When Mark and Trish Oliphant got together with their friends, Stuart and Kelly Josberger, for a barbecue one summer night, they never imagined that it would lead to them getting into business together. But after their casual dinner turned into hatchet throwing in the backyard, they realized that they had tapped into something truly unique.
While hatchet throwing may not be the first thing that comes to mind as an emerging segment in the franchising industry, the Oliphants and Josbergers are finding success. After their barbecue, they jokingly agreed that they should turn the fun that they had hatchet throwing into a business for others to enjoy. But what started out as a joke soon became a reality—the more they realized the gap in the industry for this type of business, the more they realized its full potential. That’s why they decided to open Stumpy’s Hatchet House in Eatontown, New Jersey. They became the first hatchet throwing facility in the U.S., and that novelty sparked a lot of consumer interest. So, a year and a half after their grand opening in April of 2016, they decided to franchise.
With six franchises already sold in communities across the country, Stumpy’s Hatchet House is already gaining traction among business owners as well. That’s why 1851 Franchise spoke with co-founder Trish Oliphant to learn more about the brand’s recipe for success.
1851 Franchise: What makes Stumpy’s Hatchet House stand out to franchisees both in the industry as a whole and within its own niche?
Trish Oliphant, co-founder of Stumpy’s Hatchet House: Differentiating ourselves in the marketplace has been essential for us. Even though we were the first hatchet throwing franchise to launch in the U.S., copycats have popped up. That’s why at Stumpy’s, we’ve created a comfortable and cozy atmosphere that our customers really love. We have comfy leather sofas, farm tables and people can either bring in their own food or order from a takeout menu. We’ve been able to marry the art of hatchet throwing with a great place to have a party and hang out, and that’s what makes it stand out. Where other concepts look like a garage, ours looks like a cabin in Vermont and appeals to all the senses.
Our unique atmosphere is what inspired us to franchise. At this point, most of our franchisees were customers first. They came to our location and had such a good time that they decided to invest in one themselves. We have six locations sold so far, and we have another four that should be closing by the end of this month or early next month.
1851: What’s on deck for Stumpy’s Hatchet House in 2018?
Oliphant: We’re really looking for rapid expansion with all of the copycat concepts out there. But we’re very picky about who we bring into our system because we have a 10-year franchise agreement. We feel like we’re entering into a 10-year marriage with our franchisees, and we want to make sure that the fit is just right. We also want to make sure that our franchisees have a true passion for hatchet throwing—they personally need to like doing it and be hands-on business owners. So, if we were able to do another 12 deals with those types of franchisees, we’d be super happy.
1851: Why is now the time to invest in Stumpy’s Hatchet House?
Oliphant: Bowling has been around for over 100 years—in fact, it started right here in New Jersey. The industry is still going pretty strong, but it’s fizzling a little. There’s a real need for a new type of recreation, and I think Stumpy’s is the solution. We’ve managed to take hatchet throwing—which has been around for a long time—bring it indoors and make it recreational. The fact that it’s coupled with an awesome atmosphere is really the key to our success, and we’re coming into the market at the right time.
1851: Where will Stumpy’s Hatchet House be in 5 years? In 10?
Oliphant: I would like to be in almost every state. We want to be the name that’s thought of when someone says indoor hatchet throwing—we want to be the McDonald’s of hatchet throwing in the industry that we’ve created here in the U.S.
1851: What does the ideal Stumpy’s Hatchet House franchisee look like?
Oliphant: I think the way that we’ve been getting out franchisees—for the most part—as customers first bolsters our idea that if you don’t go after what you want, you’ll never have it. The fact that we have people coming to us and going through this process is awesome. Those are our best franchisees—they feel like friends. We want to enjoy the people that we’re working with.
1851: What is your top tip for succeeding in the franchising industry?
Oliphant: I think that you always need to go where your passion is. We really wanted to create Stumpy’s Hatchet House, and we didn’t take the elevator to get there. We took the stairs. Now that we’re here, we’d like to inspire others. That’s what’s so much fun about selling a franchise to someone that really wants it. Skills are cheap, but passion is priceless.