Back on December 12th of 2008, 68Caliber approached the Chairman of the Paintball Sports Trade Association – Howard Kosick – and requested that he answer a few questions concerning the trade organization, its relationship to the Paintball Extravaganze (R. Chard’s annual trade show – upcoming), the rest of the paintball industry and the future of the game in general. Mr. Kosick referred us to his Vice Chairman – Craig Miller saying “Typically we have Craig Miller, PSTA Vice Chairman, handle interviews and PR matters for the organization.” Having known Mr. Miller for at least two-decades, we were more than happy to pose our questions to him. So, without further ado:
68Caliber: Thanks for taking the time to respond to these questions. Let’s get right to it: Can you give me a little history on the formation of the PSTA – whose idea it was, why hook-up with SGMA (Sporting Goods manufacturers Association), how were the founding members selected?
PSTA/Miller: The idea of an official, much needed Paintball Trade Association has been discussed throughout the industry for so many years, in fact decades, that it would be impossible to assign credit to any one person. As the industry?s growth began to wane several years ago, the conversation sprang up again, and Procaps elected to rent a conference room at World Cup for the purpose of formally initiating the conversation. Eric Stork began inviting the most prominent manufacturers for the initial meeting, with an eye toward keeping the first meeting small enough that progress could be achieved towards a consensus that this was indeed a good idea.
68Cal: PSTA is listed as an SGMA committee. Does SGMA have oversight of what the committee does? Can they step in and remove officers, enforce or rescind policy?
PSTA: The SGMA helps the PSTA with various administrative and organizational duties, and compiles Industry Shipment reports for participating members, in order to establish accurate sales trends. Their excellent oversight includes advising the Association members on ways that other industry associations have achieved similar goals, and they keep a watchful eye on keeping the meeting conversations and initiatives within the legal boundaries established for trade associations. To date, their legal representatives have never had to raise their hands on this subject, as all of the PSTA meetings have strictly kept to their agendas of positive initiatives for the benefit of the industry as a whole.
68Cal: The members listed on the site (www.Paintball.org – which may not have been updated recently) are strictly limited to what one might call the ‘big boys’ of the industry, which makes the absence of the ‘little boys’ conspicuous. Is membership not open to companies that are below some threshold? (If so, what is that measure?) Or – are smaller companies not joining, and if so – why do you think they aren’t joining?
PSTA: The plan for the PSTA has always been to include business members at all levels and categories within the Paintball industry, and the Membership Committee?s rollout initiative is scheduled to take place in 2009. Subcommittee categories will include Fields, Retailers, and other groups associated with the industry. At the start, the initial group made a decision to begin with small, manageable meetings comprising the bigger manufacturers first, in order to get the basic, unexciting housekeeping tasks in place, such as the time consuming job of selecting an umbrella association to align with (the SGMA was selected after an exhaustive overview of the many options) and establishing the fundamental structure and charter. Now that this structure is in place, the all-inclusive membership rollout will begin during 2009.
68Cal: The organization’s name has the word ‘Trade’ in it – unlike other organizations that have had ‘manufacturer’ in it. Trade would tend to suggest ‘all industry segments’ – yet I see no field owners, no media, no promoters. Who or what is your target membership?
PSTA: This year?s PSTA Membership invitation is open to all facets of the Paintball industry ? Fields, Retailers (both brick-and-mortar and online), Leagues, Manufacturers big and small, Media, etc.
68Cal: What is the PSTA’s charter? Your website states that your interests are promoting safety, promoting play, to provide resources and to assist entrepreneurs. The website has some links, and some articles drawn from various paintball websites and I’m aware that PSTA has recently allied with the Paintball Extravaganza trade show(Richard Chard) – but, as they say – “what have you done for me lately?” In other words – other than a couple of website articles, where are the programs and support materials for promoting safe play, assisting entrepreneurs?etc?
PSTA: The PSTA?s “Mission” is to increase the awareness, acceptance, and participation in Paintball all over the world. It is a not-or-profit, all-volunteer organization (thus far), and more and more progress and results will becoming evident throughout this year. In 2009, the industry will begin to see the results of additional projects and initiatives that various PSTA subcommittees have undertaken. One of these is the first draft of an official PSTA Members Field Conduct Guide, which is an operations template that has been created in collaboration with a panel of the best-known and most successful Field Operators. This work-in-progress will be turned over to the newly forming Field Operators Subcommittee, to be continually updated and amended to stay current with industry “best-practices” trends, safety updates, and ASTM Standards. Another major undertaking is the PSTA?s alignment with the Paintball Extravaganza trade show in Atlanta. In many industries, Trade Associations host trade shows as a meeting place and centralized industry convention, where industry knowledge is shared, including new product offerings, safety and trend updates best practices, etc. The PSTA trade show committee explored an array of choices for official PSTA trade show alignment, including creating our own, but in the final analysis, it was quickly recognized that Rick Chard?s excellent Paintball Extravaganza concept already has excellent momentum and traction, and continues to expand and improve at a fantastic pace. The PSTA has embraced Rick’s growing endeavor and plans to assist his effective efforts through our industry-wide connections and collective resources. Other initiatives that are in progress include a “Play Paintball” marketing outreach, to be directed outside of the industry, with the aim of bringing more and more first timers into the sport through visits to Member Fields, where the entertainment-focused approach is delivered in harmony with the PSTA Field Conduct Guide. This will go a long way to ensuring that first timers will become repeat players, with many soon joining the ranks of regulars, bringing friends and referrals. This outreach is aimed at bringing the industry back to the growth phase of the mid-late ’90’s. However, such an endeavor will be costly, so the Association will need to reach a basic decision to fund itself – through memberships, donations and fundraising – in order to deliver an effective “Play Paintball” outreach to grow the sport. For example, the famous “Got Milk?” TV campaign costs 18 million dollars a year? that?s just the California budget! So the Publicity Committee is charged with exploring every viable option that can reach our demographic at reasonable costs. The PSTA represents the very first time that the Paintball Industry has sustained any truly cooperative endeavor. For example, the PSTA?s website, http://www.Paintball.org, was compiled from content submitted by the ENTIRE industry. This site represents a broad array of content that has been cooperatively contributed from competing manufacturers, distributors, dealers, magazines, websites, and freelance writers, all working together towards the PSTA’s goals. The site includes excellent resources for everyone from parents to new players, from budding Paintball entrepreneurs to seasoned operators looking for safety updates, compressed air handling procedures, ASTM resources and more. There are links to many more excellent and resourceful sites. Also, a manufacturers’ shipment report was started in 2006 via the SGMA, and repeated in 2007. This is the first time the industry has created reliable wholesale shipment volume information about the industry, including breakdowns by major product categories for both U.S. and International. Soon, it will also provide invaluable trend information for manufacturers. Please keep in mind that the PSTA is not currently funded, with all-volunteer assistance thus far. Every volunteer is busy running his or her business in our industry?s most challenging times, so every PSTA initiative is done as “extra time” allows.
68Cal: The PSTA follows a long line of other industry service organizations – IPPA, PBGA, IPOA, NAPRA, PMA, APIC & etc., all of which started out being founded by a group of people who could arguably be called /paintball insiders’. Most, if not all of those organizations ultimately failed because of the perception that they were created and run for the benefit of those same insiders. PSTA appears to have been created in the same manner. What makes you believe that this organization can get past the same hurdles that brought those other organizations down?
PSTA: The PSTA has made many decisions with an eye toward ensuring longevity. By starting with a small group of the biggest businesses to get the skeletal structure up and running, new members who now join the various divisions and Subcommittees will be stepping into a fully operational, fully functioning Trade Association with a structure, a legal team, the expertise and assistance of the SGMA, a 100+ year old institution, and the ability to get things done. The initial choice was to be very careful to include EVERY ONE of the biggest businesses as initial members, so that when it comes time to fund – and to benefit from – the association, none of the “big guys” would feel excluded, and the financial horsepower would be available to get things done. This contrasts with some of the previous efforts you listed, who took an approach of inviting their best business buddies, so cliques were formed and an “old-boy network” appeared to be exclusionary, and thus, quickly failed without universal industry support. To the contrary, the PSTA?s initial membership includes several archrival competitors, yet through the PSTA, they link arms and work together. We now hope that businesses throughout the industry – and world – will join. From the beginning, the PSTA has planned to add membership tiers to include every facet of the industry, and the 2009 membership rollout is in the hands of a Subcommittee with that purpose in mind. On the other hand, if the PSTA had started with a huge roomful of hundreds of people, all legitimately wanting to speak and be heard, the first meeting might still be in session! By utilizing the approach of completing all of the clunky, unexciting and tim-consuming tasks first (organizing the structure, finding an umbrella association, achieving unanimous membership of ALL of the “big guys”), and opening up the rest of the industry categories afterwards, this will enables the members within each category (fields, retailers, etc) to work within focused committees, to elect their own chair people who will report to the main committee, and to make real progress towards the challenges that they themselves choose to prioritize.
68Cal: What do you say to the small company owner who refuses to join because ‘PSTA is just there to keep the big boys on top’?
PSTA: No one has ever said such a thing to me, but any such notion would be quickly debunked by a review of our materials, our mission statement, website, and attendance of our meetings. A conversation with any of the founding members would also correct any such baseless idea. The SGMA sends their Vice President to each of our meetings, and he assists the group in keeping directed at the common good of the entire industry. Additionally, many smaller companies, (such as Angel, Gen-X-Global, XO Industries, Guerrilla Air, and Ariakon) have asked to join, and have been invited to recent meetings. Unfortunately, these companies have not yet taken the time to send a delegate to PSTA meetings, but we remain hopeful that they will.
68Cal: The mantra being bandied about on the streets these days in regards to the economy’s effect on the industry is “get back to the grass roots.” For most, this means focusing on the fields and stores – the places that many believe are the birthplace of new players. Does PSTA believe in a “build-the-base” approach to growth? If so, can you provide specific examples of how PSTA is making resources, money, support directly available to fields and stores that support them in finding and fostering new players?
PSTA: The PSTA is in total agreement with this concept, and its plans and initiatives-in-progress clearly establish this. Some of the things you request specific examples of – such as making “Money…directly available to fields and stores” falls drastically outside of the laws and directives of a not-for-profit Trade Association.
[Editor: The intent of the question was whether PSTA would be funding efforts that had such growth as its goal. We’ll follow up with PSTA on this one]
PSTA: The Association has received zero funds, and will probably never be in a legal position to give away money. However, more specific examples of tangible support will begin to manifest themselves this year; through alliances with the incredibly helpful Paintball Extravaganza, the Conduct Guide for Member Fields, web content updates, and the creation of official Committees for Fields, Stores, Leagues and more, giving every business owner a real voice into the industry, and the ability to affect change through their own committees. The future will also bring helpful and informative seminars, and, once funded, an advertising outreach to deliver new players to member fields. This is only the beginning, as the Association?s future endeavors will be driven by the votes and voices of its own members, which will be the business operators themselves – Fields, Stores, Leagues, Event Promoters, Media, Insurance, Manufacturers and Distributors.
68Cal: Switching tacks here: PSTA has a full complement of the industry’s largest intellectual property holders. IP issues can tremendously affect costs, availability, relationships between companies. Does PSTA plan to develop any kind of IP – sharing programs?
PSTA: Other than its own logo, the PSTA holds neither Intellectual Property nor patents. Obviously, the PSTA cannot share what it does not own, nor can it legally influence any member to change their business approach or patent rights. This simply falls totally outside of what a Trade Association does.
[Ed: this will be another follow-up. Several other industry trade associations have ‘spun-off’ IP management/sharing organizations and we’ll be looking into whether or not such is applicable to the paintball industry]
68Cal: From PSTA’s view on top – is the bankruptcy of NPPL the end of the industry downturn – or just the beginning? Can you provide a little insight into PSTA’s view of how badly the economy will affect the industry – and do you have a time frame for when you think “growth” will start again? (Do you think there will be more consolidation?)
PSTA: The PSTA employs no soothsayers, prognosticators, fortune tellers, and has no crystal ball. Obviously, the downturned economy and the price of gasoline have hurt Paintball participation, and retail spending in virtually every industry (with the possible exceptions of for liquor, Bibles and real firearms). Every member is hopeful that things will return to some form of normalcy as soon as possible, but we are not in a position to make predictions on the larger macro economic conditions.
[Ed: More follow-up. Many Trade Associations consider forecasting to be one of their primary functions]
68Cal: Why does Mr. Kosick prefer to have questions about the organization answered by you, rather than answering them himself?
PSTA: Howard and I, as the current Chair and Co-Chair respectively, have split various tasks between us. Among other things, I act as head of PSTA Communications and Public Relations, so interviews and articles and Media relations, etc., are my current responsibility.
68Cal: Bonus round: Please feel free to wax eloquent.
PSTA: The Paintball Industry has long needed a Trade Association; to be a communication conduit for all of the business owners and operators, to be a clearinghouse for safe, best practices information, to be a vehicle through which the industry can collectively work to grow the Sport. Many industries have well established, fully supported non-profit trade associations that provide a wealth of benefits for the industry members, and Paintball needs this more than many industries. Over the past 25 years, quite a few efforts to sustain such efforts fell short, but at long last, the PSTA continues to gain positive momentum. The PSTA has lasted far longer than any previous attempt at creating such an Association. The structure is now in place. The Team is assembled. The membership outreach begins in February 2009. The biggest hurdle facing the Association is timing. Every PSTA member has agreed that we need to help Fields and Retailers strive toward delivering an entertainment-centered, best practices approach, and everyone agrees that an advertising outreach is needed, which will drive new players to those businesses that deliver such an approach. The challenge is funding. Today, at a time when we are all contemplating basic financial survival, every business operator in Paintball, big and small, must look inside, and find a way to contribute to these very worthy goals of growing the awareness, acceptance, and participation in our great game. A not-for-profit Association can do great things, make great plans, communicate helpful information, and reach out to the world and invite them to join our game with a compelling message, but it can do much more, much sooner, with universal broad-based membership and funding. A small amount of the needed funding will come from modest membership dues, and some may come from pure contributions from like-minded manufacturers, but the Association?s momentum is here, the structure is in place, the committees are beginning their work, more will be formed as businesses join. The industry is ready to join and help, the Dealer base is showing a widespread desire to participate, and the need is clear. But make no mistake about it; the time is now. 68Cal: Thank you Mr. Miller. I’m sure that we’ve all learned a lot more about the PSTA than we’d previously known. Please note: There were two additional questions contained in the original interview and it was obvious from the answers received that the intent of the question(s) was not clear (68Caliber’s fault). In order to keep the interview focused and on-track, 68Caliber made the editorial decision to remove both the questions and the PSTA’s answers to them. We will be submitting several follow-on questions to the PSTA and these will include those questions, re-worded for clarity.