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Every Stingray Has a Silver Lining

The Good and Bad of Mass Marketing Paintball

Paul Hosking

Awhile back I posted an article on concerning paintball equipment being sold in mass-market retailer outlets. Specifically, it involved Brass Eagle products in a local Super KMart in Valdosta, GA. The question I raised was just how safe is it to offer those products through that kind of outlet?

To be fair, let's first establish that it doesn't have to be Brass Eagle products and it doesn't have to be Super KMart. Any combination of paintball equipment through a mass-market environment can bring about the same problem. That problem is allowing uneducated buyers to purchase potentially dangerous equipment (paintball equipment) without proper direction, education, or at the least warnings. Warnings that are much more likely to be had at a local paintball store staffed by people who know paintball... instead of a minimum-wage employee filling in behind whatever counter he's stuck at; someone who probably knows less about paintball than the customer who's seeking to buy a paintgun. JJ Brookshire

Case in point: a few years ago I was cruising into the new Oshman's Superstore in Houston, TX. This place had everything "sport" under one roof. And that included paintball equipment... almost. In the hunting section under a glass gun-case/counter was a selection of PMI paintguns (VM-68's, PMI-2's, Trracers), 12grms, and pre-sorted bags of paintballs. And while one could pick up a set of cammies from the department to fill out one's paintball kit, there was something consciously missing. Head gear. Eye protection. The main piece of safety gear in our sport. None to be found. Not even a Whippersnapper.

I inquired about the paintguns with the counter personnel. I wasn't surprised to discover they didn't really have much paintball knowledge. But they were all too happy to help me figure out all the stuff I would need to purchase. That is, until I asked about eye protection. They nervously looked at each other and one piped up with "Oh, well you can borrow those from the shooting range." Yea. Great. What if Joe Newbie and his buddy are equipping themselves for a backyard game? What then? What if they didn't even know enough to ask about goggles, much less wear them? "What are you, a lawyer?", was the reply. Hell no.... I'm a concerned paintball player and I sure don't want someone to loose an eye so Oshman's can make a quick buck off of our sport at our cost.

So back to Brass Eagle. As I said, they're not the only people in this kind of mass-marketing business.... but they're certainly a leader in it. Look around. If you find paintball at your favorite Walmart, KMart, Oshman's, Service Merchandise, etc.... bets are it won't be something from WGP or Airgun Designs. So since Brass Eagle so fond of catering to, if not outright creating, this mass-marketed paintball environment, it's reasonable to look at their products, and their associated marketing plan, as a prime example of what's going on out there.

Ahhh! But I come to praise Brass Eagle, not to bury them. Sure, it's easy to dish on them since they're in the thick of things. But they're not just creating problems. There's a good side to Brass Eagle being in the mass-market fray.

Case in point.... Oshmans. Same bat-store, same gun-department. I returned to the store a couple of years after the first visit (in fact, the KMart incident was well after my first visit to Oshmans). I couldn't resist taking a look at their paintball equipment and, behold, I found no PMI. Nope. Gracing the glass display case was a brand new Stingray II. Yep. All their paintball offerings were Brass Eagle products. I wasn't shocked. This is the turf BE has been carving out the last few years. But what made me stand up and give a good "hmmmm..." was the fact that, among the expansion hoppers and other additional goodies, was a big display of Brass Eagle's Leader head gear. Whether Oshman's is pushing the stuff or not remains to be seen (you can bet I'll test this out real soon... mental note: leave the paintball TShirts at home and think 'newbie'). But at least the protective gear was AVAILABLE. That's more than can be said when Oshman's was apparently going it on their own.

So does this mean mass-market paintball is now a Good Thing? The mass-marketing proponents reply with a resounding "yes". They will point out that this kind of mainstream exposure is what paintball needs to grow. But are all the potential problems solved? Naw. Far from it. But at least, with a program designed for the mass-marketers by a paintball company who has an obvious stake in the mass-market audience, maybe.... just maybe.... we can get those guys to push a safe product. And THAT is what paintball needs.

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