage is by far the longest stage in the sport so far. Starting in the 1980’s, it was very slow to build momentum. Paintball and the associated equipment were introduced onto the recreational activity market during this time frame.
The price of equipment was drastically higher than it is now. Original designs of stock class type pump markers were hundreds of dollars. These cock-and-shoot beasts did not have to include costly electronics as a selling point, but their lack of mass production kept the prices high. Prices of the balls themselves were around fifty cents each, very unbelievable compared to the two cents per ball (or lower) that we see common today.
Distribution was limited to small pockets of innovators. Marketing was pointed toward early risk-takers who opened the country’s first rental fields. At the time, there was little interest in owning equipment for multi-year paintball activities. This resulted in rental fields buying equipment for the average person to use once every year or so, if it all.
During the 1980’s there were very few dedicated paintball shops. The amount of equipment was limited. There were less than a dozen paintball markers for most of the sports history. The popularity of the sport was still years away from inclusion in Wal-Mart and Target. If you were lucky enough to find a “Pro Shop”, the equipment was considered overpriced. Most people resorted to mail order catalogs for better selection, but these catalogs still had high prices.
Growth happens after Introduction. This is often the “making money hand over fist” stage. Companies in the growth stage try to establish their brand name and increase their share of the market. The quality and support features of companies started to become a focus. Prices for products are still high due to increasing demand and few competitors. Distribution starts becoming widespread. Advertising and promotion starts to spread out with a farther reach than the Introduction stage.
True Growth in the paintball industry really started around the early 1990’s and ended within the last two years. More brands of markers and types of equipment started appearing. The playing field became something that most people (non-paintball playing) have heard of. Non-paintballing people were more likely to have seen a Pro Shop, at some point, though they may not be able to recall where. But the presence was felt.
This was also the period in increased attendance at local and national tournaments and scenario events. Attendance at local fields also soared, attendance soared enough for people to risk it all and open stores and fields across the world. The first electronic markers were invented in this time period which fueled later “outside the box” ideas and improvements.
In the early to mid 90s markers like the Automag and Autococker were slugging it out for the “top of the food chain” award. The Smart Parts Shocker and the WDP Angel knocked them off of their pedestal in the late 90s. Spyder and Tippmann started battling for the entry level market. “High Quality” became a top priority for marker manufacturers during this time period (companies like Tippmann and AGD).
During this time period it was common to find upgraded Spyders worth over $500 and upgraded Autocockers pushing well over $1000. A case of paint was still around $120 for the first part of this time period. As time progressed toward the Maturity Stage it has (the additional consumer spending on upgrades – more on this later) gradually tapered off.
More distributors and wholesale operations started to appear. This encouraged growth in Pro Shops around the country. Paintball magazines could be found in news stands and local grocery stores everywhere. Advertising and branding covered each page of early magazines like Action Pursuit Games. As paintball events grew in popularity, sponsored teams (as advertising expenditures) started influencing buying decisions of paintball loyalists.
*As a side note, important paintball information and advertising sites like Paintball.com were also established during this phase.
Well that is it for now. Check back tomorrow for part 2 which wraps up this lesson.