What happens when an elementary school principal, a school network administrator, a Ralph Lauren employee and a union carpenter walk into a backyard with an axe and a bottle of wine?
You get a collective retirement plan that happened faster than expected, Kelly Josberger said.
This time last year, Kelly Josberger and Stuart Josberger of Toms River and Trish Oliphant and Mark Oliphant of Lakehurst had just opened Stumpy’s Hatchet House, the first BYOB indoor hatchet-throwing facility in the U.S.
In just one year, the Eatontown-based tourist spot has tallied more than $1 million in revenue, and it’s on track to be a multimillion-dollar business this year.
Holy fastest-growing companies.
Here’s how something like that happens.
“We had just returned from sailing one summer night when we decided to have a barbeque,” Kelly Josberger said. “Stuart was chopping wood for the chiminea when he and Mark started throwing the axe against a tree stump in the backyard.
“It looked like fun, so Trish and I decided to join in and play.”
Mark Oliphant, a retired union carpenter, took it to the next level.
“A couple nights later, Mark built a target on a tripod in our backyard, and we made more of a game out of it,” Josberger said.
It was only when the friends started to attract interest from neighbors that they figured they might be on to something.
“We thought, maybe this would be fun to do instead of always going bowling or playing darts,” Josberger said. “So we started researching indoor recreation and asking random people what they thought of a place where they could go and throw hatchets at targets.
“Most people said, ‘That sounds cool — I’d love to do that.’”
So the four friends each took a chunk of their savings and a huge leap of faith to start what they thought would be a small venture in April of last year.
“Between us, we had the collective talents to start,” Josberger said. “Trish understands merchandising; Mark is the builder; Stuart understands technology; and I am the people person.”
Their concept for Stumpy’s Hatchet House quickly evolved into eight throwing pits surrounded by chain link fencing in a warehouse reminiscent of a pine-clad hunting lodge in the Pacific Northwest.
Throw like a girl
Kelly Josberger will be the first to tell you that she was skeptical of hosting bachelorette parties at Stumpy’s Hatchet House in Eatontown.
“I did not think that too many other women would want to come and do this,” she said.
The facility now hosts bachelorette parties every week on top of other women-oriented events.
“On Mother’s Day, young adults were bringing in mom, and when we had a single’s night, the women didn’t even care that there were men here that they could be matched up with — they were just here to have a good time,” Josberger said.
Josberger said co-owning Stumpy’s Hatchet House has been a great way to learn about all of the different women’s organizations in the state.
“There are even women that will come in with their husbands, pay the $15 spectator fee, say they’ll just take the opportunity to play with the large wooden checkerboard or the giant Jenga set we have,” Josberger said, “And they typically come back to the counter shortly after and say they want to throw, too.
“Then you can’t ever get the hatchet out of their hand.”
“From the outside, we look like a simple storefront in an industrial park, but when people come in, they are blown away,” Josberger said.
That’s before they even get to chuck a pound-and-a-half steel hatchet 12 feet toward a target made of several 2-by-4 wooden planks.
“You just feel so much energy — it is really pretty cool,” Josberger said. “People make friends with the people in the pits next to them, and the next thing you know, they are sharing a pizza.”
Hatchet throwing is not just for flannel-wearing, bearded lumberjack hipsters, either.
“You can’t really put a label on who comes to Stumpy’s Hatchet House,” Josberger said. “We have a very diverse group of customers of both genders and all ages.”
From Wednesday to Sunday, anyone who is age 21 and over can reserve a pit for up to 10 people for two hours at the price of $40 per person, or a pit for less than 3 people for an hour at the price of $20 per person.
Stumpy’s does not have a liquor license. In fact, it doesn’t even sell food. But customers are allowed to bring all the food and beverages they like.
And they do.
Included in the more than 500 visitors each week are birthdays, date nights, bachelor and bachelorette parties, “Axe Your Ex” get-togethers, and even gender reveal parties.
“Of course, sometimes, when you get a bunch of ax-wielding men together, it can become a macho fest,” Josberger said. “But if they throw too hard, it’s not effective. It bounces back.
“They all learn real fast that it is not all about muscle if you want it to stick.”
Stumpy’s Hatchet House currently employs 12, including throwing coaches and safety trainers.
“Everybody has their own little ways of going over the rules,” Josberger said.
“You always want to get people’s attention that you are serious about safety, but you also want to make sure that they are listening. Humor can help keep their attention.”
The rules are pretty basic — stay within the throwing zone, retrieve your hatchets at the same time, no trick shots — and there are really only two effective ways to throw a hatchet: two-handed overhead or a one-handed pitch.
Stumpy’s Hatchet House’s Instagram account is jam packed with photos of customers trying both.
“Social media has been amazing for us,” Josberger said.
After a website called “New Jersey Isn’t Boring” featured the indoor hatchet throwing facility, articles could suddenly be found everywhere, from Forbes and CBS News to GQ Magazine and Men’s Health.
“These little things that you wouldn’t think would lead to anything gave us a springboard,” Josberger said. “We have been fortunate enough to meet so many different people, including locals and people traveling in from different parts of the country.
“They are just excited to have something new to do and are psyched to bring back their friends.”
Team building exercise
It wasn’t easy finding a location in Monmouth County that would allow for a BYOB hatchet throwing facility.
“Some towns were not crazy about bringing us in,” Kelly Josberger, co-owner of Stumpy’s Hatchet House, said. “We looked at several towns and locations before we found the right one. Eatontown has been great to work with.”
Stumpy’s Hatchet House’s location in an industrial park also has encouraged a new revenue stream: corporate team building.
“We have held more than 20 different events for local companies and even school districts who have brought their administrators,” Josberger said. “You are doing something out of your comfort zone, you are cheering each other on, and you are really excited when your team hits a bull’s-eye.”
For companies that want to encourage their professionals to let off steam, the entire facility can be rented for $1,000 per hour.
The trend has been so successful, Josberger said, that Stumpy’s Hatchet House has decided to franchise. An initial investment, depending on the size of the space and where it is located, is estimated to cost between $100,000 and $200,000.
“We are currently interviewing more than 80 franchisee applicants from all over the world,” Josbeger said. “This is for anyone who wants to be part of a franchise and invest in a business where you can have a great time while enjoying an activity. That is a nice way to work.”
The original co-owners intend to open at least one more location in the Cherry Hill area within the next six months before they dedicate their time to supporting franchisees.
“If you want to have a really good time working and feeling like you are always at a party, own a Stumpy’s Hatchet House,” Josberger said. “It makes me feel younger to be here.”
Josberger added that the coolest part of the business is often hanging out with the customers as if they had invited them into their own homes.
“As people leave, they will often hug you and thank you as they walk out,” she said. “I never expected that.”
In fact, none of the co-owners — all of whom now work full-time in the business — anticipated any of this to happen.
“For four people who did not have business degrees to take our diverse talents and pull this off and do it right is really exciting,” Josberger said. “It is like starting all over again in a new career.”
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