Two couples, Mark and Trish Oliphant, and Kelly and Stuart Josberger, founded Stumpy's Hatchet House in Eaton, New Jersey, after a game of backyard hatchet throwing presented itself as a lucrative business idea. Profitable since the fall of 2016 and making over a $1 million gross in revenue per year, Stumpy's now has franchised locations across the U.S. where customers can show off their inner lumberjack. But getting the business off the ground wasn't an easy target. Here, Trish Oliphant reflects on the journey. --As told to Anna Meyer
After a day of sailing in New Jersey's Barnegat Bay in 2015, our friends Kelly and Stuart Josberger invited us over for dinner. The guys were chopping up wood for the chimney and began to throw their hatchets at a tree stump from a fallen tree that came down in Superstorm Sandy. After dinner--and a few cocktails--Kelly and I joined our husbands and gave it a go. We all had so much fun that we created a target for the stump, and then turned that into a more sophisticated target propped up by a tripod stand.
After that night, we'd invite other friends to come over to throw and have drinks. (Editor's note: Inc. does not advise drinking while axe throwing.) That's when we knew we needed to bring a new indoor entertainment venue to the market. I mean, how many times can a group of friends go to just another bar before they get tired of it? Our friends thought we were crazy to pursue the idea, but we did it anyway.
When we started looking for a venue to rent, we would find a place we'd like, talk to the landlord, and the landlord would say to us, "What're you guys putting in here?" When we'd tell them a hatchet-throwing venue, a lot of the time they'd say, "Yeah, not in my building you're not."
Getting insurance was also difficult. We went through extensive safety precautions, but still, we kept getting turned down. Eventually, we were able to secure insurance with a specialty insurance agent who covered gun ranges and circuses, who was referred by one of my co-workers. The best way to persevere through situations like this is to do your due diligence, gather all necessary facts, and network.
When Stumpy's opened in April 2016, I was working for Ralph Lauren in the men's wholesale division, my husband had just retired as a carpenter after 40 years, Kelly was an elementary school principal, and Stuart worked in the IT department for a school system. We thought success was going to take some time, but it didn't--we hit the ground running as soon as it opened and I was able to leave my job by June. By the following January, Stu and Kelly were both able to walk away from their jobs as well. Today, we have over 23 Stumpy's locations and counting.
As for our friends? They still think we're crazy to open a hatchet-throwing venue, but they think of it as a crazy good idea.