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Far from a hatchet job: the rise of axe throwing franchises

Far from a hatchet job: the rise of axe throwing franchises

It may not have been the first name in the market, but FlannelJax’s is looking to carve a new niche in this emerging sector.

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Words by Kieran McLoone, deputy editor for Global Franchise

Regardless of where in the world you are, or which side of the political fence you sit on, 2020 has been an immensely stressful year all round. Especially these past few months, sometimes you just feel like you need to get away from it all, hunker down somewhere, and… throw an axe.

Well, if that’s the stress-relief solution you’re looking for, then the steady rise in axe throwing franchise brands could be the alternative light at the end of an increasingly lengthy tunnel that you’ve been hoping for.

But don’t just take my word for it: consumers, in general, have been spending on experiences more than products for a while now, with spending on the former growing four-times faster than more material purchases in recent years, and 74 per cent of Americans prioritizing experiences over products.

ENTER, FLANNELJAX’S

Looking to make a name for itself in this emerging live entertainment market is FlannelJax’s; the premium axe throwing concept born from the minds of the experts behind Metal Supermarkets, a renowned international metal retail brand. And while axe throwing and small quantity metal retail might not be a natural pairing, it’s this connection that makes FlannelJax’s an attractive option in an increasingly competitive space.

“Metal Supermarkets was doing quite well, but we felt that we had the capacity to start off a new brand,” says Stephen Schober, CEO of FlannelJax’s, about the brand’s conception in 2017. Schober is also the president and CEO of Metal Supermarkets, and helps to maintain its global portfolio of over 100 stores across the U.S., U.K., and Canada.

“We looked at the criteria of a successful franchise brand – scalability, whether it was unique, whether the industry was growing, returns on investment – and after ranking all of our options, axe throwing proved the top choice. So we set to work on understanding the space, and working to develop our brand.”

Metal Supermarkets has been in the market for almost 40 years, but axe throwing has only begun gaining marketable popularity in the past half-decade, with the first franchised offerings opening up in the early months of 2016. Now, however, it’s a team-building events concept that’s looking like it could eventually rival the likes of bowling or paintball. To make a real impact, FlannelJax’s would need to bring something fresh to the table.

“When you see some of our competitors, they look like somebody went to Home Depot with a couple of cases of beer and plywood,” laughs Schober. “Our facilities are of a much higher level. When somebody’s looking at managing a corporate event for a large multi-billion dollar company, they don’t want their employees going to second-rate facilities.”

ADDED VALUE PROPOSITION

When the events planners for those huge enterprises that Schober speaks about come across FlannelJax’s, the concept might first seem like your run of the mill axe throwing center. After all, how much variety can be injected into what boils down to a very straightforward, instinctual exercise?

Quite a bit, it turns out. As well as throwing axes for two hours, priced at the slightly-above-industry- standard point of $40 per person, FlannelJax’s offers additional ‘lumberjack sports’, including the likes of Thump the Stump and Crosscut Sawing. If simply throwing axes is your aim, then the brand’s dedicated lumberjack/lane coach encapsulates the premium experience on offer.

“When somebody’s looking at managing a corporate event for a large multi-billion dollar company, they don’t want their employees going to second-rate facilities”

“We had lots of discussions about whether this would have a lasting appeal because we weren’t interested in a fad. We weren’t interested in something that could be a disservice to our franchisees, either,” says Schober. “Part of the attractiveness to us, as well as the social side, is that the cost to come out for an evening is reasonable. It’s less expensive than taking your team out to a high-end restaurant with two or so rounds of drinks, and it’s also a better experience because you truly get mixing and mingling here.

“Little Mary in accounting, for example, can be a better axe-thrower than the six-foot-four guy in sales, because the skill level isn’t based on physical prowess.”

BACKED BY EXPERTISE

If you’re still not sold on the idea of axe throwing as a franchisable concept, despite the premium experience and diversified revenue stream on offer, then maybe the aforementioned know-how supporting the FlannelJax’s brand will win you over. After all, even if axe throwing has only been a market mainstay for five or so years, this offering has over 100 years of combined experience driving every decision.

“We understand franchising, location analysis, lease negotiation, construction, coordinating openings, training manuals – we’ve already done it all,” says Schober. “There’s very few other chains that know franchising to the degree that we do. Sure, there’s a lot of people who think: ‘I’ve got a great concept, so I’ll just get my lawyer to draft an agreement and off I go’. But what makes us more attractive is that we know what we’re doing.”

Part of the philosophy behind FlannelJax’s, too, is to take all of the back-office tasks off of a franchisee’s plate, so that they can focus solely on the customer experience. This means marketing, sales, training, and even taking calls; something the corporate team learned from its experience perfecting Metal Supermarkets.

“I’m a long-term franchise guy and even I don’t know absolutely everything, but philosophically, that’s what we’re trying to achieve: the franchisee focuses on the store, and we do as much as we can of everything else,” says Schober. Like many in-person concepts, FlannelJax’s has slowed its development plans just slightly in light of COVID-19. But with average annual sales of over $1.1m in 2019, and estimates that family entertainment as an industry could exceed $40.8bn by 2025, it might not be long before you’re decked out in plaid and tossing hatchets like nobody’s business.


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