Sales Lessons from a Ministry of Paintball High Street Salesman

Someone tried to sell me paintball tickets on Wednesday, and he did rather a good job at it – though I left empty handed.

While walking down Watford High Street past the Clements building a man successfully caught my attention and drew me into his pitch. I’m certainly no expert on selling but I admired his techniques.

The rules he was working to… (possibly!):

He led with an open question – “When did you last go paintballing”. It made me think. Out loud. He’d nabbed me. It was pretty obvious he was going to try and sell me paintballing now which I wasn’t really interested in buying off the highstreet, but I suckered.

The salesmen was very friendly. So much so that it put niggling doubt in my mind as to whether or not I actually knew this guy.

In fact he was cunningly disguised as an ordinary citizen!
He wasn’t an obvious salesperson – Unlike the usual High Street menace of Chuggers the chap who approached me didn’t outwardly appear to be accosting shoppers. In didn’t see him approach anyone else, he certainly wasn’t moving up to passers-by, in fact I didn’t even notice him until I heard him.

He wasn’t wearing a brightly coloured tabard and didn’t have ID hanging on an oversized lanyard from his neck either. In fact he appeared totally non-uniformed, although this probably helped him draw me in I certainly wasn’t going to hand over £50 “in cash or by card” to some guy I’d never met before on the street in exchange for a cardboard flyer containing a code I would need to use to later make a phone booking to redeem his offer.

He was only too pleased to pass me the three dual sided cardboard sheets he had outlining the offer. Once he had suckered me in it was one of the very first things he did, he wanted me to hold this while he spoke to me. I guess this would give me some sense of “ownership” and a belief that I was going to buy these – in effect I would be giving him something if I rejected his offer of handing him £50.

Digging for Information. And using it.
One of the first things he asked me was my name. Then if I preferred to be called Phil or Philip.
He asked me where I lived.
Where I’d been paintballing before, London Bridge: “that used to be one of our sites”.
Where I worked. What I did. (oh shut up and get on with your selling already, I came to town to buy shoes not to go paintballing or explain my life story…)

I’m sure this was meant to make it personal but whereas he may have started to come across as genuinely interested (clearly fake) it seemed like he ended up crazily stalkerish with the whole “getting to know the customer” thing.

He said he had only 3 packages left to sell before he could go home, or “back to Farringdon” as he put it. This was at 11:30. His pockets looked pretty full to me. Pressure selling eh.

He didn’t reveal his full hand at first
I’m not sure if this worked in his favour or not. He was certainly slow to give out his information with extra benefits of the deal introduced very slowly in the conversation and once it had progressed quite far.
– Lunch would be included
– as would entrance to a comedy club.
Was this to persuade me to stick around and build up some kind of rapport with him? To make people think the deal is getting better and better? I don’t know, it just seemed strange that some of the major selling points weren’t been shoved in my face. They certainly made the deal sound better.

What let him down was lack of knowledge
I asked him where the nearest paintball centre was to Watford. A perfectly reasonable question since he was selling to people in Watford Highstreet.
He rattled off a couple of placenames (Borehamwood was one I think, I forget the other) before uttering something along the lines of “Maidenhead’s quite far innit”.

When he mentioned entrance to a comedy club was included he added “Two in Watford” but he couldn’t tell me what the club was besides Jongulers (Highlight I expect) and I had to prompt him on the Jongulers.

He didn’t volunteer me the name of the company he was working for. “Ministry of Everything” he tells me, eventually. I spot “Ministry of Paintball” on the card and mention I’ve heard of them. He doesn’t mention their name at all.

The actual offer which for him seemed secondary to the conversation
I don’t really want to get in to their business model/what they offer since there is a load of information and reviews of their package already available with a quick Google. Except to say that the salesman remained pretty quiet on the whole issue of price throughout his pitch. Near the start he mentioned the £50 deal. Later he briefly muttered something about £11.50 and “obviously you’ll have to pay for your paintballs”. I didn’t follow up on this with him but a quick search online reveals that if I took them up on their offer as well as paying Ministry £50 for 8 tickets, these 8 people would then have to pay them £11.50 each in order to confirm the booking and get their first 100 paintballs. Apparently they got into some trouble with Groupon over this.

After perhaps 3 minutes of chatting his pitch and personal information digging/fake interest began to bore me so now irritated, mostly at myself for initially engaging with him, I told him I wasn’t interested and turned to leave.

Last chance
“Philip!” he called after me. In an authoritative voice. So much so that I thought, however unlikely it may be, that I had dropped my wallet or done something else silly. I hadn’t. Annoyed that that he had caught me out to once again gain my attention, he was playing with my emotions, the “social compliance” rule certainly stood true here. He commanded my attention and I gave it to him.

He offered me two 8-person passes for £50. I declined.

No really last chance
“Phil!” he called after me, louder than before. But he was slow this time, I had just fallen for the trick once and this time I had already made about ten paces away before I slowed, turned round, shook my head and gave him a dirty look. He would have offered me all 3. I don’t like it when people call me “Phil”, and he knew that. He had mined that information out of me earlier.

The 8 person Ministry of Paintball pass he was trying to flog me costs £50. The company is a middleman, keeps this fee for themselves and their partner paintball site owners give you a free basic package hoping you will spend money with them for more paintballs. A quick Google revealed someone even managed to obtain 4×8 passes from a Ministry of Paintball street seller for £50, and you can pick them up for far less on eBay. You’ll have to pay Ministry an additional £11.50 per person on top of whatever you pay on the street to actually book the deal though, so the £50 deal actually costs £142. I don’t like that pricing strategy.

As an aside they really need to work on managing the results that show for a search of their name:
Ministry of Paintball Google SERP

Watford Town Centre (The Parade) Consultation

So Watford Borough Council have come up £4.3 million which they want to spend on improving the “top of the town”. Which as consultation plans roughly show, is the area from just south of the Pond stretching up to the far end of the underpass.

I’m sure I’ve seen plans for a renovation of the “civic quarter”, just north of this, before but nothing seems to have come of them.

Landscape architects BDP are behind this latest spruce-up-your-town plan and have set up a blog WhatIfWatford as part of the consultation process.

Over recent years through reports in the local paper there seems to have been somewhat of an obsession with reducing the size of the pond and talk of urban beaches and outdoor icerinks so I expect whatever happens we will see the pond shrink.

Watford Town Centre Pond

The consultation comes amid accusations from the Police that nightlife has left the town centre is out of control – still it appears the actions of drunken revellers have a lot to compete with for the prize of worst behaviour in Watford town centre.

Perhaps one of the most obvious changes in recent years in this area has been the overhaul of the underpass in summer last year. It is now brighter, lighter and actually not too ugly in its latest incarnation as a white walled “art gallery” showcasing scenes and people from around Watford.

Watford Town Centre Underpass

The consultation boards can be found here. Designs are due to be completed by the middle of the year for feedback with work commencing in 2013.

Photos: Underpass – staticgirl, Pond- Jamie Moore. Both CC BY-NC 2.0.

Cassiobury Park Heritage Lottery Fund Bid Consultation

Heritage Lottery FundProposals for a £5 million Heritage Lottery Fund bid to improve Watford’s Cassiobury Park are on display outside John Lewis in the Harlequin Centre today. This morning I went to town and stopped by the exhibition.

The area of the bid which would have the greatest impact on the park is the plan for a large new “hub” building, or visitor centre, north-east of the paddling pools and playground area approximately where a wooden toilet block currently stands. This would house a park ranger base, cafe, indoor events space and education facilities. No details were given on the scale of this building, the only real visualisation being a photo of a wood-cladded building in another park. In general I think this is a good idea as the current facilities are rather dated and inadequate, though I wonder what kind of events would take place in the events space.

The 5 angular buildings directly adjacent to the paddling pools would be demolished and replaced with another building of similar size servicing the paddling pools.

There are in addition plans for the Shepherds Road entrance to the park. The Cha Cha Cha cafe could be extended and the nearby council unit demolished. A suggestion is made possible new playground for older children in the area between Cha Cha Cha and the basketball and hard tennis courts.

The bandstand, currently located outside Watford Central Library, could also return to the park from where it was removed several decades ago.

Also proposed is “landmark” for the eastern entrance of the park. Watford residents of more than about 40 will of course remember that the Cassiobury Park Gates once stood here which were unceremoniously and unpopularly demolished for the widening of Rickmansworth Road. From the rough sketches on display the Harlequin we are looking at something far less substantial and impressive – seemed like some concrete-looking pillars engraved with “Cassiobury Park” and adding more flower beds.

The consultation seemed very vague with ideas for improvements scattered throught the park and woodland area with only outline details on each individual proposal. My opinion from is that the council/design agency behind the proposal appear to be seeing how they can use up £5 million of money rather than aiming for any specific much-needed improvement.

For instance there is a plan to entirely re-do the Paddling Pools area with two larger paddling pools and fountains taking up a slightly larger area that currently – these were refurbished just a few years ago.

Other ideas include the restoration of Lime Avenue (sounded like cutting back of trees and undergrowth) and work to better link up Whippendell Wood with the rest of the park as well as work near the canal and improvements to other park entrances.

More unusual suggestions included the possible reintroduction of cattle(!), apparently this popular in London now, and a hydro electric power generation near to the weir in the nature reserve.

I didn’t see it on any of the display boards but talking to one of people presenting the proposal to shoppers today revealed a possible plan to remove the car park extension from the end of the tarmac car park and replace it on the lower side. Whether or not this would be a permanent concreting over of parkland I don’t know.

Apparently some .pdfs of the proposal will be available on the council website however they don’t appear to be online yet.

All in all I was rather dissapointed with the vague nature of what was on display today. Hopefully they’ll take the ideas that are best received and flesh them out in more detail before showing them again to local people before February when the proposal will be submitted for funding.

Google Analytics: Fireworks Display Event – Growth of Mobile

I say Fireworks night because that’s what Guy Fawkes night really means to people!

Each year fireworks are the big attraction on the Saturday nearest November 5th at the Watford Council organised event in Cassiobury Park.

Relative areas from counts of “bon” and “work” in referring keywords  – cc(0)

Looking at the search terms queried which resulted in a visit to on November 5th showed that traffic sent by fireworks related keywords outnumbered that from bonfire searches by 33-to-1.

It isn’t all Fireworks though.  The bonfire remains but gone is the Guy Fawkes judging contest, and effigies of him or “celebrities”.  Along with the main display there is also an earlier Fireworks display for small children and a stage featuring music from local musicians.

No Fireworks Firework Display

“Sounds like the worst ‘firework’ display ever” writes Mike Duce on Twitter. (yF).



For the past three years there has been a noticeable rise up to the day of the Fireworks display which has been the busiest day of the year.

Guess when the Fireworks were!

There has been massive year on year growth in the number of event related searches.  This year saw more mobile visits to the site on the day of the event than visits from all platforms to the site a year ago.

Comparing November 5th 2011 with a year earlier (November 6th 2010):

  • Desktop visits increased 125%
  • Mobile visits increased 398%

On November 5th 2011:

  • 38% of visits were from a mobile device
  • Heavy use of Apple devices saw Safari as the most used browser

Cassiobury Park 2011 Fireworks Mobile Traffic Per Hour

Mobile visits peaked in the same hour as total visits but the significantly slower falling limb on the graph below shows that people were accessing the site from their phones whilst attending the display.

Social Media

Interaction increased.  There is a one-click Twitter follow button on the homepage of the site which helped the associated account gained the greatest number of followers it has added in a single day.  Throughout the day I tweeted photo updates from the park many of which were retweeted, and there were several @mentions in the evening.

The effect on the @CassioburyPark Klout score can be seen below – very temporary though due to the decrease in tweeting levels after the event.



On the day of last year’s event on Saturday 6th November 2010 it was colder but perhaps more importantly for the past 3 years events I had been away at University so wasn’t able to nip over to the park to provide regular updates and as a result social activity last year was considerably less.

That said for both years the site featured Fireworks on its homepage and full details on the events page.

What mobile devices are people using?
Apple devices are the most popular by far with traffic from iPods exceeding the total mobile traffic served from the SymbianOS, Windows, Nokia and Samsung operating systems combined!  They other devices aren’t all phones either with iPads accounting for about 20% of all mobile traffic.
Mobile OS Nov 5th 2011 CP
The proportion of mobile visits which were made from an Apple device fell from 81% in 2010 to 73% in 2011 but this was more than offset by a 342% increase in the absolute number of iOS visits.


Keywords and Google Suggest

Continued evolution of Google Suggest and its ability to impact search queries is apparent with 3 of the top 4 search terms ending with “2011” compared to just 1 ending “2010” the previous year.

The average length of each referring search query also increased, from 2.8 in 2010 to 3.2 in 2011.


How does this compare to the rest of the year?
In every year for which Analytics has available data, there was a higher proportion of mobile visits on the day of the event than over the year as an average. This is unsurprising given there are few other times a year when there are tens of thousands of people in the park at a time.

Both the proportion of and absolute number of mobile visits are increasing year on year.   The growth in mobile traffic from 2010 to 2011 was 300%, and the proportion of visits made from a mobile device has risen rapidly from 9% in 2010 to 22% this year.

The site

There isn’t a separate mobile version of the site and truth be told I haven’t ever seen the site on a mobile phone other than my own.  I will have to try accessing it on some of the most popular devices to ensure that the site looks okay on them.

The Event

In the old days an “anything goes” approach was taken to bonfire building.  Nowadays it’s much smaller and pretty much all pallets.

Cassiobury Park Bonfire 1990s
Me standing in front of the large bonfire in 1999.

In the 1990s there was the Computacenter hot air balloon, glow sticks, sparklers, hot-dogs barbecued at various places and the crowds were held back by rolls of orange mesh fencing.  They even used to let cars park on the grass.

Nowadays the park resembles a building site by the end of the preceding week with large steel fences rather earirly erected around nothing but empty parkland in the days before the event.  The barbecues have been replaced with a semi-circle of professional catering trucks, a truck load of portable toilets are dropped off, the bonfire has moved up the hill, the fences further back and cars aren’t allowed to park near the event.

Don’t get me started on the Rainbow Festival.

Bonfire 2011

Walking from Watford Met to Ascot Road

So how long does it take to walk from the existing Watford Tube station to the proposed replacement Ascot Road tube station? The station to station distance doesn’t effect me directly as given my current proximity to Watford Met the new station would be in different direction from “my” house.

According to the running results of the Save Watford Met survey: “68% of Watford Met users say using Ascot Rd Stn will add 11-31 mins to their trip, 38% 21+ mins. Only 6% will save time”

The booklet handed out at the recent Croxley Rail Link public consultation states “the walk between Watford Met and the proposed station at Ascot Road is 1.2km. On average this would take about 15 minutes to walk… currently, work is being done to see if there are any improvements that could be made to the walking route”

One of the routes between the current and proposed station today (shown below) measures 0.9 miles according to Google Maps which it estimates takes 17 minutes to walk. That’s about right as it took me 16 minutes 32 seconds when I timed it earlier today. Not wanting to get up at a normal 7:30 (since I am on holiday!) I instead walked about three hours later in the day. There wasn’t much traffic about and at several points I could have easily crossed both Rickmansworth Road and the bottom of Whippendell Road without using a pedestrian crossing but as I am sure that there is significantly more traffic along these routes at about 8 in the morning I crossed using only traffic lighted pedestrian crossings to give a more realistic figure.

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Leaving Watford Met I headed down the steps at the left hand side of the station to Station Approach. In the nearest platform was one of the new air-conditioned walk-through Metropolitan line trains which I have yet to actually catch. The station car park was full. Not a single space left as I headed past the flats at Cassio Metro.

The vegetation along station approach was rather high but the route is fairly well-walked. One thing that struck me when walking along Rickmansworth Road was the number of crossings – plenty. There are traffic lights with pedestrian crossings either side of the junction where Station Approach reaches Rickmansworth Road, followed by 3 “Pedestrian refuge” crossings and a traffic lighted crossing just after Cassiobridge Road.

I walked past the former fire station site where new houses are under construction and around to Whippendell Road where I crossed using the puffin crossing near the Premier Inn. I headed past the dilapidated Sun clock and headed under the dis-used railway bridge over the old Ascot Road next to which the proposed station would be built and stopped my timer.

On to those “improvements that could be made to the walking route”. I found one dangerous road crossing on my walk. Not along the route between Watford Met and Ascot Road stations but between Ascot Road and the Watford and Croxley Business Parks as I continued my journey.

The picture below shows the view looking back towards the old Ascot Road from in-between the two carriageways of the new road.

On Google Street View (below) this doesn’t look so bad as the Street View Car is in the middle of the two lanes at the time, the vegetation has also since grown! As the road approaches the roundabout it bends to the left which further hinders a crossing pedestrian’s view of on-coming traffic.

If you were driving in the left hand lane I do not believe you would see someone waiting to cross the road just after the telegraph pole until you were pretty close. Perhaps more importantly it is impossible for pedestrians to see more than 20 metres or so of approaching traffic as they look right before crossing Ascot Road.

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I would imagine that this crossing is not often used as there is a route around the other side of the roundabout which does not involve crossing the dual carriageway itself and is on the correct side of Hatters Lane for accessing the Watford Business Park (mostly warehouses) and most of the Croxley Business Park (offices). Despite this lack of use I would say the current crossing is rather unsafe, thankfully traffic should be heading to a stop at the roundabout.

There is a secondary, presumably quicker route between the current and proposed Metropolitan line stations that I may try tomorrow (weather permitting!). This route uses Swiss Avenue and Gade Avenue, reducing to just a few hundred metres or so the distance that needs to be walked alongside the busy Rickmansworth Road. Crossing Rickmansworth Road when exiting from Gade Avenue can be done either at the roundabout (without traffic signals), or by turning the wrong direction down Rickmansworth Road and crossing at the lights next to Cassiobridge Road.

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