Turning a hobby of building custom tomahawks into a business plan isn’t a normal path.
But Tom Jennings doesn’t follow most normal paths, says wife Kacey Jennings.
“He’s just an entrepreneur. He always has ideas and this one just stuck,” she says of the couple’s indoor axe-throwing business, TommyHawks Axe House, 1631 W. College St.
Here’s the concept: For set hourly rates, customers throw axes at bull’s-eyes, with first-timers getting a two-hour session that includes one-on-one instructions on technique. That’s followed by games complete with a winner’s trophy. Those taking a break from the axe throwing, or who are simply spectating, can play an assortment of other games, such as cornhole and oversized versions of checkers, Jenga and Connect Four.
“It’s bringing something different to the entertainment industry,” Kacey Jennings says. The beginner’s rate is $25 for two hours, while returning throwers are charged $20 per hour. League memberships are also available, and participants must be at least 13 years old.
Limited food and drink options are available, but the owners aim to change that soon.
Currently a BYOB – bring your own booze – establishment that does not allow hard liquor, Kacey says they’re hoping to add food and alcohol sales this summer. But that’s a goal she won’t pursue until her husband is back in the country.
Tom is a retired 20-year veteran of the U.S. Army, currently in Iraq doing U.S. government contract work operating drones for Tampa, Florida-based OWT Global LLC. On his third rotation with the company, Kacey says he’s set to return in June. He’s gone four months at a time.
“That’s been a chunk of our business – eight months of me by myself,” Kacey says of the first year in operation.
TommyHawks started in March 2018. Two months later, Tom left for a rotation and didn’t return until October.
In the fall, the business started adding staff and currently employs seven. Kacey tackles emails, social media and financials while her husband’s away. In addition, she’s also a licensed life and health insurance agent, helping out at her father Greg Clanton’s insurance agency, GD Clanton & Associates LLC.
“I would rather be busy, especially while he’s gone,” she says, adding her husband’s contracting work has kept the couple from having to take out any business loans.
Startup costs were around $30,000, Kacey says. They’ve since invested another $60,000 on additional furniture, televisions, other game options and a growing assortment of merchandise.
“It was really bare bones,” she says of the 12,000-square-foot space, formerly the headquarters for Springfield-based Kuat Innovations LLC. “Anything that we make basically goes back into here.”
Although popular in Canada for years, indoor axe-throwing businesses were nonexistent in the U.S. prior to April 2016. That’s when Stumpy’s Hatchet House opened its doors in Eatontown, New Jersey.
Since then, that business alone has grown to eight locations with another 20 on tap to open in 2019, according to the company’s website. In Springfield, Craft Axe Throwing LLC joined TommyHawks as the second such business in the recreational field, opening last August in Wilhoit Plaza downtown. Opposite of TommyHawks, Craft Axe Throwing has a bar available to visitors, but does not allow outside alcohol.
Prior to opening, the Jenningses did not scout out area operations. Kacey says her husband, who had been making tomahawks since 2017, was convinced indoor axe throwing was coming to Springfield and wanted to be the first in the market.
TommyHawks soon opened. While attendance averaged 300 per month in 2018, Kacey says word of mouth has been a big contributor to a significant hike in customers this year. Monthly attendance has tripled to roughly 900.
The customer growth was notable late last year, as Kacey says December was the establishment’s best month: About 300 Axe Pass gift cards were sold.
“When Christmas hit, in December, it was crazy. We had a lot of Christmas parties,” she says, adding TommyHawks has at least one company party of 20 people or more each week. “Word of mouth has been our biggest marketer.”
Merchandising has been another big component of the business, with T-shirts, hats, coasters, koozies and key chains among the company’s products. Custom tomahawks, starting at $150, and throwing axes, starting at $65, also are for sale.
Declining to disclose 2018 company revenue, Kacey says lane rentals were over 80% of sales last year and merchandise was 14%.
“Honestly, if somebody’s been in here twice, they’re buying a shirt,” she says. “People from out of town are buying a shirt. We sell a lot of shirts.”
TommyHawks designs the T-shirts, and Republic-based screen-printing company Crackerjack Shack LLC handles the production. Jennifer Smith, project manager, says the company prints nine T-shirt designs for TommyHawks, along with hats, koozies and embroidered jackets.
“They always have such fun designs,” Smith says, declining to disclose the total amount TommyHawks typically spends per order. “They’re pretty frequent, at least once a month.”
Crackerjack Shack, which Smith says works with about 3,500 customers, has a minimum screen-printing order of 24 T-shirts.
Going beyond its company-branded merchandise, Kacey says other products sold by veterans are offered at the establishment, including coffee from Got Your Six Coffee Co. LLC.
Next on the radar is franchising.
Kacey says two more TommyHawks are expected to pop up in southwest Missouri later this year. Branson and Joplin are the target markets with discussions ongoing with two franchisees.
She says they’ve established a franchise fee of $20,000, but it’s negotiable. However, to keep with the company brand, Kacey says the franchisee must have a veteran or law enforcement background.
The key, she says, is providing repeat value for customers.
“We are creating an experience for people,” she says. “It’s not just a tourist thing where people come in and throw one time and they’re done.”
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