Airsoft Hawaii
would like to thank
for their support of the
2007 ASH BASH

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Airsoft Hawaii interview with Airsoft Extreme
Photos courtesy of Airsoft Extreme


http://www.airsoftextreme.com


The Santa Clara AEX Store

Now that airsoft is becoming much more popular, we are starting to see a boom in new businesses selling airsoft in the states. Players don’t have to worry about ordering from overseas dealers and it is great to be able to walk into a store that sells airsoft gear and peruse their inventory.

One such store is Airsoft Extreme. Based in California, AEX has been in business for over three years and has two stores with two more coming. “Although we are a relatively young company, Airsoft Extreme is considered by many to be one of the more experienced and established US airsoft companies. However, we are never content to rest on our whatever achievements we have accomplished so far especially in this constantly evolving market. We are, and always will be, a company run by players for players” says Andrew Ho, one of the owners of AEX.

Ho has had to hire more employees to manage the growth of his company. “We three primary owners used to do pretty much everything from handling customer sales to upgrades and repairs to shipping. As we have gotten more busy, we have handed off a lot of this work to our excellent employees. We still have a hard time letting some of the work go because we have invested so much of our personal efforts into our jobs and we have also developed personal relationships with many of our clients so we feel it a disservice to not be available for them personally.”

AEX ships all over the US, including Hawaii and Alaska. They have even shipped airsoft guns to South Africa. The most popular guns at AEX are “the tried and true M4A1's and MP5's are still the most popular” says Ho. “These guns will stay popular because they are easily recognizable to airsoft or gun novices with either limited knowledge of guns or have the common desire to emulate the US military or law enforcement folks.” AEX also sells exotic items such as the M249 and Pulse Rifle Kits. “Exotic stuff generates excitement and do sell relatively well given some of the pricing or relatively limited appeal. We airsofters are basically boys looking for the latest and greatest toys. Certainly, every time a new product comes out, there is excitement and, for people like us airsofters, the need to be the first on the block to own a new product.”


The Torrance AEX store

One of the difficulties in running an airsoft business is getting adequate supply. “Running an airsoft business is certainly no cakewalk. There are always problems with access to adequate supply, to new products, to keeping up with the new products that are constantly coming out, and, of course, the evil empire known as US Customs. Unfortunately, unlike retailers in Asia, we can't just run down the street to the distributor to get restock and we constantly deal with shortages and unavailability of inventory. We also constantly struggle with splitting our time between working to improve our services while dealing with the daily workload and order fulfillment. We all work very very long hours. However, we really can't complain because we are getting to do what we love the most which is airsoft and running our own business and I can't get fired.”

The difficulties in working with US Customs is “like sticking a hot poker in your ear. The bureaucracy there is tremendously difficult to work with. The application of the regulations pertaining to airsoft is so uneven and dependent on the individual customs agent inspecting the package. What compliance efforts we do that passes for one agent may not pass for another. Sometimes, we receive cooperation, sometimes hostility, once again depending on the individual enforcement agent. Also, the paperwork and lack of communication efforts between internal departments at customs can be frustrating when we have to deal with them.”

Ho has had some of his shipments seized, however “most of the goods we have lost mainly because the violations are blatant mostly due to carelessness on the part of the suppliers. We are always biting our nails nervously whenever we have an incoming shipment.” They have only been able to recover a small percentage of the shipments usually “…with the help of a customs attorney and customs broker. However, the cost can be so prohibitive that we usually end up losing money trying to secure the release of seized shipments. Because of the volume of importation that we do, it is not worth the risk for us to try to sneak stuff in so we do as much as we can do be fully compliant with import regulations.”

Maybe a way of alleviating some of the import problems would be to have airsoft manufactured in the US.“I don't see why anyone would want to manufacture airsoft in the US when global economic realities dictate that overseas manufacturing is more cost-efficient. Unless you have a unique and specialized product that you bring to market first at a good price point with good branding and that cannot be easily copied, it just isn't worth it in my opinion.”


Hard at work.
When he has the time, Ho enjoys playing with “all of the major groups in Southern California. I was an original member of Socal Airsoft and, along with my friend, Shanndogg, we were instrumental in its growth by recruiting players, finding new play fields, and creating a schedule open for any player to join. Groups that I've played with or personally know members from include IAO, RAD Airsoft, San Diego Airsoft. I also know many of the individual teams in my area also. My partners in the San Francisco Bay Area are members of BAASH, a private veteran airsoft team that has been around forever.”

Ho has noticed that there are more paintball players who are crossing over into airsoft. “We have many converts from paintball to airsoft. We also have players who enjoy both sports concurrently. Many of the paintballers that are switching over are either bored and looking for something new, prefer the more militaristic aspect of skirmishing, or they didn't enjoy some of the attitudes that they encountered at paintball games.”

As airsoft “penetrates the mainstream community more and more in the US, there are only 2 ways that the sport can go. As more and more people get their hands on these toys, the frequency of "dumbass" incidences will increase to the point where the general community will feel threatened and will pursue legal and legislative means to eliminate airsoft. There have already been negative publicity related to our hobby and steps have already been taken at either local or state levels around the country in reaction to restrict or ban airsoft. New Jersey, CA, some towns in Texas come to mind as some places that have been reacting to local airsoft-specific incidents where people (adult and children) have been arrested, hurt, or killed due to the mishandling of these toys. On the other hand, if we as a whole community continue to police ourselves and strive to be responsible and to teach responsibility and safety, this sport has the potential to grow to paintball community-sized proportions. Once again, it is the grassroots efforts of local player groups and regional organizations that will be at the forefront of such efforts to ensure the survival of our hobby in this country. Local police have not complained to us personally. As a matter of fact, many of them are fellow hobbyists and, because we project a serious professional and enthusiast image for the sport, we do not receive any hostility or at least not yet.”

“Groups like Airsoft Hawaii can continue to promote a positive image of airsoft by having organized legitimate airsoft events and bringing airsoft players together to form new bonds and friendships. The organizations can also be vehicles to help promote safety awareness for new players and project a positive image to the general community so that they do not feel threatened by the growing interest in these "militaristic" toys. It is only through the grassroots efforts of the many local player groups that will ensure positive growth and survival of this sport in our country. We retailers should do as much as we can to support well-run airsoft community-oriented organizations.”