By Jason Casebolt
There seems to be a process happening that could erode the backbone of paintball. I could be paranoid, but with many paintball companies posting lower sales for 2005 and no sign of relief in sight, the most important part of our industry is endangered. If a proactive approach is not taken, the local paintball pro shop is next to go the way of the Do-Do Bird.
Make no mistake, the local paintball shops are one of the most important elements in the paintball industry. They might not have the notoriety of Dye, the capabilities of Smart Parts, the resources of Redz, or the sales of any of their online competitors, but the local shop owner is the face that keeps players coming around. When the mom has questions and wants to find answers, she walks up to the counter and finds an answer from a true salty dog of the gelatin covered sea.
The local shops have played an important role in the growth of paintball. Early shop and field owners took risks by carrying equipment was not a “sure thing” to sell. They marketed their product to adventure seeking individuals and have adapted their businesses to accommodate the traditional woods ball as well as the newer, faster tournament scene.
As the number of online competitors has increased, so has the strain on the local shop owner. Local shops usually have one building and rely on the sales from their shop to be all or part of their living expenses. These shop operators traditionally do not bring much business from over an hour drive away from their shops. They must spend money and time to grow the game of paintball in their area to entice new players to participate and to compensate for older players who are leaving the game.
The discount internet site usually has a warehouse. They still rely on the store to be all or part of the owner’s income. However, they are not constrained by customer driving distances. They market their products on a truly global scale. To gain more sales, they lower their prices lower than the local shops and each other.
Just as prominent, mass market retailers like Wal-Mart and Target carry a selection of paintball goods. While originally this was marketed to the paintball media as being great for introducing new players to the sport, the lack of knowledge of store staff and cheap construction of inexpensive equipment gives much of the new players a substandard first impression of the sport.
Both online paintball companies and mass market retailers rely on low price/high volume sales to fuel their business. They seek to make a few dollars per sale combined with money from shipping and handling. While the money gained per sale is not substantial, a large enough order base can give these companies a decent profit. This type of approach further strains the local shops as these internet customers only see the initial price of buying equipment, instead of the added customer support that the pro shop can give.
It is true that local pro shops gain additional income by operating playing fields. While this may seem like big business, keep the following factors in mind. Most United States paintball fields are operated only on weekends. This allows for approximately 104 days a year that they can be open. Other factors such as poor weather and length of daylight further reduce this time that these operations have to be profitable. (As a side note: how fun is it to work every weekend?)
In short it seems like there are few success factors for local paintball shops. Actually, most of these factors have been present since the beginning. The biggest difference between then and now is that every new online paintball retailer and mass market retailer are direct competitors to these pro shops. These newer entities even have more resources than most shop owner have access to.
These competitors strain the income of the shop owners. The fields that these shop owners operate lack an appropriate amount of revenue producing time to offset the difference. A combination of these factors creates a money pit.
If shop owners are unprofitable, they will not be in business. Once the internet and mass market retails push these pro shops out of business, it makes little rational that the owners would continue to operate their paintball fields. Without the exposure and enticement of a local paintball field, it becomes more unlikely that people around that area will continue to participate in paintball. Reducing participation leads to lower sales, as people will not buy equipment if they are not participating. Lower sales also crosses over to the internet and mass market retailers, further diminishing their profit margins. While mass market retailers are likely not to be affected by poor paintball sales, internet retailers are. With many internet retailers and fewer sales, some internet retails will begin to close as well.
This sounds horrible for the sport of paintball and for the wallets of those who operate paintball businesses. What is the solution? Encourage the player base to give business to local shops. By keeping these shops open, those shop owners will stay in business, their fields will remain open, players will have a place to play and the internet paintball sites will be able to sell their products to people.
In addition, shop owners should run a clean and efficient operation. Be creative, entice people and demonstrate a value that makes purchasing from your business attractive to players. The paintball business is not a charity case and the effort of these business owners in a hyper-competitive paintball industry needs to overcome the obstacles against success.
The local shop owners are at a disadvantage because they have placed all their eggs in one basket. Granted, some shops might stock an odd skateboard or two, but most local operations specialize in paintball. This type of approach limits any type of additional income they might receive.
So I leave you with this thought. Support your local store(s), when you beat them up for every penny and push them to match online prices, you are squeezing the paintball industry as a whole!