How Stumpy’s Became America’s First Indoor Hatchet Throwing Franchise
Stumpy's Hatchet House
You know when you’re chopping up wood for a campfire and feel the urge to toss the ol’ hatchet around? You’re not alone.
When two couples got together in 2015 for a backyard barbecue, the night quickly turned into an impromptu game of throwing hatchets. A stump from a tree that came down during Hurricane Sandy served as the perfect makeshift bullseye for Trish and Mark Oliphant and Kelly and Stuart Josberger, the eventual founders of Stumpy’s Hatchet House.
“We quickly realized there was a real need for an alternative type of recreation,” Trish Oliphant said.
After visiting a microbrewery for her birthday, Trish Oliphant told her husband she wanted to create an upscale place where people could drink beer and wine while participating in hatchet throwing. At the time, she was working in the men’s wholesale division at Ralph Lauren in New York.
They struggled at the beginning to find a landlord who would take a chance on America’s first indoor hatchet throwing franchise. Adding to the challenge, Oliphant wanted to create an “elevated” venue, which called for specific architecture and walls.
“We just didn’t want to be a place where only sweaty dudes came in to throw hatchets,” Oliphant said. “We don’t look like you’re throwing hatchets in somebody’s garage or basement.”
Eventually, they found the perfect space for their unconventional concept.
“It was business in the front and a warehouse in the back—the mullet of building layouts,” Oliphant said.
Decked out with big leather couches and their proprietary Douglas-fir and mahogany candles, Stumpy’s Hatchet House opened its doors on April 15, 2016, in New Jersey.
They hit the ground running and quickly gained popularity, so they decided to start franchising Stumpy’s in February 2017. Many of their franchisees were previous customers who loved the concept.
Then came the merch. Customers can don T-shirts and sweatshirts that say "Axe me what I did last night." This became an additional revenue stream for franchisees.
“It’s a little bit different from my Ralph Lauren days, but it’s still fun,” Oliphant said.
More than 250,000 customers have thrown at a Stumpy’s Hatchet House, and with more than 30 franchises in 13 states, the team has nothing but growth in mind for 2020. As more axe throwing franchises pop up such as Axe Monkeys, FlannelJax and HaliMac Axe Throwing, Stumpy’s differentiates itself with a focus on a social rather than purely competitive environment.
Stumpy’s targets bachelor parties, birthday celebrations, and even family days where younger children can play. Sound dangerous? Fortunately, kids throw suction-cup hatchets at targets with plexiglass, and there haven’t been any recorded incidents of injuries at any Stumpy’s locations. Customers are also required to wear close-toed shoes and go through a training seminar with a throwing coach beforehand.
When asked about long-term viability, Oliphant rejected the notion that this type of concept is just a trend, using bowling as an example.
“Bowling has been around for 100 years and has been undergoing a resurgence of popularity right now,” Oliphant said. “In Canada, they’ve been throwing hatchets indoors for 15 years…it’s still very new, but there’s plenty of room in the market for us right now, even with our competitors.”