WEDA Success Stories
WEDA Success Stories
Category: 2016 Success Stories
For Sterling Albers, what had been planned as a smooth transition from his job as a coal miner to the family’s entertainment business became a harsh surprise instead.
Sterling owns JR’s Laser Tag & Family Fun Center based in Gillette. Laser tag is essentially a game of tag played with lasers. Infrared-sensitive targets are typically worn by each player and can even be integrated into the area where the game is played.
Sterling became intrigued with the game concept when he and his son JR experienced laser tag while at a baseball tournament in Seattle, Wash. They decided it would be a good fit for Gillette.
In 2014, Sterling contacted the Wyoming Small Business Development Center Network about opening a laser tag business. Susan Jerke, SBDC regional director for northeastern Wyoming, worked with Sterling on a business plan, cash flow projections, and market research.
At first, Sterling thought he might open a laser tag storefront, but was he unable to find a suitable building for the purpose.
“He ended up scaling it back and just has a portable one now, which has worked out well,” Susan said.
The mobile unit consists of a 900-square-foot inflatable arena, complete with black lights, strobes, music, fog, and a maze incorporated inside the arena. It takes about an hour and a half to set up for an event and 45 minutes to take down and pack up. The arena can accommodate a maximum of eight players and game sessions typically last six minutes. JR’s Laser Tag is available for events both in Gillette and throughout the region.
Sterling noted that Gillette is a 24-hour town, with parents working night and day. So family time is often limited.
“Everyone talked about stuff for the kids to do, and now there’s actually some stuff for the family to do together,” he said. “That was our goal, to have something to bring the families together, and give them a chance to play together.”
Sterling opened JR’s Laser Tag on March 13, 2016. At the time, he also worked at the North Antelope Rochelle Coal Mine. He had intended to work at the mine until JR’s Laser Tag was on a solid footing. But on March 31, 2016, he and hundreds of other local miners were laid off due to a sharp downturn in the coal industry.
So Sterling was forced to change course abruptly. “I had to really push on the business a lot harder than I had originally wanted to do,” he said.
Sterling continues to work as a paramedic at the Gillette hospital, a position he has held for many years. He sets up Jr’s Laser Tag at events across the region mostly on weekends, which have included a Make-A-Wish function in Rapid City, S.D., a baseball tournament in Casper, and a birthday party in Basin.
“We usually do four to five events a month,” he said. “We do it inside, outside, in gymnasiums, at the park, virtually anyplace. We’re the only mobile laser tag in Wyoming.”
And the immediate future looked bright. In November 2016, Jr’s Laser Tag was already booked up until June of 2017.
JR’s Laser Tag is just part of a larger business vision. Sterling and his family eventually hope to expand into a large, storefront-type family entertainment center, complete with such activities as laser tag, a climbing wall, arcade games, a pizza parlor, and an ice cream stand.
“We want to be a destination spot for northeast Wyoming between the Black Hills and Yellowstone,” he said.