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Odd concepts Metal Supermarkets, FlannelJax’s have metal in the middle


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Above, Craig Trottier is the GM of a Metal Supermarkets store in Roseville, Minnesota, flanked by some of the store’s wares.

Metal plays a central role in two sister franchise concepts, Metal Supermarkets and FlannelJax’s, but otherwise they couldn’t be more different.

Metal Supermarkets is the established concept, billed as the “world’s largest supplier of small quantity metals,” as signs at its Roseville, Minnesota, store explain it best. Or this: “Taxes, BS, Metal. Some things are better when cut. With 8,000 shapes and grades, we cut the hassle out of getting exactly the metal you need, when you need it.”

Who knew there is a convenience store for metals? is how Stephen Schober, president and CEO, introduces his franchise. A 33-year-old business, Metal Supermarkets has 84 stores in North America plus six in the United Kingdom. Average unit volumes are $1.3 million in the U.S., and bump up to $1.35 million to $1.4 million in Canada.

Customers are the local tool and dye shop, for example, or the maintenance manager at a bottling shop, or a local artist who needs metal for creating sculptures, said Schober, who led a management  buyout of the business in 2010.

Initial investment in Metal Supermarkets is $330,000 to $350,000 and franchisees often have a business-to-business selling background “It’s a very good, solid business, and has a very strong track record,” Schober says.

In fact, the concept is so strong that Schober found himself sitting on an enviably large pile of generated cash, which in turn brings us to the second concept, the fledgling FlannelJax’s. It’s an entertainment concept that offers customers an opportunity to hurl axes into a wooden board and score points against their fellow hurlers, all under the close supervision of Lumber Jacks or Lumber Jills who make sure no one gets on the wrong side of the blade.

FlannelJax’s

Laura Tober and Keith Beveridge of FlannelJax’s, the second brand under the metal umbrella.

That thwacking sound

So far one store is open, in a large, industrial space in St. Paul, Minnesota, where President Keith Beveridge and Director of Franchise Operations Laura Tober have been fine-tuning the concept the past several months before rolling it out.

They’re gearing the venue toward ax-throwing leagues, corporate team-building groups and the like, and were working through last fall to get food and beverage added to the mix. On a Franchise Times visit, the editorial team got a satisfying workout and made lots of embarrassing misses thwacking the axes into the boards and scoring points on a “dart” board cut to look like a giant sawed log.

Schober says he decided to launch FlannelJax’s after an elaborate brainstorming and investigation process that began when he encountered one nice-to-have problem: What to do with all the cash generated at Metal Supermarkets? “You look at it as a business owner and I can go buy Amazon stock.” Or “you can put it back to the shareholders,” but “we’re blessed in that our shareholders don’t need cash coming out,” he said, adding he decided, “I’m more comfortable re-investing it in the business that we can control and truly understand.

“We basically created a grid,” he said when considering new ideas. He and his team looked at a number of criteria that would help a franchise business be successful.

“We ended up looking at 80 different questions and we got all MBA-ish with it. We thought about 100 different concepts, in terms of generating points on this grid.” At long last, “we kept finding this ax-throwing coming to the top. I was sort of grumpy about it” at first, he said, “because it’s commercial recreation and that can be fickle.”

But his undergrad degree is in recreation, and he’s having fun throwing the ax-throwing concept around. “You can easily look at ax-throwing and say this is going to be a fad. So we’re going to have to have a premium experience compared to the others,” he says. “We’ve taken a very different approach that we think is going to create a sustainable, long-term business.”

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