#08 - Coming To America : 25 Years In The Game

Ok, so we're gonna take the foot off the gas a little and talk about something that was a huge deal for the growth of Eclipse, but not necessarily as exciting as things that go pew pew.

We're gonna go into the decision to widen our horizons and expand our business into the good ol' US of A.

As always, we grabbed Ledz and asked if he could remember any of it.

I guess the decision to expand and open a US Office was a massive deal right? 

Yes and No. Jacko had been working for us for some time and his wife (Jane) had been offered a job working in America. This meant they had some pretty big life changing decisions to make. Jacko approached Julian and Myself (Ledz) and suggested that he moved to America and sets up a US office for us over there. The timing was probably about 6-months too early but we grasped the opportunity and went for it. I think if we had said “No thanks” we would have lost Jacko as I think he would have moved to the States anyway. Jacko had already become a big part of Planet so it was a no brainer to say Yes. The rest – as they say – is history.

What were the main reasons for expanding into the States? It’s probably really obvious but still…

Sales were going well in America but sales were still very, very small; we were such a small company then and there certainly weren’t enough sales or profit to expand into America, but this way we could do it inexpensively and move to America and grow at our own pace rather than signing a big lease on a building and having to remotely manage staff that we don't even know. Having Jacko there on his own to start with was perfect and gave us a platform to talk to dealers all around the States on their time-frame rather than communicating via fax all the time (yes, fax). I think it also gave the US customers the confidence to buy from us because we suddenly made it easier for them and were on hand if they needed a chat.

Jacko's pooches love the slippy floors

Where you tempted to move the whole operation over there?

God No! In fact that’s the first time anyone has ever asked me that actually. In all the time we have been doing this (26 years) we have never moved or even thought about moving away from Manchester. Jack (Wood) isn't a native Manc, he went to University in Manchester and stayed. Jules has been in Manchester for as long as I’ve known him and I'm born and bred in Manchester. Manchester is our home and always will be.

Has being in the States helped keep the company at the top of the game? Does it help keep Eclipse up the pace?

Having multiple locations gives you different opinions. What works well in one country is an alien concept in another, so yes it’s good having feet on the deck in America. America is still our single biggest market so not being in the States would be a huge mistake I think. We try and listen to all of our customers from everywhere around the World but having staff that can get first hand knowledge of leagues, big games, other companies and Paintball parks is invaluable.

What were the biggest challenges?

I think understanding how small stores operated and how everyone lived was an eye opener and day-to-day ordering is different, no one wanted to hold stock or try to forecast going forward. Also trying to explain to Banks, State and Federal officials that an English company wanted to come to the US to set up a business. They didn’t make it easy for us that’s for sure!

Jacko assures us the sunshine wasn't a reason to move

You also have offices in the Far East too. I guess it makes sense to be able to cover most of the time zones for customers worldwide.

Yes we have offices in Taiwan that produce our lower end markers (ETHA, ETEK and GTEK Lines) as well as dealing with any of our Far East suppliers. This makes life a lot easier when you have staff that can speak the same language as your suppliers. The Taiwan office doesn’t sell directly to anyone, dealers or retail. The facility is just there for production purposes. And food. We like to visit whenever possible and they always take us to some very different eating experiences. But, this is a whole other set of stories and every staff member that has been has their own stories to tell.

Does operating a business across multiple continents cause any issues or does it make life easier?

When you have multiple locations it brings its benefits, but also its pitfalls. Having to lease buildings, employ staff, understand the regional laws and cultures, etc is very difficult and time consuming but that’s what you need to do these days if you want to be at the top of your game and maintain standards. Dealing in multiple exchange rates can be difficult if the dollar tanks against the Euro or whatever, you can very quickly find yourself on the wrong side of a loss from no fault of your own.

Who works in the US office? And what are their main roles for Eclipse?

We don’t have a huge workforce like some people may think, even in the UK HQ. We have less that 10 people working in the USA Office. Jacko is the main HMFIC, Heather and Cyndi handle sale, Master Techs Gerry and Aaron also work out of the Rhode Island office along with the accounts, mail order and dispatch staff.

Is there a store at the US office?

Nope. The only physical store we have is at Paintball.De in Germany. The USA offices were set-up as a warehousing and distribution facility. We handle mail order and tech support from there as well but you can’t just rock up to buy stuff, that’s the job of our amazing brick and mortar stores around the States that we continue to work extremely hard to stock and support.

Paintball.De's on-site store is pretty cool

So that’s how you can facilitate orders from planeteclipse.com globally, bases in the US, UK and Europe.

Yes. We know the World is changing and customers want their stuff NOW, so as well as fulfilling orders from the UK store we also have European distribution in Germany from Paintball.De and the US Office, so we can handle orders from anywhere in the States too. Primarily though we created a Dealer Locator system at our website HERE to help customers across the world find an Eclipse dealer close to them.

How steep a learning curve was it for Brits to open up in the US? I guess everything operates a little differently over there?

Everything is a little different. When we opened up there were many stores and most of these were run by hobbyists who used the income to supplement their playing, which meant during the day they were working 9-5 jobs and paintball started in the evenings, so this meant very long nights, for everyone.

Definitely NOT a store

Any amusing stories of first moving in? Freak weather conditions, weirdos, oddballs, crazy animals?

The first year I (Jacko) arrived we got snowed in by a freak storm, something we just weren't used to in the UK. We were told to expect 6-12” of snow and got over 48” so it was chaos everywhere!

On the work side of things it got pretty hairy to begin with. The first few months of living in the States I had to work out of my home so the house turned into a miniature sales office and packing center. Then I was told a 40’ container was en-route so I needed to find a location quick. We actually unloaded and stocked the product in a warehouse before the landlord actually purchased it and well before we had a rental contract. It was all very seat-of-your-pants stuff. But worth it.

Any intentions of opening more offices anywhere else?

No plans, but we hadn’t planned on buying Paintball.De in 2015, so who knows eh? I think a place in the Seychelles would be nice.

Apparently we’re not that far off commercial space flight so it would be cool to have offices on another… ahem… Planet right?

Some of our customers and most of the staff have been on another Planet for years!