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Stumpy's Hatchet House Makes Safety Fun

Bennett Conlin
Bennett Conlin

A dinner party between two couples, a makeshift game involving hatchets and a fallen tree stump eventually led to the creation of a business that now finds itself growing rapidly and at the heart of a trend. Mark and Trish Oliphant teamed with Stuart and Kelly Josberger to start Stumpy's Hatchet House, a business formed in 2016 that now has several franchised locations.

The Hatchet House hosts groups and teaches participants how to throw hatchets properly before letting them fire at targets and compete against friends. To add to the fun, the locations are BYOB and allow both beer and wine.

With hatchets flying and alcohol being consumed, it's easy to start rattling off potential safety concerns, but thanks to standardized safety rules across all locations, Stumpy's Hatchet House has turned a potential worry into a company selling point.

Business News Daily spoke with Armando DiRienzo, the co-owner of Stumpy's Fairfield, New Jersey location, about the importance of safety at his establishment, which opened in May. Here are three ways Stumpy's Hatchet House uses best safety practices to complement its business model.  

Basic safety measures that make sense

DiRienzo stressed the value of Stumpy's company-wide safety rules. Following those greatly reduces the risk of injury. Some of these basic guidelines include:

  • Requiring closed-toe shoes
  • Being at least 21 years old to participate
  • Throwing from within the designated lines
  • Not handing hatchets to other people. Put the hatchet in a hatchet holder before the other person uses it
  • Listening to the instructions of the throwing coaches. These coaches provide a brief training before throwing begins
  • Being aware of your surroundings

A large sign that lists safety guidelines sits inside the front of the Fairfield location. Making the safety guidelines obvious and visible to both employees and customers is critical. If you're running a business with safety hazards for either employees or customers, it's important to make clear the safety rules that need to be followed.

Stumpy's also has customers sign waivers, which helps reduce liability and gives the employees yet another opportunity to emphasize the safety regulations that need to be followed.

A business's safety guidelines need to make sense, and Stumpy's understands the importance of enforcing sensible rules. It's much easier to enforce rules when the customers can get behind the purpose of the regulations. For example, throwing a sharp object from within the designated throwing lines helps ensure the safety of all nearby participants. Since these rules are all logical, if someone decides to consistently throw outside the designated areas and puts other customers in danger, it'll be easier for employees to explain the rationale behind asking them to leave or giving them an additional warning.

Customer service approach to safety

"Our guys are more about customer service than anything," DiRienzo said.

DiRienzo looks for customer service experience as a trait in his throwing coaches, which helps make the company more successful at enforcing rules.

With rules and regulations come people that are going to break them. When participants do break rules, it's important for Stumpy's to have coaches that politely tell customers what they did wrong and how to fix their behavior.

DiRienzo says most rule infractions are unintentional, but if it's clear that someone is disregarding the safety measures, the business has no issue removing someone from the establishment.

"If you're repeatedly and blatantly going to break our rules, we will ask you to leave," said DiRienzo, who stressed the importance of politely asking customers to exit the premises, rather than forcefully ordering them to head home.

Since opening, DiRienzo's location hasn't had any injuries or asked anyone to leave. Should anything ever get extremely out of hand, DiRienzo made it a point to develop a good working relationship with local police. Due to the business's clear set of rules and capable staff, he doesn't expect to have to call on police, but wanted to check every box to ensure all best safety practices were followed.

By assuming the best in customers, while also being vigilant for any dangerous behavior, Stumpy's Fairfield location treats minor rule infractions as mistakes and gently explains how to better follow the rules.

According to DiRienzo, a common misconception about hatchet throwing involves the speed at which you fire the weapon at the wooden target. Hitting the target consistently is about properly using the weight of the hatchet, not throwing as hard as possible. When the throwing coaches explain this to customers, the customers tend to perform better while throwing the hatchet slower, which helps keeps everyone safe and happy. Creating rules that make the experience more enjoyable is a critical component of getting your customers to buy into the idea of following regulations. 

By viewing the enforcement of safety regulations as a customer service activity, Stumpy's creates happy customers that are committed to following the rules.  

Balancing fun and safety

Rules play a vital role in finding a healthy medium between fun and safety. At Stumpy's, rules are designed to create responsible fun. For example, the business allows customers to BYOB, but only wine and beer are allowed. Beer is limited to a six-pack per person, and the employees monitor the alcohol consumption of participants to make sure everyone enjoys responsibly. There's also an age limit of 21 that's enforced through the checking of IDs. When customers do elect to bring alcohol, Stumpy's offers to put those beverages on ice. This helps customers enjoy their beer ice cold, while also giving the employees a chance to confirm that no hard liquor was snuck into the venue.

Rules don't have to reduce the enjoyment of an activity. Stumpy's illustrates how businesses can improve their operation by creating safety regulations that ensure everyone enjoys an activity in a responsible fashion.  

Image Credit: Stumpy's Hatchet House of Fairfield, NJ
Bennett Conlin
Bennett Conlin Member
Bennett is a B2B editorial assistant based in New York City. He graduated from James Madison University in 2018 with a degree in business management. During his time in Harrisonburg he worked extensively with The Breeze, JMU’s student-run newspaper. Bennett also worked at the Shenandoah Valley SBDC, where he helped small businesses with a variety of needs ranging from social media marketing to business plan writing.