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Mitch Karn has spent a lot of time shooting 200-mph paint capsules at people.
A onetime professional paintball player, Karn now owns N'Vasion Paintball LLC, a 14,000-square-foot indoor facility that is part of University Avenue's growing sports scene.
Karn began his professional paintball career in 1999, traveling the country and overseas, playing in leagues in Europe and Asia. He was brought in to oversee a local franchise that was to be run by the Dick Clark Corp., but when Clark suffered a stroke, the project was dropped, freeing Karn to work on his own venture.
"I'd been playing locally for quite a few years, and there really wasn't ever a place (to play) where I could feel at home, that was bright and safe and professional," says Karn, 42. "When people think of paintball they think of mom-and-pop operations that are out in the woods. I thought there was a better way to do it that could break that stereotype a little bit."
So in 2004 Karn opened NVP, a paintball arena intended for both individuals and businesses seeking to build teamwork and collaboration. Instead of outdoor play in woods and inclement weather, NVP offers an Astroturf floor, 40-foot ceilings, meeting rooms, a pro shop and other amenities to make the experience more enjoyable.
For $20, individuals are provided with all the equipment they need to play the sport, including goggles and 200 paintballs. Time on the playing field is limited only by how long players can stay "alive" and how long their paintballs last.
Karn has purposely kept admission low since the recession in 2008 and 2009.
"One of our focuses was trying to make paintball as affordable as possible. The way we did that was we reduced our paintball prices for the paintballs themselves, and we also reduced the entry prices," Karn explains. "Pretty much everybody has $20. We just want people to come and try it."
Corporate packages start at $35 per person and include entrance, air and 200 to 800 paintballs each, depending on the package chosen. NVP also offers game play scenarios that enable participants to work with party coordinators to create a game unique to their company's needs.
While Karn declines to discuss revenue, he notes that 2011 was the company's most successful year to date, with double-digit sales growth. NVP recently added two staffers and now employs 10 people. Karn expects that number to continue growing as the company adds more products and services.
"We're very fortunate because of the way the economy is. Any kind of growth is good growth, and to have double-digit growth, we're especially proud of that," he says. "And 2012 is looking even better."
NVP is rolling out a laser tag option, in which the company sets up parties at homes or corporate locations. Additionally, Karn hopes to expand to other locations and anticipates having facilities elsewhere in New York and outside the state in the next five years.
Positive feedback and watching the players enjoy themselves on the field make Karn's job fun.
"That's what keeps me going," he says. "I like to make people happy and see people smile. It's important with the economy the way it is."
Like many small-business owners, typical worries keep Karn up at night, he says: Are people happy? Will they come back? Will the building still be standing in the morning?
He advises fledgling business owners to stick with it, as he has done.
"There are definitely ups and downs. There's a lot of down time when you're worrying. The biggest thing for me is I refused to quit," Karn says. "If it's something you're passionate about and you truly believe in it, don't quit. Keep going, because someday it will pay off."
Small Business is a weekly feature focusing on entrepreneurs. Send suggestions for future Small Business stories to Associate Editor Smriti Jacob at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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