Axe-throwing is no longer a sport exclusive to summer Renaissance festivals, lumberjacks or high-caliber athletes. In fact, axe-throwing venues are now popping up all over the U.S.: The National Axe Throwing Federation, an organization specializing in regulating the industry, formed in 2016 and now has over 3,000 league members in more than 50 cities and five countries.
Scott and Ashleigh Gadd, a married business-duo, leapt at the chance to bring the sport to Charlotte. The 30-year-olds opened Lumberjaxe in what was once an old Kellogg Co. factory in November 2017. Lumberjaxe now averages around 400 customers a week, in addition to the two competitive leagues the venue hosts on Mondays and Tuesdays. Not only does Lumberjaxe offer both individual and team axe-throwing, but it also boasts a bountiful selection of craft beers. The Gadds plan to open another location by the end of this year, and franchise their business by 2019. I recently sat down with Scott and Ashleigh to talk about Lumberjaxe.
Can you explain this trend of competitive indoor axe throwing?
Scott: I did it growing up in Boy Scouts. In Canada it was an activity that people did both competitively and socially with friends, with work groups as team-building activities. I told Ashley that this is something that I wanted to do, and now here we are. It’s something that has taken off, especially in the U.S., I think because it’s different. Everywhere you go, the same type of businesses keep opening. People are looking for something different, and it’s not just a different take on something that’s already out there; it’s completely different.
Ashleigh: You have to completely get out of your comfort zone. You have to do something with your hands. It is shocking to me a lot of the time to see how interested and engaged people are. The only time people are on their phones in Lumberjaxe is when they are taking video of their friends. It takes people out of their bubble and brings them back into doing something manual. A lot people come in thinking, ‘I’m not going to be good at this. I’m not going to succeed. I’m going to look silly.’ Then they do it, and the sense of accomplishment and validation that you get is so fun that it just hooks people.
What were the biggest challenges starting Lumberjaxe?
Ashleigh: Finding a space and insurance. Some landlords didn’t get [the concept of axe-throwing], which is fine. We got asked a lot of silly questions like, ‘Are you guys throwing axes at each other?’ Our landlord now was totally into it. He was like, ‘Yep, I get it. I want to be a part of that.’
How much money did you invest to start the business?
Ashleigh: We thought it was going to be super easy and super cheap. It ended up being neither of those things.
Scott: Overall it was about $125,000 to get it up and running. We are still bare-bones right now. We are adding air conditioning soon, which will be a pretty large expense. We are working on redesigning some of the interior design to refine it to what we ultimately want it to be.
Are there any special regulations to follow?
Scott: We are a member of the National Axe Throwing Federation, which is a worldwide organization that supervises the sport of indoor axe throwing. They have regulations about the facility as well as game play. The lines that are on the ground, the target dimensions, a lot of that is governed by the NATF, as well as regulations for competitive axe throwing. They don’t regulate our day-to-day business, just what goes into the safety, how the game is played for the competitive aspect.
How much does it cost to come in and throw axes?
Ashleigh: We have hourly rentals [$20 per person/hour + tax] and we have two-and-a-half-hour party rentals [$40 per person + tax, minimum of 8 people, deposit required]. We like to think of them as bowling lanes. You rent a lane. Each lane has two targets.
How do you address safety concerns?
Scott: We are open till 10 p.m. People ask why we aren’t open later, but there’s safety involved. All of our coaches have first aid training and bartender certifications that teach people how to identify intoxicated customers. We haven’t had any issues yet. We think that’s partially because the customers recognize that it’s dangerous and they need to be a little more responsible. The coaches stay with you the entire duration of the time, making sure you’re having a good time, teaching you how to play, to be your cheerleader, and making sure you’re safe.