Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi! My name is Kelly Josberger, and I’m one of the owners of Stumpy’s Hatchet House, which is an indoor hatchet-throwing venue that specializes in parties and events for adults. Throwing an axe is just part of the experience. Learning a new skill (hurling a hatchet to a wooden target), playing hatchet-throwing games, and socializing with friends and family among our beautiful rustic environment make it an occasion to remember! We host birthdays, bachelor/bachelorette parties, corporate outings, team building activities, fundraisers, reunions and more!
Stumpy’s flagship location is in Eatontown, New Jersey. After opening in 2016 and gaining popularity and success as the country’s first indoor hatchet-throwing venue, we decided to expand by franchising in 2017. We now have 15 locations open in New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Texas, and Florida, with 24 more coming soon in states across the country.
To see what the “Social Throwdown” is all about, check out this video!
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
My husband and I, along with their friends Mark & Trish Oliphant had a casual backyard barbecue one night after a sail on the Barnegat Bay. Chopping wood for a chiminea fire led to the creation of an impromptu game of throwing the axe to a makeshift bullseye on a stump from a tree that came down during Superstorm Sandy.
The game evolved to a more sophisticated target of 2 x 6′ timbers on a tripod stand in the backyard. Soon, the four of us realized this game had potential and decided to take it indoors, recreating the fun and bonding over food, drinks, and some hatchet throwing. We wanted our business to provide more than just a place to play a game. Stumpy’s “social throwdown” allows friends to get together to create memories by doing something slightly out of their comfort zone in a beautiful, rustic environment.
Starting a business was something that the four of us often talked about when spending time together for our “next career”. Mark, a retired union carpenter, was raring to go. His wife Trish had been working for Ralph Lauren in the men’s wholesale division, while I was 3 years from retiring from the school system as an elementary school principal. My husband, Stuart, was also eager to have a successful side business, but at the time none of us had thought this business idea would evolve into a major recreation industry. After the business was up and running for several months, Trish, Stu, and I were able to join Mark in retirement from our “day jobs”. The four of us used our diversified backgrounds set out to go “all in” with our goal to be the #1 name in indoor recreation for adults.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
Finding a location and a landlord who would be cool with a business that featured throwing hatchets and drinking beer (especially since there was nothing like this in the country) was the first challenge. After looking at over 30 commercial properties around New Jersey, we found a suitable space with an owner who understood the vibe in Eatontown, New Jersey.
Mark began designing the layout of the venue, while Trish and I got to work on furnishings and decor. Stu was in charge of setting up the LLC, finding insurance, setting up the bank accounts. “Divide and conquer” made the project come together in about 8 weeks after signing the lease.
To get the word out, we relied on social media with “teasing” friends, family members and any other followers they could gain with an “SHH” campaign. People were dying to know what “SHH… it’s a secret, spread the word” was all about. Not knowing what a “social throwdown” was made people even more curious!
We have learned many things along the way, but the biggest lesson is that you can never know too much!
Finally, when the doors opened, early visitors helped grow the business by taking pictures of their bullseyes and posting them on Facebook and Instagram. Soon the word spread, and the first large birthday party (a 30-year-old woman from Hoboken, who invited 50 guests to help her celebrate this milestone), proved to us that they were on to something great! Publicist Deven McCarthy of Illumination PR approached the Stumpy’s us with an offer to help them seek media opportunities, and soon Stumpy’s was launched with publications from Forbes, Thrillest, Slate, Inc., Entrepreneur and more! (By the way, Stu and Mark thought we didn’t need a publicist and thought Trish and I were crazy to even consider the idea.)
We also needed cool merch to sell so everyone wearing a Stumpy’s t-shirt could be walking billboards and help advertise our business. Shirts like “Axe Me What I Did Last Night” and “Let it go… at Stumpy’s” was soon a hit! Merchandise has grown since we opened in 2016 to include a variety of apparel, hats, pint glasses, and growlers. Stumpy’s stickers are location specific and collected by many.
Describe the process of launching the business.
The first thing we needed to do to launch the business was to access money! The four owners dipped into their retirement savings to have the funds to attain the business location, buy materials for the build-out and have carrying costs for several months until the business caught on. We did not want to take on debt with loans, and we used credit cards very sparingly. To help keep costs down, we did our own “sweat equity”, meaning we didn’t hire anyone for the build-out unless it was beyond our skill set. We refinished used furniture, salvaged some antiques from our own personal collections to create our rustic vibe. Friends donated previously loved furniture, which received a “refresh” like buffalo plaid upholstered seats or darker wood stain. With an investment of about $200,000, we were off and running.
To get the word out, we networked BIG TIME! We talked to just about anyone who would listen that we have this interesting new business. Soon the word spread and people started showing up at our location tucked away in an industrial park. We are grateful for our customers who helped us spread the word and brought new people to the place they discovered to try out hatchet throwing.
A lot has changed in the digital world since we opened. Social posts don’t have as much of a reach unless you spend money. We now advertise on social media and spend a large part of our budget on search marketing.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Hiring a publicist was the most effective way for us to attract customers. We were able to reach a vast number of potential customers through the publications that we’ve been featured in and have had a few national television opportunities as well. Stu got to teach Ryan Seacrest how to hurl a hatchet on Live with Kelly and Ryan, and he and I also got to talk up the business with Becky Quick on CNBC’s On the Money. We also had the Real Housewives of New Jersey try their hands at hatchet throwing, which led to new business including franchise inquiries! This kind of exposure is immeasurable! We know from the data that all the press and media opportunities have made over 900,000,000 (yes 900 million!) impressions, which has a value of over $6 million dollars!
Posting on social media and running ads on Facebook and Instagram lets us reach our target customers. We recently invested in professional quality videos to use on our website and social ads. Additionally, we are addressing SEO on our website by utilizing an SEO analyst, whose team works with optimization for each of our locations and building backlinks to the root domain. By reviewing Google Analytics regularly, we have been able to make adjustments to increase our visibility.
There are many hurdles that business owners need to jump, especially in getting their business started. Falls are to be expected, but you can’t get discouraged.
We rely on email marketing to bring our customers back to Stumpy’s by inviting them for a return visit for a particular event. We send loyal customers discount codes for seasonal promotions and use embedded links for quick access to Stumpy’s Hatchet House reservation calendar. Our current mailing list has over 60,000 people for the flagship location alone.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
In 2017, we decided to bring more Stumpy’s to people in the United States. While this wasn’t part of the original plan (which was to open two or three corporate owned Stumpy’s), we decided to allow others to fund our expansion. We had a lot of interest from customers who regularly asked, “Are you guys going to franchise?” After hearing this over and over again, we decided to do just that! It took a lot of research, but we found a company that helped us write our FDD (Franchise Disclosure Document), added a section on our website with franchise information and started responding to inquiries! Many people come to us because they want to bring this business to their town. The process involves a phone interview, a review of an application on background and financials, then a “Discovery Day”, where we showcase the business and process of owning a Stumpy’s franchise. This is an integral part of the process, as we need to be sure the potential franchisee has the right vibe and qualifications to become part of the company. Next, we make a decision of the territory- making sure the area the franchisee is proposing has the demographics to support a Stumpy’s.
We currently have 13 Stumpy’s Hatchet House locations open and 24 more in development. Our goal is to have 20 locations operating by the end of 2019 and 40 total by the end of 2020. Three of our locations have hit over one million dollars in yearly sales and we’ve put through over 200,000 hatchet-throwing customers.
The majority of the franchise locations are in the northeast, but we are seeking entrepreneurs to open locations in all major US cities.
Stumpy’s was originally a 21 and over the venue, but several locations will service adults 18 and over. The main demographic for Stumpy’s customers is between 25-45, however, locations near colleges and universities are seeing slightly younger target customers.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
One of the biggest breakthroughs in the business was developing the quick-change target system. Changing the boards on our original targets was time-consuming and required a certain skill set. With the new patent-pending system, the boards can be changed quickly, allowing us to put through more customers during business hours.
The industry has grown substantially since the inception of this business. By constantly looking to refine and improve our systems, we are determined to be the leaders in indoor hatchet-throwing recreation. It’s important to be open-minded to meet the needs of your customers.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
We just implemented Zendesk as a support platform for our franchisees. This promotes quick, consistent answers, as well as a library of resources to help through every step of the process. We also use Local IQ’s Listings and Reputation Platform to keep listings consistent and be on top of all reviews for all locations.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Watching Shark Tank can be very inspiring! Additionally, the book Traction by Gino Wickman is a good read to help you get your business organized. We are currently reading The Seven Stages of Small Business Success by Carl Gould and working with him personally to take our business to the next level!
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Owning your own business takes energy, creativity, and an ability to learn and grow. We have learned many things along the way, but the biggest lesson is that you can never know too much! Network with like-minded people, help other businesses grow, and always consider what you can do better.
There are many hurdles that business owners need to jump, especially in getting their business started. Falls are to be expected, but you can’t get discouraged. There will be “naysayers” that will think you’re crazy. You need to believe in your idea and keep striving to make it happen!
Our business experienced a downturn when a similar business allowed trick shots that turned out to be dangerous. A viral video of a woman almost losing her head scared potential customers. We knew we had to do a good job of not only providing a very safe environment but marketing how we do it!
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We are currently looking for energetic, motivated business owners to help us expand our brand by purchasing a Stumpy’s franchise.
Where can we go to learn more?
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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