Are Axe Throwing Ranges Coming to California?
We recently found out that axe throwing ranges are a thing now and immediately wanted to learn everything we could about the sport and to try it ourselves. We learned that the largest axe throwing chain is Bad Axe Throwing, which was started by Mario Zelaya. Bad Axe Throwing has dozens of locations spread through Canada and the U.S.
I spoke to Mario to see how his axe throwing business started and where it might be headed next. I was able to confirm with Mario that they are working hard on expansion at the moment, and that they're working with real-estate agents in a few U.S. cities right now. He even said that expanding to California is a priority for them.
Update June 12, 2018: Bad Axe Throwing now has locations in California, including in San Diego and San Francisco. They're not in Los Angeles yet, though!
Mario, tell us how you got into axe throwing; where was your first time trying it?
We had heard about it through friends. I had actually never been axe throwing before I started the business. I didn't even have an idea how the targets should be built. The first targets we had were such a mess (haha). Eventually, we figured out how it all worked. Once my brother-in-law and I threw axes at the fully functioning targets, we were hooked and decided to start our first location in Burlington, Ontario.
How did you get into the axe throwing business?
It's actually something that has been popular for many years all around the world. I come from a strong business & marketing background - I knew I could take this cool concept and build it to be something great with Bad Axe Throwing.
Why did you decide to start an axe throwing centre?
I knew it had a lot of potential - if I enjoyed it as much as I did, I knew everyone else would too. It's fun, it's a thrill and it's exciting to learn to throw an axe. The fun factor was a driver into getting the business started. That with the important fact that I had plenty of capital and experience growing businesses, I started it as a fun side project.
Have you started other businesses in the past?
Yes, I started a large digital marketing agency called Majestic Media. Our clients are Fortune 500 brands. It was acquired a few years ago by a private equity firm. With the knowledge and skill sets I got from there, starting, scaling and growing businesses come naturally/easy to me now.
What has been the toughest part of managing an axe throwing business?
Growth is very difficult. It's hard finding suitable locations that fit within the business model, it's not as simple as just finding any location. We have to factor in revenue projections to see if our business can be sustained. And because of that, we have a tough time expanding into cities we really want to be in. We have such great people, processes and technology in place that managing the business itself is somewhat easy. I used to not work more than 5 hours a week on it, but we're currently upgrading a lot of our technology and now that I'm semi-retired, I'm devoting more time to helping our team scale up.
What is your favorite part of managing an axe throwing business?
Truthfully, the credit would have to go to Jesse Gutzman, he's the Managing Director at our company. I'm simply the owner. What gets me most excited is three things: 1.) Finding a new location to open up to, 2.) Hiring awesome people, and 3.) Seeing our customers having a great time.
It feels great and rewarding knowing that someone decided to spend their retirement party at your venue. Or they decided to drop by on the day of their wedding for some cool pictures. Seeing people celebrate special occasions or companies (big and small) having team building activities while axe throwing feels great.
Why is axe throwing not as big in the US as it is in Canada?
Mainly because we're just getting started. In about 2-3 years, as we grow to different regions in the US, I have a feeling Bad Axe Throwing will make the sport of axe throwing much bigger in the US than in Canada.
Tell me, why does Southern Ontario have so many Axe Throwing Centers?
A lot try to replicate the success we've had with Bad Axe Throwing. It's also a very popular activity here. You combine that with the fact that we have a strong economy with 12 million people living here, there's a big demand for it.
Do you have plans to expand to more locations in Canada and the US?
Oh definitely. We're not even close to stopping. The toughest part is finding the right location, in the right cities, that fit within our business model. We're currently working with real-estate agents in a few cities in the US right now. We're working hard on expansion at the moment.
Where in Canada might you be opening new locations?
Canada is currently over-saturated. We see other companies trying to open up but they're struggling because Bad Axe Throwing has such a strong name. We're even ranked #1 on TripAdvisor for Fun & Games in Toronto, Canada's biggest city. I think we might open 1-2 more locations in Canada.
Where in the US might you be opening new locations?
We're focused on looking in California right now. We've got such great feedback from folks in Cali, we think it'll be a great fit.
How do you choose where to open new locations?
A lot of research goes into where we open. We look at a lot of factors in demographics, history and culture. Some places have such different vibes where axe throwing simply wouldn't be a good fit. We try finding places that have similar pockets of cultural vibes like we do in Southern Ontario.
What kind of potential do you think axe throwing has in the US market?
The US is 10 times the size of Canada, so the potential is there for axe throwing to be huge.
Thank you Mario, one last question, do you have any interesting stories to share?
I sure do.
- The first targets we built, the axe bounced right back at us. Safe to say we used the wrong wood!
- When we launched our first location, another axe throwing company tried to send us a cease and desist
- Competitors seem to consistently be more interested in writing fake positive reviews (for themselves) and negative reviews (for us) than actually competing
- Word of mouth is huge for our business, more than half of our business comes from it
- People even celebrate divorce parties at our locations. One guy even brought in his ex-wife's shoe.
- On Instagram, type in the hashtag: #badaxethrowing. You'll see some wonderful stories, posts & why we're rated so high across all locations