#05 The Deansgate Conspiracy

Ok, so Deansgate wasn't actually a conspiracy, we just wanted a cheeky title for the blog post. That said, there'll be a LOT of you guys out there who have never even heard of Deansgate before, so why don't you sit back, pour yourself a delicious beverage and settle in for some good old-fashioned story telling.


Ledz, Speedy and Jules at the Paintball Planet Deansgate store.


Picture the scene. It's 1991. It's Manchester (UK) and the paintball scene is booming and about to really go off. It's also the time when a humble paintball company called Planet Eclipse began to make waves.

To hear the full story of how the band started, check out our 30 minute film 'Unemployables' in which the guys talk about why and how they became Planet Eclipse. BUT, read this post first, obviously.

We wanna talk about Deansgate. The place. We wanna know what it was like running a paintball store in a busy city centre location when paintball was going through it's exciting growth phase.

So, as always, we put some questions together for the three horsemen of the apoc-eclipse–namely Ledz, Jacko and Jack–to give you guys some more insight into the early days of what we now know as Planet Eclipse. If you've already finished that tasty beverage you may wanna pour yourself another before you get into it.

Ready? Ok, read on.

"JACK WAS IN A FLAP WHEN HE REALISED THE GUNS HAD GONE "

How did you guys actually come together and decide you were gonna do this?

Super long story but the short version is that the old company (Manchester Paintball) was owned by Jack Wood's uncle, Graham. His wife was very ill so the business suffered due to Graham not being able to spend any time on it. Jack tried to keep the business going between Uni lectures and his course, but it was tough. Ledz worked in the store at the weekends and Julian sold some Paintball gear to the store, and all three of us played on the Banzai Bandits at the time (our awesome shop team). It all came to a head when the store had to close down, so Julian and Ledz decided to buy Manchester Paintball from Graham and give it a go. Jack was part of the fixtures and fittings from the purchase so we were stuck with him. We still are ­čśé. (just kidding Jack).

Was the Planet Crew the same from the start? As in Ledz, Jacko, Jack and Jules?

The original 3 amigos were Ledz, Julian and Jack. Jacko didn’t come along for a long time after. Jacko only came onboard when we opened our 2nd store in Dartford, Kent. But that, as they say, is a whole other story.

What was the scene like back then? Paintball was still very much an unknown thing right? 

It was amazing. A lot different to what it is now. I guess the internet has taken away a lot of the excitement of popping into the store at the weekend to see what was new. If you wanted some Paintball gear you couldn’t really do any research, you just came to the store and had a chat to figure stuff out. We would give good advice and customers would make their choice. It used to be SO busy at a weekend, it was crazy. We had maybe 6 staff members working the counter at weekends and it wasn't a very big store. We'd have customers queueing 3 or 4 deep trying to get their hands on the latest gear... it was mental, but in a very good way. Before we were behind the counter we were on the other side, just hanging out, getting Co2 bottles filled up then off to the pub with all the other teams for an afternoon of war stories. Good, good times.

Why do you think people were so excited by paintball at the time?

We were all players so we were fuelling our own desire to see the latest and greatest gear the World had to offer. So we tried to fill the store with the latest cool stuff, from markers, to loaders (that weren't made at home from drainpipe… we're not kidding) and other gadgets and widgets to make our Paintball lives better. So I guess the excitement was being able to buy the solution to the problems everyone (including us) were having. Instead of army surplus gear we had Paintball clothing from companies like Renegade, stocks and foregrips from MPM, tactical boots from Magnum, etc. This was all stuff that wasn’t run-of-the-mill and it felt like Paintball was coming of age. We didn’t have to make-do any more or make our own gear, we had equipment that was made for OUR sport, and that was so exciting.

Was there a good social element in the store? Did you create your own little scene of paintballers who came in for banter as much as anything else?

Yes of course, probably too much in fact. There were certain people that we used to almost hide from. We had Camo Man who would come in and spend hours looking at the stitching on 100 different squares of dark Tiger Stripe camo to find the best one, but he wouldn't buy any! Big Jeff, who was a bike courier–and baller–would just hang around for hours each day. The list goes on and on, but everyone who came in were made to feel welcome. The Banzai’s had established themselves as the best team in the North of England and this was their (our) home and luckily not too many people had issue with that, so the banter on most days was great.


Our customers had interesting tastes in jackets.


Was there any trouble at all? As in team rivalries gone bad? We know there was a very visible North/South divide for a while wasn’t there?

No not really actually. But, there was another store about 100 yards away called Paintball Sports which was operated by a couple of guys from the Terminators, another local team. Their store was much nicer than ours. It was cleaner, had better counter displays and even had one of those fancy air heaters over the door to keep the place warm in winter… proper posh. But they lacked something. They didn’t have as many ‘Cool’ products as we did. We didn’t really care about them to be honest, we were too busy trying to the best job that we could with what we had, whereas they seemed hell-bent on shutting us down.

True story - They also ran an indoor Paintball venue as well as the store and one of the Banzai’s worked as a ref for them. There was this big Magnum of Champagne high up on a shelf. When asked what it was for they said “we are opening that when Paintball Planet (our old name) closes down”  I wonder where the Champagne is now? I think they put too much effort into destroying us rather than getting on with business. We carried on doing what we do and it wasn’t long before they closed up the store, then the indoor site.

Speaking of trouble and with paintball being so new, did you get much trouble from local punks who wanted the cool stuff, without paying?

A little yes. We got broken into a few times. But the funniest (well, it’s funny now) was when Jack looked after the store on this own and a bunch of youths came into the store and asked Jack a million questions about this and that. One of the youths went into the back storage room and managed to put a couple of Eclipse Cockers down his pants without Jack seeing and then he left the store with them… Down His Pants! When we returned to the store a short time later Jack was in a flap about what had happened as he realised the guns had gone. Luckily the youths got a bit cocky and waved them around the streets of Manchester and the Police returned them to us.

Why did you guys decide it was time to move on from the place where it all began?

It wasn’t a decision we made, the whole area was under a renovation order which had been dangling over our heads for some time. We sort of ignored it until one day we were told we had a month to get out. Panic set in and the search began for a new location. Luckily we found somewhere in Trafford Park (not where we are now) and the move happened. Probably one of the best things that happened to us in hindsight because this move made us grow up. There was no way we could go into full production of anything at a store located in Manchester city centre. So moving was a god send.

"HE LOADED A BALL, PULLED THE TRIGGER, AND THE BARREL SHOT DOWN THE RANGE"


Back then everyone had to work, including Ledz!

A very young Jack Wood taking it easy.


Was it a big decision? It must have felt strange moving from a high-street store to a larger industrial unit out of town?

I was easy. Move or close down and we didn’t want to close down. We were just about to get started!

But you still operated a neat store though didn’t you? Did paintballers still make the effort to keep the social side going?

Some of the ones that used to take up a lot of our time in Deansgate went away but the hardcore ballers still came to the new store, regardless. It was much nicer, cleaner and had much better stock so players still wanted to come a visit. Stores wouldn’t be the same without teams coming in and hanging out, they just need to know when it’s time to leave. And yes, this is aimed at K2 who would NEVER leave.

What were the biggest problems you found moving to a new unit?

When we moved into Trafford Park we took two units in an industrial estate, we knocked a door between the two and set about making our vision of what we needed. We planned a little bit ahead but having the vision to see where you will be in 5 years time is a skill we didn’t quite have. We had been asking for a crystal balls for years but they seemed to be out of stock. Over the next few years we expanded into a 3rd unit, then a 4th (all connected, once we smashed a hole in the walls). When those were full we took another unit across the street. But to answer the question… I think the biggest problem with any business is actually taking that next step forward.

Do you think a high-street store would work in the UK today? Why / why not?

I think high street stores of any kind are struggling against the internet. Stores need to find their niche. When we moved for the 3rd time we decided not to open a store. The main reason was that the distraction a store creates is a difficult one to manage and we were already spinning a lot of plates. We had also taken the decision to ONLY stock and sell our own Planet Eclipse gear, plus a few essentials for when we needed something to go and play. We had also worked with a lot of the other stores in the UK to make sure our product was on there shelves so the need for us went away a little.

But I think Pro Stores are very important. We want players to pick up our gear and hold it, feel it, fall in love with it. A picture might say a thousand words but seeing something in the flesh, or metal, says a million. If we were opening a store now we’d try to give the customers more than just a small store experience, we’d try and wrap it up in a field or other activities.

Do you want to say anything to all those who visited the store over the years?

I wonder how many of them will ever read this. Probably very few. It was an AMAZING time for Planet. It’s where it all began and we are still on this crazy journey now. Thanks for making the trip such a memorable one.

Also… For Jack's University project he made a really small reversed Cocker. It was tiny and looked great. But we were on the bread line so if somebody wanted the shirt off our backs we would sell it. So that Cocker project vanished and has never been seen again. We don’t even have any pictures of it. If anybody knows who might have bought Jack's Uni project PLEASE get in touch. We are sure it’s gathering dust in someone's bag somewhere.

"THE BANG WAS HUGE! MOST OF THE PAINT HAD DRIED OUT BUT IT STILL MADE A BIG MESS" 

We also asked the three amigos a handful of extras:


Ian 'Jacko' Parsons:

Do you have a stand out happy memory (or memories) from Deansgate that you still chuckle about now?
It was all about food. Crazy greasy breakfast, that doubled as lunch. Then beer. Then even more greasier kebabs in the evening. And maybe more beer. You know, a good, balanced, healthy lifestyle.

Do you remember any characters that would either make your day or ruin your day when they rocked up? 
One guy would come in every week before an event, empty his whole kitbag out in the middle of the shop to see what he needed, so there was crap everywhere. He never bought anything, just created chaos. I think he saved his money for beer.

What was the coolest thing you had in the store? And why?
Probably Jack. He just lived and worked in his cave downstairs.


What was the worst thing you had in the store? Why? And who’s fault was it?
A salty water fountain. It was pointless. All it did was make you drink more and more. 100% Ledz’s fault.


If you could have another Deansgate…would you? And would you have it in the US or back in the UK?
I would have one in the US for sure. I'd have it central to several fields so it became a cool meeting place for the players to hang out, chat and get the latest gear.


Jack Wood:

Do you have a stand out happy memory (or memories) from Deansgate that you still chuckle about now?
Has to be the kid who came in to demo his gun that he had modified to spin its barrel at about 20,000rpm. This was a time when everyone tried to spin balls to get improved accuracy. We took it downstairs and he got it spinning up to a ridiculous speed. He loaded a ball, pulled the trigger, and the barrel shot down the range. It was hilarious!

Do you remember any characters or teams that would ruin your Friday before an event with tech issues?
I'll be honest, our customers were pretty good so it's a simple no.

What was the coolest thing you had in the store? And why?
My university final year project. I built a reverse cocker with the pneumatics running backwards down the body of the gun. It was tiny. We'd love to get it back so if you have it and are reading this GET IN TOUCH!

What was the worst thing you had in the store? Why? And who’s fault was it?
Can't think of anything. We used to think everything we had in the store was cool. We wouldn't have it otherwise. Sometimes WE were the worst thing in the store, and we always blamed the booze.

If you could have another Deansgate…would you? Why?
No. I don't think I would. I don't really like talking to people. Being hidden away in the back with a b'stard file, a lump hammer and a 2 tonne vice was my dream job.



Ledz:

Do you have a stand out happy memory (or memories) from Deansgate that you still chuckle about now?
We had this Paint grenade, it was huge probably about 2 litres in size. It had these tiny little wires coming out of the top of it. We decided one day that it would be a good idea to let it off in the store. The wires were only about 10 inches long so we put it next to one of the pillars and hid behind it before attaching a battery to it. The bang was huge, most of the paint had dried out but it still made a big mess. The main window in Deansgate was really big, probably 20 square feet. The window bowed out a LOT and we were so lucky it didn’t break. So stupid (don’t try this at home kids) but very funny. When we left the paint marks could still be seen through multiple layers of cover up paint.

Do you remember any characters that would either make your day or ruin your day when they rocked up?
Pete Elwick. Funny guy. Not sure if people loved or hated him but he was certainly a character. He ended up making some product for us, well his wife did. Pull-throughs, the white ones you hung up in your pits to polish your barrels, he made those for us and we sold them worldwide. I’ve just looked him up on Facebook. He’s still alive!! I’m going to send him a message now.

What was the coolest thing you had in the store? And why?
We had a secret door! There was a cellar under the store which was HUGE, much bigger than the main store. But for some reason there was a second set of stairs behind a hidden door. We never used it apart from storing rubbish bags waiting for collection day. Very Random.

What was the worst thing you had in the store? Why? And who’s fault was it?
The power was very weird. The whole of the electrics for upstairs, downstairs... everywhere was turned on and off with one key. And when I say key I mean an old battered box with a brass key in the top that looked like it was going to snap off at any given moment. This probably broke about a 100 health and safety regulations but it worked. Sort of.

If you could have another Deansgate…would you?
Time moves forward. Those were great times but that was then, this is now.


So there you have it, yet another outstanding piece of in-house journalism to help tell our story.

Thanks again for spending the time to read through this, it really does mean a hell of a lot to us. Without your support we would never have had the drive or purpose to keep doing what we do today.

Stay classy and stay tuned for more stories from the Crypt.


SPOILER ALERT!!
The next one may, or may not, have something to do with the a certain Electro Cocker frame we used to make. Maybe.

Comments

  1. .........Ive Read it ;)
    I wonder how many of them will ever read this. ..... ..Thanks for making the trip such a memorable one.......

    ReplyDelete
  2. Omg Pete elwick long live the Manchester lions. True it was the best paintball store ever in the world.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Pete Elwick's my (less of the) old man, yes he's still alive :)

      Delete
  3. Omg Pete elwick long live the Manchester lions. True it was the best paintball store ever in the world.

    ReplyDelete

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