Opening a Venue: Part 1
the popularity of Axe Throwing has never been greater and there are new axe throwing venues opening everyday across the great USA. Venues were once only located in or around major cities, but today they are opening in smaller towns all over this land. When opening a new venue there are many things that need to be taken into consideration that ranges from the physical requirements to the behind the scenes decisions that need to be made. This is a 2-part article that discusses some the many elements that need to be considered when planning and starting an axe throwing venue from scratch. This article will consider some of the bigger physical decisions that will need to be made.
The selection of a location is probably the most important decision to make. A well designed, well thought out and executed venue can still struggle to get customers on a regular basis if the location is wrong. There are venues in major metropolitan areas that struggle to reach customers because they are located in an undesirable part of town. The appeal of these types of places is that the rent is typically lower than in the nicer neighborhoods. At the end of the end day, it doesn’t matter how low the rent is if customers do not feel safe traveling to and visiting your location.
Finding a space that is large enough to accommodate the needs of an axe throwing business can be difficult. Axe throwing lanes requires a larger amount of space than most types of brick-and-mortar businesses. A typical double target lane layout requires at least 12’x18’ of open floor space with a preferably 10’ ceiling height. If you are paying $10/sf/year lease, each lane will cost $2,160 a year. An open floor plan that allows for the most lanes you can fit into your space is important as you need to make sure you are maximizing your earning potential. It is also important to find a space that has ample storage. Target boards, axe re-handling tools and general facility maintenance supplies takes up quite a bit of space and should not be overlooked when looking for a location.
Sites like Loopnet.com or visiting a local real estate office that works with commercial space is a great way to discover different buildings that will fit the needs of an axe throwing business.
With all the new axe throwing venues that have cropped up, customers are now expecting their local venue to be well built and well thought out. Gone are the days of simply throwing some boards on a wall, hanging chain link fence between lanes and throwing in some stools or benches and it being good enough for the customers experience. Customers tend to return time and time again to businesses that have put in the effort to create a fun, comfortable and inviting atmosphere. If planned and executed correctly this type of environment can be achieved on a relatively low budget as well.
The best part of an axe throwing experience is attending and competing with a group of friends, as they say "the more the merrier". No customer likes to be cooped up in a small space having to walk around each other constantly. Nor do customers want to be intermingling the whole time with customers they do not know nor care to know. So, it is important to design a space that has enough open area for everyone to feel comfortable and not feel cramped and uncomfortable by having someone in their personal space the whole time. It is also a good idea to have space that customers who are not currently throwing can congregate in and have a drink or simply hang out in. The longer the customer is in your business, the more likely they are to spend money whether it is on drinks, snacks or axe throwing.
The first decision to make in regards to the lanes is the type of targets you are going to use. The most widely used and easiest to build is to essentially screw some 2x10 boards on a wall. (There are in depth instructions for building this style of target readily available on both the WATL and IATF sites) Another target option is to create a system that utilizes the end grain of the wood. The end grain targets are typically more work and take more materials to build, but they have the benefit of lasting much longer before any maintenance or board changes are needed.
How you are going to cover the floor as well as the lane walls is a big consideration that is often overlooked. The lanes are the part of the venue that the customers are going to spend the most time looking at and interacting with. So it is important to the overall customer experience that the lanes be well thought out, designed and built.
It cannot be overstated how important it is to not go cheap with the matting under the targets. As sure as the sun shines and water is wet, axes will hit the floor. If you have cheap mats, they will get chewed up from the edge of the axes and will need to be replaced soon after opening and repeatedly after that. Investing in a durable mat system will save you money in the long run by not having to replace very often, as well as saving damage to the axes when they hit on the hard concrete or wood floors underneath. Horse mats have always been a good option for matting as they are thick durable rubber material. Plywood and Artificial turf are also good options for durability and looks.
The lane walls are something that is easily overlooked when building an axe lane. When an axe is thrown incorrectly the axe spins in ways it is not supposed to and when it hits the target at a strange angle, the axe will often not fall straight to the matting below but to the side walls. Most axe throwing venues simply use a chain link fence to keep an axe in its own lane. This is a fine and durable option but not necessarily the most aesthetically pleasing. A thin or soft wall material is certainly not the way to go either as these will simply not hold up to the abuse of axes repeatedly hitting them. Other good options are building with solid wood that can take some abuse before needing to be repaired or replaced. Another option available instead of standard fencing material is to use prefabricated welded wire panels that can be easily installed. These are often built with a thick, durable steel wire that can take a beating, and are typically made in various mesh sizes to ensure your lanes avoid the feeling of being a cave.
At the end of the day, there are many options when opening a new venue whether its in a large space or small, if you have deep pockets or are doing it on a tight budget. But the physical requirements and overall customer experience and safety is paramount to the success of any axe throwing venue.
In our next article we will explore some of the behind the scenes decisions that need to be considered when opening a new venue such as Insurance, licenses, booking software etc.
Photos in this article are from the new Axe Throwing venue, Game of Throwns located in Cartersville Georgia.