By Jade Moldae
The entertainment and “gamification” trend impacting dealers and range operators across the country is being fueled by several factors, but two stand out. One, millennials and Gen Zers are generally more inclined to buy “the experience” at the range over product ownership (especially compared to older generations). Two, with a softening of the market, savvy dealers have caught on to the desires of younger, non-traditional customers, developing programs to generate new sources of revenue.
Checking both of these boxes, axe throwing has emerged as a “hot” activity — with standalone locations popping up in urban areas across the U.S. Range operators have capitalized on this activity’s growing popularity, incorporating axe-throwing venues to give customers new entertainment options. We uncovered a couple facilities that have found early success with axe throwing.
Capitalize On Crossover Appeal
An NSSF Five-Star indoor range facility, Guns N Gear Sports in Idaho Falls, Idaho, had some extra space after selling its firearms simulator to a local L.E. agency a couple years ago. For 12 months, the store experimented with a “bargain cave” that featured closeouts from manufacturers. After interest in the cave “lost some steam,” according to General Manager Michael Loy, he tasked his team with repurposing the area.
“I’m not one to sit around for an idea to die completely,” he said, “so I asked our team for a few ideas to better capitalize on the space. Kate, our office manager, suggested axe throwing. After a few days we learned axe throwing would help in more areas than first anticipated.”
Loy outlined how the addition of axe throwing has benefited guests and members.
“At peak times we have extensive waits to access our gun range, and we always want to help entertain waiting guests,” he shared. “Axe throwing allows us to shift shooter downtime into a great experience and increased revenue. In addition, we added unlimited axe throwing to our annual memberships as a low-cost, value-added benefit.”
“Axe throwing allows us to shift shooter downtime
into a great experience and increased revenue.”
Michael Loy, General Manager
Guns N Gear
Idaho Falls, Idaho
Guns N Gear’s axe hall has grown into a popular offering, being used to host a number of events — from corporate team bonding and holiday gatherings, to bachelor parties and gender reveals. When asked if the range gets any repeat business from those who attend these events, Loy answered: “Yes! Many of our guests tell us ‘We would never come in a gun store but you’re not just a gun store — you’re so much more!’”
Axe throwing also brings a natural crossover appeal to firearms range participation.
“Fundamentally, throwing axes and shooting firearms at an indoor range are similar — both require concentration, focus and a willingness to try new things,” Loy noted. “Our members enjoy learning something new and our first-time axe throwers show extreme interest in coming back to the shooting sports. More often: non-shooters see a fun positive environment to try the shooting sports for the first time.”
Perhaps most significant: Simply, axe throwing exemplifies fun.
“Axe throwing is entertainment, and at our core we’re in the entertainment business. Our first focus is safety and second to ensure every guest has a premium-level, engaging experience. Axe throwing is one more way we can facilitate our guests’ outstanding experience,” Loy concluded.
Different Approach, Same Motivation
The experience of Freedom Shooting Center in Virginia Beach, Va., differs somewhat from Guns N Gear’s involvement in axe throwing, but has still found a way to tie-in this activity to its facility.
“Over the years we’ve had many different business models express interest in occupying available space next door to us,” explained Skyler Thomas, Freedom Shooting Center manager. “We’ve been very close to committing on a handful of occasions — a music venue even wanted to open there — but ultimately we didn’t feel like it was the best fit for our business and long-term value of the property.”
“We felt like there was good synergy between
the two models, and it would assist us in
rounding out our ‘Entertain’ offering.”
Skyler Thomas, Manager
Freedom Shooting Center
Virginia Beach, Va.
Thomas shared Freedom Shooting Center came into contact with a local axe-throwing company that was looking to expand.
“Through our network we connected with a local axe-throwing business called Tribal Axe,” he informed. “We felt like there was good synergy between the two models, and it would assist us in rounding out our ‘Entertain’ offering, as our slogan is ‘Freedom Shooting Center: Shoot-Shop-Entertain.’”
An axe-throwing venue next door gives Freedom Shooting Center a unique opportunity to appeal to a broader demographic of customers — without the added burden of operating and incorporating a new business. Thomas sees crossover opportunities benefitting both establishments once it’s complete.
“We believe this venture will be beneficial to both operations,” he continued. “We’re currently finishing the build-out, and are expecting an October 1st Grand Opening for Tribal Axe right next door to Freedom Shooting Center.”
Tony and Jamie Barrale, owners of Sure Shot in Mascoutah, Ill., opened their axe-throwing and archery range last November, with the ambition of bringing a new activity to the area (the next-closest location to offer axe throwing was more than an hour away).
“Axe throwing has done well for us, with many a fun evening for customers,” they said.
The Barrales provided some important considerations for those looking to setup axe-throwing venues of their own.
“Don’t forget to get good insurance, and plan for customers to not follow the rules,” they advised. “Also, the axes tend to not last as long as we had thought.”
There has been one unintended drawback of Sure Shot’s axe-throwing venture: when competitors saw how successful the model could be, it was replicated elsewhere. “Other places have opened up around us after visiting our location,” the Barrales informed.
Ocean View, N.J.-based Full Metal Jacket Gun Range is another facility that added an axe-throwing element to its gun and archery range.
Advising online visitors “don’t bury the hatchet: throw it” on its website, the Full Metal Jacket team evokes the fun of this activity. Groups of families or friends — including those with children 10 or older — are encouraged to participate.
While your situation might be different from the facilities covered here, there are ways to creatively test this concept — either by holding special one-day events or adding knife- or axe-throwing lanes to the range during slower periods.
Have you considered adding an axe-throwing component to your operations? Let us know! email: firstname.lastname@example.org