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Business Spotlight: Survival of the Fittest

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Business has been right on target at So Go Airsoft in Ozark.

Posting gains each year since opening in 2007, the owners say So Go Airsoft has capitalized on the rising popularity of the air-soft shooting game and high visibility of its retail store and indoor play area along U.S. Highway 65.

Air-soft is similar to paintball, but participants shoot tiny pellets instead of paint balls.

“It’s a game of honor,” says Lyn Burdette, who co-owns the company with her husband, Jon, and his brother, Gene. “You can tell when you’ve been hit, but it doesn’t bruise as badly. The guns are a little more realistic.”

The So Go Airsoft business has been popping for the Burdette family, with a 15 percent 2010 revenue increase, according to the owners, who declined to disclose revenues. The brothers, who founded the company in 2000 as Supercell Development Inc., had been playing air-soft for a few years and developed a landmine-type product for the game modeled after the military’s Claymore mine.

“It was really still kind of an underground sport at that time,” Jon Burdette says. “There were really only a couple of guns that players used and not much else.”

Shot in the arm
Seeing potential in the mines product, the family invested $70,000 in savings to produce the molds for the mines and began making them at a warehouse in Branson. They sold for $135 apiece. The mines became a popular accessory for the game, but law enforcement trainers also started buying the mines, which have a wire trip and fire multiple pellets.

In 2007, the business partners realized a need for a local retail store and playing facility and opened So Go Airsoft in Ozark.

The 4,000-square-foot warehouse with an additional 3,500 square feet of retail space fronting Highway 65 came with a billboard. “It was perfect with a lot of visibility,” says Lyn Burdette. The partners invested another $60,000 to lease the space, build inventory and create moveable wall systems for play areas.

The husband-and-wife co-owners both worked in the entertainment industry, with stints in shows in Branson and Las Vegas – Jon as a dancer/choreographer and Lyn as a costume and set designer.

“We just really wanted this to be a really fun place to play,” Lyn Burdette says.

In 2008, the company took out a $70,000, 10-year loan through the U.S. Small Business Administration and Liberty Bank to fund additional inventory and bulk parts for mine production. So Go Airsoft contracts for the plastic mine parts to be manufactured in China, and the mines are assembled at the retail shop.

Retail sales, including the mines that now sell for $85, comprise roughly 50 percent of the company’s business, with playtime sales accounting for the remainder.

Playtime rates are $3 per person for those who have their own equipment during a 20-minute open play game. Participants also can choose a $10 or $20 rental package that includes the gun, facemask and 200 pellets. The difference in price is dependent on the skill level of the guns.

The group rate is $40 an hour during the week and $50 an hour on weekends. Rental packages are the same as for individuals during open play. Burdette says approximately 70 percent of play sales are groups or parties, and 30 percent is open play.

Rapid rapport
Leslie Krueger is a former manager at the Springfield Red Robin restaurant and now manages the Old Chicago locations in Springfield and Branson. When Krueger was at Red Robin, the company sought team-building activities and several employees suggested So Go Airsoft.

“I thought it would hurt, but it doesn’t hurt, and it was just awesome,” Krueger says. “We had so much fun, about 10 of us started going on our own on a monthly basis.”

Krueger says the game builds rapport outside of work and teaches team-building skills that can be taken back to the workplace. She hopes to introduce the game as a team-building exercise through her current employer.

The Burdettes learned that although air-soft is becoming more of a well-known sport, the area still has a limited number of clientele. In 2009, the company attempted a second play field in Nixa, but it only lasted 11 months.

“We found out we were drawing from the same crowd of players,” Lyn Burdette says. “It was very costly to run a second location, and it was too close to Ozark.”

She says closing the Nixa location saved the company about $5,000 a month, and the company now plans on expanding in Ozark. Charles Ewing, owner/agent for Homestead Real Estate in Springfield, which owns the property, agreed to invest $140,000 to build a 4,000-square-foot metal warehouse for additional play space.

Ewing says So Go Airsoft extended its lease contract by five years. The building, which would double the play space, should be completed in July.

Burdette says the company is expecting to increase revenue by 20 percent in 2011.

“We have a lot of people come in from out of town and play and have asked us about franchising or licensing the name,” she says. “That’s something we’re in the preliminary stages of looking into.”

The Burdettes also are keeping an eye out for outdoor play space in Springfield.[[In-content Ad]]


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