Paintball Site Marketing Guide: How do you get more customers?

Marketing is not rocket science, it’s really basic stuff and that’s the worst bit as it’s like learning to suck eggs;

I have been working in the UK paintball industry since 1987; I opened my first paintball site at the age of 20 with no business experience; all I was armed with was the love of paintball and an enthusiasm for building game scenarios. I wasn’t a gifted businessman; there was no natural ‘Richard Branson’ like ability that steered me to instant success, in fact I would say there were points where I could have been Britain’s worst entrepreneur!  Taking the positives from my rocky start, my foundations for business is to do the exact opposite of what I used to do, and to be honest, looking back to the early days I used to do very little to drive business into my little paintball site.

To add more truth to this, I’m still learning and still listening to people about how they market their paintball fields. Marketing is not rocket science, it’s really basic stuff and that’s the worst bit as it’s like learning to suck eggs; even the best marketing men have to go back and suck on an egg or two now and again as the formula to bring in customers doesn’t change that much.

I’m tired of the blame game, I’m worn thin of hearing people blaming others for their failings; if you’re not busy then it’s rarely someone else’s fault. The biggest complaint I hear is that ‘other’ companies who sell on the street are taking all of the business! Taking? That is ridiculous;  firstly the companies who are actively on the street selling are not taking, they are generating customers. They may stumble across the odd person who was about to organise a game, but 9 times out of 10 the people they sell to have been ‘sold too’ i.e. they weren’t planning on playing paintball, but they are now! As a result these businesses gain head count, which builds profits which allows them to build bigger budgets for bigger marketing campaigns and it spirals upwards…. Still reading?

So let’s move on from this; how do you bring players to your site? You may be a new venue, you may be an old hand in the game, you may already be super successful but are just looking fill the few remaining places. Here I have listed some ideas below that you should give a try; they are tried and tested techniques that I have used on friends local paintball sites and have proven successful time and time again. I will keep adding stuff as it comes to mind or if I hear of stuff that works, so check back on a regular basis. Not everything will work for you; however some of it may reinvent your year!

So starting with the most controversial

Personally I don’t like street selling, I prefer street promotion; however it works for some so let’s not take side on this just yet. The fact is you need to get involved; paintball site marketing has recently evolved into this and it doesn’t seem to be changing to quickly so start to get your head round it.

I will give you a scenario that I recently helped out with.

One of my best friends owns and runs a successful paintball site on the south coast was complaining to me about the Ministry of Ping Pong street selling in his local area; worried about the potential players being generated and drafted to a different site we came up with our own answer to the problem.

Paintball Site Marketing

The main points to bear in mind are:
1. Have a professional street presence
2. Ensure that you have notified your local authority that you will be on the street promoting your business. This is really easy and most local authorities’ will either just want to know when you are promoting or they may have a small fee each time you are out and about; in most circumstances it’s a free.
3. Make sure that your promotion is bang on the money! Don’t just turn up with a half arsed leaflet that ends up as rubbish, this is demoralising for you and your business.
4. Go out on the streets relentlessly, not just the high streets, try football ground on match days, local carnivals, the list is endless (don’t forget to get permission).
5. Make an impact; a red hooded top with your company logo printed on it is not an impact, it’s a bloke in a red hoody.

For my friend, the result was clear; he had a massive impact; they had a booking of 30 players interested within 30 minutes. Mr Splat has been used many times since and the costume will continue to evolve over time; this image is not the finished product as the company logo was printed on the uniform, but you should get the idea.

Billboards are a great way of promoting a business, but of course they are pricey and it’s probably out of reach for most paintball sites. However a cleverly painted van, the bigger the better parked up for the day in certain locations can be a winner. You have to be slightly careful with this one as you can annoy your local council if you do it wrong.

The van needs to have you brand and number or website highly visible, it needs to be massive. If the van isn’t big enough, make it bigger. Build a billboard that fixes to the top of it when it’s stationary; fit it to the roof rack. Park it where it’s not a menace, ask local farmers with fields on the main roads in your area for example.

I would even go as far as buying a cheap Mercedes Sprinter and using it just for this purpose; if the van is an old banger you will need to paint it as professional as possible so your business doesn’t come across as Mr Amateur Hour.

You may want to have a note on the dashboard with your contact details on it.

Leaflets can still work for you; of course a leaflet with an offer and a sale man behind it is the most powerful medium, but for the price of a few leaflets it’s worth getting them out there.

You can either drop them loose or if you want them to last longer in your desired location; buy cardboard leaflet holder/display. Drop them in garages, doctors surgery’s, corner shops; whoever will take them.

Why not give 2 free tickets to anyone that puts them in their shop? Double marketing strategy!

Speak to the local businesses that send goods out as a service and piggyback off the distributed products, speak to local businesses and a trade a few free games of paintball.

We used to have a deal with the local Dominos manager; he used to put a leaflet on top of the box with every pizza and in turn his staff used to play free paintball!

The difference between a good leaflet and a poor one is considerable; the words FREE, OFFER, 2 FOR 1 etc. will catch your audience’s attention.

Unfortunately we live in a day and age where the game fee seems to be a thing of the past; so you can put a big value on something you’re giving away! 2 FREE £20 tickets!

Free Paintballs

Once upon a time ‘100 free paintballs’ was a part of a package that cost around £15-20. Now it seems to be a part of a package that cost nothing! If you allow people to come to your field and shoot 100 paintballs without paying a penny, then leave; your business will be in serious trouble very quickly!

Times have changed with internet companies taking the piss and we’ve only got ourselves to blame; this may be a bitter pill to swallow, but it’s true. If you are cornered with the majority of your customers coming from agencies you can at least guarantee that the arriving customers buy some paint from you.

DON’T GIVE PAINTBALLS AWAY AS THE FIRST 100 OF THE DAY, by doing this you allow the skinflints, freeloaders and people who are there to spend as little as possible to spend as little as possible. You are perfectly within your rights to give them their free 100 paintballs after lunch or towards the end of the day. The customer has to shows some commitment to their day out; It sounds harsh, but it’s necessary, there are many sites now doing business this way and it will make a world of difference to your profits; and profits build better paintball fields.

Is it really necessary to give away tea and coffee? Do people really choose between paintball sites because of the free tea and coffee or is it down to the fields and equipment?

Tidy up your tea and coffee area; offer branded tea in quality paper cups; offer good quality coffee. Walk into any main stream coffee shop and take a fraction of what they are doing and offer the best you can! You have CAPTIVE audience so charge for it. People will happily pay for good quality food and drink with a good service.

Back in the late 80’s when paintball fields were using Splatmasters player were often given the chance to upgrade for an extra £5; be it a Sheridan Shotgun or Bushmaster; unfair advantages were available to the players with the extra cash.

Those times are back and the available options for gun upgrades are huge; thanks to the scenario boom in paintball the markers now available are so realistic, customers clamber over each other to upgrade. You can charge upwards of £10 per day for this.

Assuming that you can run a decent day and the customers have enjoyed themselves, you will have produced several different types of customer; some of them probably won’t play again, some of them will if someone else organises it, there are those that will go out of their way to play again.

Putting aside social media networks at the moment, all of the above customers need to know where they have played. So without too much expense how can you achieve this? They absolutely MUST know the name of your paintball company. If in their mind, you’re the paintball site near Nowhereville which was fantastic, based in the woods ‘with a helicopter game and everything!’ then you could be one of a handful of paintball sites.

Here’s some ideas.
* Stickers / Car Stickers / Pens / Other give away crap
* Free plastic membership card/ Discount card
* Key Ring
* All of your staff should have your brand name plastered across their backs
* Every inch of space in your safe zone and play areas should carry your brand (where possible)
* Park your sign written van in clear view to the customers during the day unless you’ve parked it on the road and used it as a billboard.

If the customer can remember your brand when they want to play again or if they happen to speak with someone who is thinking about playing then you stand a chance of getting that call.

Similar to street selling the manned trade stand is right on the frontline of marketing your paintball business. There’s a bunch of places that you should definitely be at! One off events and regular spots! Try your local fetes with a shooting range, village festivals, the opening of new shopping centres, anything that attracts the public and the local community. Don’t be scared and don’t forget; if you can speak directly to the customer then you are far more likely to get the sale irrespective of any other offer that is shoved under their nose by email.

  • Get dressed up, get in character, and wear your company colours!
  • Make sure your trade stand stands out! A worn out old Tippmann 98 on a table is not a trade stand; it’s a table with a Tippmann 98 on it. At Enola Gaye we specifically sell fake bars of gold and fake sticks of dynamite to attract the eye of your customer!

There was a time when our best marketing tool was an unmanned trade stand at our local UCI cinema, it was a 7 foot high, 4 foot wide picture of a girl in paintball gear and attached to the stand were leaflet holders stacked full of leaflets! The cinema staff refilled the leaflets and looked after the stand; all that marketing for a few free games of paintball.  This was our most valuable marketing tool by far. You will need to smooch the manager either at a local level or at a higher level, but it can be done, you just need to pick up the phone.

Internet advertising is a minefield and one that should be very carefully trodden. Get some independent advice; Google has swiftly become the ‘money pit’ that the Yellow Pages was not so long ago.

There are many ways to increase your exposure on the web without throwing your life savings at it, I would suggest you use all of the avenues possible.

  • Google places
  • Facebook
  • YouTube videos
  • Instagram
  • Twitter

Personally I would take the free listing and then leave it there. Placing a small advert shouldn’t be the biggest waste of money, but overall I would suggest that this medium has run its course.

Take a good look at your website and make sure the following things are easy for the customer:

  • Simple clear pricing
  • Easy contact details
  • Online booking (if you can)
  • As much information as possible about your field

Keep your paintball advertising as local as possible; of course push it out to the big towns or cities that are in your catchment area, but your best customers will be your local ones.

Once the customer is on site, it’s then up to you to maximise their spend whilst they are with you. This isn’t code for ‘ripping them off’ but it’s important that you offer a service that makes them want to spend their money at your paintball field.

Smoke Grenades
Smoke grenades are the next biggest selling item after paintballs, make sure they are on offer. There is a chance that you may have never used them as a player and as a site operator you maybe don’t see the point? By not selling these add on’s you are losing out on big end of year profits; we have fields that use over 100 grenades each week and these are not the mega sites?

Paint/Frag Grenades/Thunder Flash
Once again, these items are loved by an abundance of stag do’s that play paintball week in, week out: if you have a noise issue at your site, we have launched the new FLASH GRENADE that is very similar to the MK5 Thunderflash but with a very low noise and a white flash.

Cheap Smoke Grenades
Fools gold, yes you save a few pence but the result is less spend. We invented the Wire Pull Smoke grenade to imitate a real smoke grenade, the customer only has to pull the pin and their experience is similar to the real thing. Deny them this and the experience is less; therefore your sales will be less. We know this from direct sales data given to us by some of the biggest sites in the UK. WHEN THEY SWITCHED TO THE WIRE PULL, THEY SOLD MORE….

Drinks, Sweets, Chocolate Bars
If you sell unbranded cola and expect your customers to buy it then you are falling at the first hurdle. People buy brands; supermarkets can get away with it, but they still stock the biggest brands next to their crappy ones…… otherwise the customers go elsewhere.

This year we launched Zero Fog, an advanced anti-fog formula that actually works. It is low cost and much better than thermal lenses that self-destruct after 2 uses. If you have customers that want to go home early because their day has been compromised by lack of vision, poor equipment etc. then you are fighting a losing battle.

Don’t be the last site to discover Zero Fog!

All I have to say about this is ‘Bookings from any agency should be treated as a luxury, not a necessity!’ Do your own marketing, you can top up you days with low paying customers from agencies but don’t rely on them.

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