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Paintball! Get ready for extreme sales!

Are you ready for an extreme sport in your gun shop? Are you ready to think outside the box? Yes? Then get into paintball. The fast-growing sport attracts thousands of new participants each year, most of them in their 20s, with money and a willingness to spend it.

"It's an issue of dollars. There are more dollars spent on paintball gear than on gear for many other sports. For instance, there are way more dollars spent on paintball than on archery or football," said J.J. Brookshire, director of business development for National Paintball Supply, a full-line paintball distributor and manufacturer.

One gun shop that added paintball to its product mix is Mark's Outdoor Sports in Birmingham, Ala. Mark's is a full-service gun dealership, specializing in hunting and fishing.

"We've built our business by trying new things and by thinking outside the box," said John Fuller, paintball manager at Mark's Outdoor Sports. "Paintball has brought a lot of people into the store. It introduces younger guys to the store, and then their dads will come in and buy hunting stuff or their mothers will come in to buy presents. And maybe 25 percent or more of our paintball customers cross over into other shooting sports."

Paintball has passed the fad phase and is now a mainstream sport. There are professional paintball tournaments with coverage on SpikeTV and ESPN. According to the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association, paintball is one of the most popular extreme sports in the country, with only inline skating and skateboarding having more participants.

An American Sports Data's Superstudy of Sports Participation for 2005 reveals the popularity of paintball.

* 10,357,000 people participated in paintball in the U.S.

* 80 percent of participants were male, 20 percent female.

* The average age of males participating was 22.5 years, females, 24 years.

* Median household income for participants was in excess of $68,000.

* 26 percent of paintball players are involved in the shooting sports.

* 23 percent are involved with target shooting.

* 19 percent hunt with rifles.

* 13 percent hunt with shotguns.

* 10 percent participate in archery.

* From 1998 through 2005, paintball participation increased 74.9 percent. These numbers show that paintball can be a viable addition to your store.

One industry company, Game Face Paintball, a joint venture of Crosman Corp. and Procaps Inc., has taken aggressive steps to address a part of the paintball market they call "woodsball/scenario."

"The woodsball/scenario paintball participant is closer to the classic 'recreational paintballer,' leaving Game Face in a strong position to capitalize on this target market," said Ken D'Arcy, president and CEO of Crosman and Game Face. "Game Face is committed to the future of paintball. The brand will continue to grow its core business and broaden its offering, while staying at the leading edge of paintball technology."

Game Face offers Recon, Visible Impact, Kluster, Sheridan, VeXor, Skul and other brands of paintball products.


Getting Started

Okay, you're ready to take on paintball. The best first step, Brookshire says, is to contact a full-service paintball supplier or distributor.

"When I say full service, I mean someone who has multiple brands and who doesn't have a vested interest in one brand over another," Brookshire said. "You want someone who's not stuck in one brand, but one who offers soup to nuts."

Brookshire stresses the importance of taking this "distributor approach" to paintball.

"Many outdoor retailers contact the same companies they see in the big-box stores. Retailers go into the sporting goods department of a big-box, see what's on the shelf, look at the contact information on the packaging and contact that company. Then, they end up carrying the same products in their stores that the big-box stores are carrying. They have a really tight margin, they get into markdown battles with people who have much deeper pockets and at the end of the day, they lose money and fail to see the possibilities of paintball," Brookshire said.

The failure of retailers who take this approach isn't because of paintball, Brookshire emphasizes, it's because of the product selection.

"By the same token, it would be a mistake for a retailer to step into paintball and carry only super high-end products. They have to develop their markets first. So it's important that a retailer work with a distributor who's going to hold his hand throughout the process and give him the right product mix. Then, as his market matures, his product mix can mature with it," Brookshire said.

This creates the opportunity for repeat and multiple sales.

"One key to developing a market is to get the second and third sale," Brookshire said. "The other key is to accessorize--this is critical."

Many big-box stores, Brookshire points out, don't carry many accessories because they don't have the shelf space or the trained personnel to help customers. As a result, they only carry products that don't require a lot of explanation or customer assistance.

Here's where a gun dealer has an advantage over big-box stores.

"You only have a handful of clerks, which means you can train them relatively easily," Brookshire said.

Since most gun dealers are not "up to speed" on paintball, training is a key service you need to consider when researching paintball suppliers.

"Look to your supplier to help you with training," Brookshire said. "If you're talking to a supplier and he's not capable of helping you with training, look for another supplier. Your supplier needs to be able to help with training and answer technical questions. You want someone who knows the product line inside and out and who will be there after the sale when you have questions."

When interviewing distributors and suppliers, Brookshire says, ask the sales rep how often he or she plays paintball.

"You don't need to buy from a professional player, but you need someone who at least empathizes with the game," he said. "Ask if they play, if people in their office play, if they go to paintball events. If the answers to those questions are 'no,' then they're going to have a difficult time answering any technical questions when they come up."


Profit Margins

"Buy accessories and do a good job of stocking them," Brookshire said. "Then, you can add them to the basic paintball marker (proper term for a paintball 'gun')."

Add to your inventory better sights, extra barrels, paintball hoppers, safety gear--there's a long list. And, just like with firearms, the margins on accessories will show you the money.

"Margins on some markers run around 30 percent," Brookshire said. "Some are lower than that. However, accessories are easy to sell and they're 40 to 50 percent margin items."


Also like firearms, paintball "ammunition" provides ongoing sales.

"The reason paintball brings in the dollars it does is because of the balls," Brookshire said. "As an industry, we go through approximately 11 billion balls a year."


Since there are 2,000 paintballs in a case, that translates to 5,500,000 cases of paintballs that someone is selling.

"Your margin on paintballs is probably going to be lower than it is on markers," Brookshire said. "It may be as low as 15 percent. But, if you're turning paintballs every seven days, that's not bad at all."

Stay In The Game

To help determine what paintball gear to stock, pick up a good paintball magazine and see which brands are advertised. A magazine Brookshire highly recommends is Paintball 2Xtremes Magazine, available at

"For $30 a month, a dealer can get 20 copies of the magazine delivered to him," Brookshire said. "The magazine has a cover price of $4.95. He can sell the magazines in the store, and because he buys the 20 copies a month, he's listed in the back of the magazine in the state-by-state Store Finder section."

Paintball, in addition to becoming a popular extreme sport, has also become a mainstream activity. Many of your present customers are already involved in the sport, buying their gear and supplies elsewhere. Perhaps it's time they bought them from you.

32 Degrees Markers 340
Airgun Designs 341
AKA Products 342
Blackpoint Engineering 343
Bob Long 344
Brass Eagle 345
Crosman Corp. 346
DMA Inc. 347
Game Face Paintball 348
Kingman Group 349
National Paintball Supply 350
Nelson Paintballs 351
Palco Sports 352
Pursuit Marketing 353
Rogue Outfitters 354
Smart Parts Inc. 355
Tippmann Sports 356
ZAP Paintball 357
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Author:Boyles, Carolee Anita
Publication:Shooting Industry
Date:Nov 1, 2006
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