The Real Cost of Paintballing

IMG_5692I took Luca paintballing yesterday. It was fun.

Delta Force has paintball centres across the UK. It’s clearly an efficiently run operation. Once you’ve contacted them they will stay on your case with calls or texted offers and one such caught my eye. Luca and I got a day’s play for a little over eight quid. That covered 50 paintballs each and protective gear.

However the business model is pretty clear. Once they’ve got you there you quickly realise that you won’t get very far on 50 paintballs and end up buying more at £7.99 per hundred. We were also persuaded to buy ‘protective’ gloves – frankly a bit of a waste of time and money. So the day ended up costing the best part of thirty-five pounds.

However these days that’s hardly atypical for a day out and we had, if you’ll forgive my choice of phrase, a blast.

And what a great business model it is, because you buy or rent a piece of woodland, drag in some old busses and taxis for a post apocalyptic London scene, old jeeps and wooden bunkers for a WWII scenario, source a few rubber zombie heads and a graveyard, or pile up old oil drums, and you have a whole host of different sets (or maps as they refer to them). Six maps, two games on each and a finale dubbed the ‘Hunger Games’ and that’s your day.

IMG_5695Capital investment seems minimal aside from the guns and protective clothing. The equipment is stored in lockable steel containers, the base camp buildings are timber and tin sheds. Blast out the A Team theme to create atmosphere and you’re ready to rock. There must have been a couple of hundred people there for the day.  That’s a good £3000 takings, and on a Friday.

But what really took the shine off for me were the conversations I had with the staff. They were all friendly and full of enthusiasm. They seemed to enjoy working there. But when I asked how much they were paid I was told they got the minimum wage.

Then I remembered that April 1 was the day the minimum wage became the living wage, going from £6.70 to £7.20 an hour. ‘Well at least you get a pay rise today,’ I said. They shook their heads.

‘That’s only for people over 25,’ they pointed out. Most of us are under 25. And so they were. Just £6.70 an hour or £5.30 if they’re under 21. It really isn’t a living wage in commuter belt Kent. ‘But if we promoted we get more,’ they said. An extra £5 if they become a senior marshal and an extra £10 if they make manager. Five and ten pounds extra an hour? No. Per Day. Pfffft.

I know there are plenty in the business community who will witter on about providing jobs. Bollocks. They’re not employment creation charities, they’re business people. They’re out to make money and some are happy to do it of the backs of young people they won’t even pay properly.

I had a chat during the election campaign with a local farmer who has a well-known pick-your-own operation but who also employs fruit pickers. I asked him how high a living wage could be set before he started having problems. ‘Ten pounds an hour,’ was his reply. Fruit picking is notoriously low margin. It’s hard work. It attracts lots of Eastern Europeans who get moaned about by people who wouldn’t get out of bed to pick fruit. And yet my friend reckons £9-10 an hour wouldn’t kill his business.

There was some research a while back by, I believe, the University of Chicago on the impact of introducing a living wage in the US. Some businesses, such as junk food outlets, would go under. But what was interesting was that they produced evidence that new businesses would take their place – not upmarket restaurants but similar operations targeting similar demographics. What changed was the business model.

The problem with incumbency is that it produces inertia. Likewise as companies grow they become increasingly flat-footed. They can’t be bothered to change and when they have to many of them find it laborious to push through decisions and new processes. The resistance to paying people properly is the response of the lazy and the greedy. But rather than do what’s right government has for too long done what is asked of it by wealthy vested interests.

A day’s work by a 20 year old is worth the same as a day’s work from a 40 year old. Fine, pay a bonus for experience if it counts, but most of these jobs have a short learning curve. Employers are just hiring bodies – and in the case of Delta Force young, energetic twenty year olds who can relate easily to the teenagers who come for a fun day out have essential skills that a 40 year old might have lost.

I doubt the owner of Delta Force loses much sleep over his treatment of his young workforce, but if any of you ever run into him or her do us all a favour and remind them of the fact that 85% of people in Britain think the Under 25s deserve a living wage. I’m absolutely one of them.

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