At Urban Axes, first launched a couple of years ago in Philadelphia, and now expanding rapidly, groups of friends and co-workers gather to drink beer and wine while slugging axes at targets in dedicated “arenas” (think: an edgy mix of darts and bowling). While Jones and company claim that axe throwing was invented “probably about five minutes after axes themselves were invented,” the friends discovered the burgeoning sport on a trip to Toronto.
Asking themselves, “why is no one doing this in the States,” the four corporate executives decided to look at the market potential for a new form of group entertainment and let it fly. Within weeks of the initial Philly location’s launch, Urban Axes had validated its model by blocking most business hours for group events—a night out with friends, family gatherings, and corporate team-building—while leaving a few hours for walk-ins to experience the new sport first-hand with others.
“Bringing this sport, which had been played largely outdoors before, into a warehouse, was the game-changer,” said Jones. “It’s cool to actually throw an axe, but it’s also even cooler as a social experience. Our biggest initial challenge was convincing people of safety, but once we had convinced our insurance agents that things would be done properly with constant monitoring by an attentive staff, people understood and enjoyed. We simply had to educate the market about the concept’s existence.”
As a key part of creating the axe throwing market in the United States, the Urban Axes team worked with partners in Canada to create a sanctioning body for the sport, the National Axe Federation. “We worked with friends in Canada to form the federation,” Jones explained, “for rules, standards, and safety protocols to be created. When others want to start businesses like ours, they are encouraged to join and have standards. We’ve focused on really developing this sport as a way to help our business, as well as others, do things the right way.”
Just six months after Philadelphia’s opening, the Urban Axes team looked to expand aggressively. “We thought, let’s expand and build the premier brand in the country for this sport.” So they opened in Austin last year, and this past June launched in Baltimore. Durham isn’t even the last location for now, as the group will open in Boston and Cincinnati, both targeted for opening in November.
The new sport of axe throwing seems to have appeal across many demographics, according to Jones. “We catch a lot of metrics,” he said. “Our ratio of men to women is about 55/45, as we’ve worked hard to take that ‘bro/masculine’ aspect out of the sport. When the primary reason for coming here is to get together with friends, family, or colleagues, you don’t want to leave anyone out. While people 25-40 is probably our biggest group, we still get 75-year-old grandmothers trying axe throwing and doing well!”
The secret to the sport’s near-universal appeal is in how people experience the actual throwing of the axe. “People find out quickly that axe throwing isn’t about strength, but rather technique.” Just like a bowling alley with differently-weighted balls, axes are available in a range from 1.25 to 1.75 pounds, with the 1.5-pound axe the standard.
Another key aspect of not leaving anyone out has been the Urban Axes approach to picking locations. “We have opened much larger locations than some of our competitors are doing,” said Jones. “If you’re going to do all groups—including corporate—you need the capacity to take in 100-150 folks at a time from larger organizations. We’ve done groups this big, and they love coming for the beer and wine, as well as the food we can have catered for them on-site.”
What Jones and the team at Urban Axes love most about axe throwing is that “it’s almost an excuse for bringing people together. There’s a great sense of community and engagement, and the activity helps cross-pollinate different friend groups within the same party.”
In addition to group gatherings, Urban Axes hosts National Axe Federation leagues of up to 30 participants. “The leagues are great,” explained Jones, “but they’ve turned out to be another way to focus on community-building. You really get to know people when you play in a Tuesday night league with the same 30 folks over eight weeks. We’ve seen leagues that turned into great groups of friends hosting each other for holidays like Thanksgiving.”
Urban Axes has enjoyed ramping up in the Triangle, an area with great demographics in smart industries, with people who have disposable cash for entertainment businesses. The 619 Foster Street location, near Geer Street Garden and Cocoa Cinnamon, as well as Durham Central Park and the famous Durham Athletic Park, once housed a Cadillac dealership. Jones said that the lighting and décor reflect an homage to the dealership, appreciating its history: “We love being a part of revitalization, having folks re-experience wonderful neighborhoods.”
The company is also mission-driven, focused on its employees and their well-being. Jones reports that all employees will earn living wages according to Durham-area standards, and full-time employees will receive healthcare benefits. “We want our people to stay and grow with us,” he said. “We have a very strong training program, where we invest our own time, not to mention the bigger investment in wages and benefits. Again, it’s about building our business for the long term, in the right way, not about short-term profiteering.”
Jones highlighted the Forrest Firm’s execution of its own business model as being pivotal for the continued growth of Urban Axes. “The team at Forrest Firm has been instrumental for us,” Jones concluded. “We’re now getting their advice and counsel for various substantive matters, because we love how transparent and flexible they are with their engagement model. It’s really great when you’re building a business, and your attorneys act like your business partners.”
The Forrest Firm is proud to have Urban Axes as one of our newest clients, and we wish Stuart Jones and the entire Urban Axes family continued success with a business model that’s mindful of communities, customers, and employees. For more information on Urban Axes and to book your visit to their downtown Durham location, visit www.urbanaxes.com.