When Stumpy’s Hatchet House opened its doors, its four co-owners rolled the dice that an indoor venue for throwing hatchets would prove to be a successful business.
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More than two years later, Stumpy’s has closed deals with nearly two dozen franchises, and competing hatchet houses are popping up across the country hoping to capitalize on a trend that began in a town not far from the Jersey Shore.
“I always say to people, when was the last time you did something for the first time? And that’s what Stumpy’s is,” co-owner Trish Oliphant said. “I think this is America’s next bowling.”
It all started with a stump left behind by Hurricane Sandy. Trish and Mark Oliphant visited their friends, Kelly and Stuart Josberger, for a backyard dinner. After chopping wood for a fire pit, they began tossing a hatchet against the fallen tree.
“Just kind of kidding around, we said, we should do this as a business and bring it indoors,” Trish Oliphant recalled. “It started off kind of as a joke. The more we thought about it, we thought, people need a new recreation.”
The biggest challenge getting the business off the ground was convincing a property owner that slinging hatchets indoors would be a safe and viable business. The four co-owners ultimately settled on a vacant store in an office complex just a short drive from the busy Garden State Parkway. Stumpy’s opened in Eatontown, New Jersey, in April 2016.
There are 10 “throwing pits,” each with a wooden target. The objective is to sling the hatchet – ideally it makes one rotation before hitting its mark – and get as close to the center of the target as possible. Customers who hit the target dead center earn a chance to ring the “bullseye bell.” The entire space resembles a cabin in the woods, with outdoor-themed décor and a large brown leather sofa. There's also a bar that serves soft drinks and snacks. Customers can bring their own beer and wine.
Stumpy’s owners said the business has attracted both small and large groups, including private parties and corporate team-building outings. The main space has several large tables, and a separate room can accommodate parties.
The Eatontown venue, which employs 16 people, hit $1 million in sales after 16 months in business.
“This business has just taken off to the point where it’s been life-changing for us,” Kelly Josberger said, later adding that “while retail is down because people are buying things online, you can’t buy an experience online.”
Stuart Josberger believes Stumpy’s growth will continue to accelerate, saying the hatchet house could be “coast-to-coast" in five years.
“I think at the rate we’re going, we might have as many as 50 or 60 stores open at that point,” he said.
Stumpy’s is seeking a rapid expansion through franchising. The company has received hundreds of franchise requests, and 21 locations have already been sold in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Texas, Florida, Massachusetts and North Carolina. Stumpy’s is open for business in Fairfield and Green Brook, New Jersey, and more franchises plan to open by the end of the year.
Stumpy’s top challenge is “scaling up” and supporting its franchises, Stuart Josberger said. He added that Stumpy's looks for franchisees who are “customer-service oriented” and willing to do “whatever it takes” to make customers happy. “That’s really what we pride ourselves on here,” he said.
Also key to Stumpy’s success is social media, a driving force behind its growing brand awareness. Stumpy’s encourages customers to share their experiences using the hashtag “#SocialThrowdown.” Its co-owners said they largely rely on social media, along with digital advertising, to reach their target audience.