‘Build it and they will come’ is a phrase popularized by the Kevin Costner film ‘Field of Dreams’. While this phrase actually refers to a baseball diamond built in the middle of a remote cornfield, for some reason many small startups seem to think it applies to them. Too often, excitement about their new venture clouds their view that the business they’re about to open will be so new that all they’ll have to do is open the doors and they’ll be inundated with new customers. While this situation can occur, it is extremely rare and even more so for a business that appeals to as narrow a demographic as a paintball field. The reality of the matter is that if you don’t have a meticulous marketing plan in place to start at least 8-10 weeks before opening day, you’re already planning to fail.
The unfortunate statistic for small businesses is an 80% failure rate in the first 18 months. Forbes magazine will tell you that the main reason for this is because they ran out of money. While this is the reason why they end up closing their doors, the reason behind it is simply a lack of planning. Many new paintball field entrepreneurs get so caught up in designing and building their business that they forget about marketing altogether or, at best, it’s an afterthought. More often than not, the reason startups run out of money is because they didn’t start their marketing efforts early enough or failed altogether. The bottom line is that they were unable to generate enough business to keep their operation running. Not starting your marketing efforts early enough will ensure that your first few months of business are slow and stressful. Wrong marketing is even worse, wasting valuable time and limited upfront money to produce nothing.
Although paintball may be one of the favorite pastimes of the entrepreneur who owns the field, it takes an adult to come out of oneself and realize that not everyone has the same interest. In fact, paintball is targeted at a very small demographic, which makes marketing to a broad audience useless. Because of this, it’s wise to avoid costly TV commercials, radio ads, and newspaper ads designed to ‘keep the name of your field on everyone’s minds’. This type of media should only be used to increase publicity for specific events and not to provide the “regular exposure” that most sales reps will try to sell you. Since the game of paintball tends to attract only certain types of people, your most profitable form of advertising is to target these specific groups. This is called niche marketing and if done correctly it can be very effective. The first task is to make a list of all the different niche groups that play paintball on commercial fields. Then target specific campaigns and promotions only to these groups.
The ages of players participating in paintball are from 8 to 40 years old or older, however, it is recommended that players be at least 18 years old. This is because the pain of getting hit is often too intense for younger players. While it will take some thought, targeting youth to market your paintball field could be a worthwhile venture in the long run. Considering that most courses cater to high school and above, young players are a large demographic that tends to be left out of the business world. When you make your initial purchase of your equipment, consider purchasing paintballs, pistols, and .50 caliber gear. These are a smaller sized ball and don’t hurt when hit compared to the larger standard .68 caliber paintballs. This is a great decision because .50 caliber gear is limited in the types of weapons available. It will be too expensive to buy .50 cal and .68 cal markers and balls for your course, so you’ll have to decide on one and stick with it. While .50 caliber gear is fairly limited in the types of markers available, they are actually more cost effective than .68 caliber. Offering .50 caliber paintball will also allow you to market paintball ‘painlessly’ to a younger audience and cater to a market that is largely untouched.
Paintball is not gender specific, however it is mostly played by men. It is not a sedentary game and is much more fun for people who are more athletic and can move quickly. Target specific marketing campaigns to facilities and programs targeting youth, men, and athletics. To do this, network with groups like the local YMCA, sports centers, and even gyms. Meet with owners and/or planning managers to promote your course with informational flyers, special events, and/or certain days or games you’ve scheduled just for your group. Most cities and towns have numerous health clubs. Consider hosting a one-day paintball war for rival gyms to battle each other for a local title. This can also be done for high school sports teams during the end of their season or between seasons. Many high school coaches like to keep their team together during downtime with activities that are fun, challenging, and different from the sport they normally play. It’s a good idea to promote your field to these leaders and help them schedule an event that will help bring your team together.
It is quite common for certain groups to use outside activities for bonding exercises to bring a team closer together. Many corporate companies take their employees on rafting adventures, ropes courses and even paintball to enjoy these valuable experiences. Marketing your paintball field to all corporate companies with more than 10 employees is a great idea for this purpose. Reach out to all corporate businesses of this size within a 120 mile radius, set a specific day in your field on which you will hold the event, and/or offer them a special corporate rate. Take the time to try to meet with HR executives or managers who might be interested and host an event. Another good niche group to market your paintball field to is police and military personnel. Active duty soldiers/officers may want to rent their field for certain tactical simulation exercises. Inactive staff often still love the adrenaline rush and strategy of a good battle and have the potential to be very good repeat customers. Offer these groups military and police discounts, as well as group rates and/or special field hours.
Don’t waste your time, energy and money trying to get every taxpayer in your zip code to play your field. The list goes on for specific niche groups to market to and the more creative you can be with your promotions the better. Take some time to think of more groups to communicate with and constantly try to come up with new ideas to keep them interested in playing your field. Keep simple stats on which events/marketing campaigns and niche groups were the most successful so you know which ones to keep doing and which ones to go back to the drawing board. Once you have a steady stream of new players, focus on internal marketing strategies to keep them coming back. For example, discounts for frequent players, free tank refills or ammo after a certain number of games they have paid for, etc. Set up your paintball field from the start so that it can be manipulated to host different events and competitions for different niche groups to play there and many players will call your field home.