Several months ago 68Caliber ran a press release from Jeff Perlmutter, former CEO of PMI Inc., announcing his return to the industry and the creation of his new company - Paintball Parks LLC. At the time, we requested an interview. That interview follows.
Back in 1983 I played my first game of paintball at Skirmish USA (‘The friendly war game’) in the Pocono mountains of Pennsylvania. I filled out a waiver form, paid my money, was handed three ten round tubes of red-colored balls, two shiny metal cylinders of compressed CO2 and was directed to sit on a school bus. There followed a short ride out into the wilds of Pennsylvania. Upon exiting, I was directed to pick up a pair of Uvex goggles and a PMI PGP paintball pistol. Like everyone else, I expended a few rounds at the target range following instructions, received a safety briefing, assigned a team, given an armband and marched off into the woods to play my first game of paintball.
My first experience with paintball was an absolute blast. It took place on a Saturday and I returned the very next day, having figured out what I had done wrong and how I was going to improve my game.
That first experience turned into a lifetime of involvement, during which I’m sure I’ve fired millions of balls, eliminated several thousand opponents, won and lost, made new friends, achieved not a small bit of fame and recognition and have earned a modest living.
None of that would have happened had it not been for the professionalism and class delivered by the owners and staff at Skirmish USA.
Little did I know at the time that a newly formed company, headquartered in Illinois and called Pursuit Marketing Inc., had actually made it all possible.
Jeff Perlmutter and his partner Dave Freeman had started playing just a few months earlier: they approached the franchise company currently supplying the gear and the game but were not entirely satisfied with the offerings found there and decided to go their own way; they quickly formed PMI and put into motion changes in the equipment and supplies that would have profound effects on the industry in the years to come.
The owners of Skirmish had approached the same franchise operation and also found it lacking. They almost gave up on their plans for a paintball operation when they (happily for me) found PMI.
I think it is significant that Skirmish USA remains one of the premiere field operations in the country to this day and, having been around for much of it’s developmental history, I can say that some of their success is due in no small part to their having partnered with a company (PMI) who’s vision always included consideration for the player, an emphasis on growing the sport and an eye on developing the future of the game.
AN INTERVIEW WITH JEFF PERLMUTTER, PAINTBALL PARKS, LLC
68Caliber: Well Jeff, first off, why not fill us in a little on your background. Quite a few players have come into the game since you sold PMI and they might like to get up to speed. Tell us a little bit about your history with the game.
Jeff Perlmutter: My history with the game and the business, for those of you who are new to paintball, started in 1982 when I first heard about the National Survival Game. I attended a game about 60 miles outside of Chicago. I actually met David Freeman for the first time at this outing.
(David Freeman would partner with Jeff to launch PMI)
They issued us the Nelspot 007 guns and 10 oil based paintballs and described rules to a game of hunting each other in the woods. The guns were very poor quality and almost impossible to operate especially if you were left handed which I am, and the oil based paint required turpentine or lacquer thinner to remove. I did however think that with some changes to the game and better equipment there was real potential here.
To make a long story short I teamed up with Freeman, approached Benjamin Sheridan, the highest quality adult air gun manufacturer in the USA in nearby Wisconsin, and had them produce a 68 caliber CO2 pistol that was indestructible and appropriate for commercial use. We attempted to do business with the National Survival Game people, to no avail.
We then approached R. P. Scherer the company that invented the process of soft gelatin encapsulation, which is how a paintball is currently made. We worked with them to develop a water soluble paintball that could be cleaned with water and was of the highest quality. These paintballs shot straight, did not break in the gun and broke upon impact without causing pain.(PMI became the exclusive worldwide distributor for these paintballs and eventually in 2005 purchased the entire manufacturing business from R. P. Scherer/Cardinal Health) We also struck a deal to distribute
Uvex industrial goggles. Uvex were the highest quality eye protection available at the time and very effective for paintball.
Late in 1982 we formed Pursuit Marketing Inc.(PMI) to promote this new exciting outdoor recreational activity that we helped evolve into a team game of capture the flag for adults, that quickly became known as Paintball.
As we were busy developing a line of products that were safe, reliable and specifically intended for game rental use, we were also packaging these products as part of our program to promote and sell Paintball as a business opportunity.
Over the next 20 years PMI was the dominant force in promoting and building consumer awareness for the activity to help drive business and participants to the thousands of commercial paintball gamefields worldwide that PMI had assisted in setting up with the supply of high quality equipment and paintballs as well as business advice, credit terms, and a pricing structure which allowed gamefield owners to operate profitably.
Since we started PMI with each of the two partners contributing $10,000 we built the business by reinvesting all profits to fund growth. We understood that in order for this new recreational activity to grow in popularity and consumer awareness we needed to figure out a way to align everyone’s interests to assist in the monumental task of establishing Paintball as a safe, fun activity for people from all walks of life.
The answer was simple. We developed a business strategy where there was a structured distribution model. Everyone involved in the model made a profit sufficient to be able to grow by building consumer awareness and still provide quality products and service while offering the consumer a fair value. PMI did not compete with its’ customers to drive prices down.
The explosive growth of Paintball was the result of hard work by many people with a common cause, and the reinvestment of profits into advertising, product development, and efforts to promote the activity as something fun and exciting for everyone who participated.
Fast forward to the late 1990′s early 2000, many competitors entered the market with the emphasis on expensive guns with higher rate of fire, faster loaders, many speedball tournaments, many professional teams looking for lots of sponsorship money, cheap paintballs from many distributors and manufacturers, bring your own paint fields, many e-commerce websites offering deep discounts on all paintball products, Walmart selling large quantities of cheap paintball products from Brass Eagle and others…
Yes, this all generated further top line growth in sales of paintball products but for reasons still not totally understood, sales of paintball products and participation in the activity from new and existing players seemed to experience a decline starting sometime in 2005 that has continued through 2008.
In an effort to survive and remain profitable, consolidation among the major manufacturers and distributors was the best option. PMI and National Paintball Supply attempted to merge but the cultures of each company were too far apart to allow a deal to be finalized.
Ultimately a financial buyer came along and took the risk of buying the two industry leading companies and brought in a consultant from outside the industry to run the joint business.
PMI was sold in November 2006 and I have not been involved in the paintball business since.
I really don’t know how things have turned out at Kee Action Sports but have heard that George Eurick now runs the show and I know that George is a very competent guy.
68: What was it like having to sit on the sidelines for three years?
JP: It has been quite some time. I had been involved in the paintball business for 25 years. Not many people have that much history with the game. It had been a very challenging business just prior to selling PMI so I welcomed the opportunity to step away from it for a while.
68: What did you do with yourself during that time?
JP: I spent a good deal time skiing in Utah with my family. Skiing has always been a passion of mine.
While being in the mountains at altitude I came across a new product idea that I developed into a small business with my son. The company is called Second Wind O2 LLC. and the product is called truO2 personal Oxygen. The concept borrows similar technology from a CO2 or high pressure air tank with a valve or regulator for paintball. The small portable high pressure canister contains 20 liters of breathing Oxygen.
Oxygen is the most important 100% natural supplement in the world and assists the body with almost immediate recovery from being winded or out of breath from any activity that stresses the body. It also relieves a hangover or the effects of altitude sickness. The products are sold primarily thru our web site www.truo2.com .
68: Your new venture is Paintball Parks LLC. It’s not a manufacturer or distributor. What is it and what are your goals?
JP: I think that if Paintball was promoted to the right demographic and commercial gamefield facilities could provide a consistently high quality, safe and fun experience for new players, Paintball could be reinvented and get back on track as the fastest growing action adventure activity around.
It is hard to argue that there are few activities as fun and exciting as playing Paintball, so why is it not more popular, and not growing by leaps and bounds?
Too often recently I have heard from many people that either they know someone or their kids have told them that it hurts too much to get hit with a paintball or if you are a new player you will get shot multiple times at close range by kids with guns shooting 15 balls per second, or the game facility is unsafe or just some perception that Paintball is not for them.
Now, we must admit, that for many years while Paintball experienced incredible growth, almost anyone who found 20 acres of land undesirable for most any other use and who loved to play the game, could open a commercial game facility, be in the Paintball business and people would come to play at their facility.
Like any other business, and the key word is business, there are those who are good at it and those who are not. With the business of Paintball there are very few people who really operate properly capitalized first class operations that provide the kind of experience we would want if we really wanted to show people who have never considered participating in the activity what it is all about.
I am not taking anything away from the many existing hard working gamefield owners who do the best they can and act as good will ambassadors for the game in their local markets. In many cases they provide their customers with a good value and a fun experience.
Paintball Parks LLC. is a concept that I think will benefit everyone. The objective is to acquire a number of existing paintball gamefield businesses across the U.S. or open new facilities in markets that fit our criteria, and attempt to raise the bar on the experience that we deliver to the customer. This will be no easy task and will require investment into upgrading facilities, reservation and check in systems, as well as effective targeted marketing efforts. We will need to partner with existing knowledgeable owner/operators who, with a little assistance and additional resources, can help us achieve our goals of putting Paintball back on the map as the fastest growing action sport worldwide.
Our focus is to promote Paintball as an activity that is safe, fun and an adrenalin rush like nothing else. We will attempt to provide the same level of high quality experience at any of our multiple locations and will market the activity to a demographic who previously might not have considered giving it a try. We will not ignore the existing paintball enthusiast and in fact hope to offer something for everyone regardless of skill or experience level.
If we are successful with implementing our concept nationwide the entire existing paintball industry should prosper as well. We will advocate the principle that you get what you pay for so inevitably there should be renewed interest in lower priced alternatives for consumers who are looking to play for less. We intend to emphasize the team building aspect that Paintball is so effective in highlighting for corporate groups or groups of any common denominator. We will also provide a true adventure experience for players by offering theme game fields and various attractions and events.
68: What we plan to do with a bunch of fields?
JP: We intend to build consumer awareness of Paintball. At the same time build awareness of our brand of high quality paintball parks where a customer will hopefully have a similar positive experience at any of our locations.
68: How does this fit in with the changes and new efforts by others currently going on in the industry?
JP: We will direct our attention to the promotion and operation of commercial paintball game facilities. We will be consumers of large quantities of paintballs and rental equipment. I am sure that many manufacturers will be anxious to have us purchase from them. We will attempt to provide our customers with the best products and best value available in the market.
68: How is development going?
JP: We are presently in negotiation with a number of people for the acquisition of paintball gamefield businesses.
68: What do you think is the number one issue/problem facing the industry today?
JP: The Paintball Industry continues to be very fragmented with no cooperation among any of the larger companies to tackle common issues and problems.
Their needs to be greater efforts expended to promote paintball as a exciting recreational activity. This is what Paintball Parks LLC. intends to do, and the more assistance and cooperation that is offered by paintball product manufacturers the easier and more effective this job will be.
68Caliber has already provided Jeff with several existing paintball fields that might fit Paintball Parks LLC’s bill, and we’re very interested to see how things progress.
Since the beginning of the year, just about everyone who was once considered an industry leader (Postorivo, Italia) have now announced plans to return to the industry – Gino Postorivo (formerly National Paintball Supply, now Valken Paintball), Richmond Italia (formerly ProCaps, now GI MilSim) and Jeff Perlmutter (formerly PMI, now Paintball Parks LLC).
Jeff was the “first in” back in the early 80s and is the only one of these three industry giants who is moving in an entirely different direction – yet one that continues to pursue the objective of directly supporting fields – which virtually everyone in the industry agrees are the “grass roots” and “bread-and-butter” of the industry.
68Caliber agrees with Jeff’s basic contention (and has always felt) that the industry needs to work together to promote itself in a meaningful way; it is all well and good to pay lip-service to the economics of the game, to introduce more and better equipment at lower cost to consumers and to support/sponsor teams and big events, but if the game itself is not promoted, marketed and advertised outside of the industry, eventually there will be no one interested in taking advantage of those opportunities.
One recognizably successfull strategy for a consumer-based business is to provide customers with a reliable and familiar experience, no matter where they are or where they go. If Jeff’s Paintball Parks LLC can raise the bar at already well-managed paintball game fields across the country, promote them on a national level and establish a good baseline for that initial play experience, he will finally manage to accomplish what paintball has been in need of since it’s very inception.
We wish him the best of luck.
Fields interested in inquiring and learning more about Paintall Parks LLC can email Mr. Jeffrey Perlmutter here. He can also be reached at 1-847-337-8700.