From their pasts as a network administrator and a principal at the same school district, you’d be forgiven to not think about Stuart and Kelly Josberger as a couple to ask about franchise business lessons. However, we bet many entrepreneurs would, once they learn what the Josbergers have been building in their second careers.
You see, the Josbergers and friends Mark and Trish Oliphant founded Stumpy’s Hatchet House. It’s the first indoor hatchet throwing venue in the US. From that beginning in 2015, the company has sold 38 franchises. They have 22 operating, while another 16 is in development.
The Josbergers talk to Ramon Ray about the idea that became the business, franchise business lessons, and what they’ve learned throughout the pandemic.
Hitting the Mark
What became Stumpy’s came from a spontaneous game thought of by Stuart and Mark one afternoon in 2015, when the couple went back home to have a barbecue after a day of sailing. The two men were chopping wood and decided to start throwing a hatchet they were using onto a log round.
Their wives wanted in on the fun. And it was so fun that they decided they could make a business out of it.
But it took some time for the idea to become a business. Stuart tells Ramon that it probably was six months before they could find a landlord in New Jersey that was okay with people throwing hatchets inside their location.
Nonetheless, once the business got a quick start – thanks to Mark’s carpentry background – the people started flooding in. Because they had first-mover advantage, people came from all over – including New York, Pennsylvania, and even Boston.
People were having such a great time that the business partners would constantly get asked how they could franchise a Stumpy’s.
“Typically we would be like, ‘Okay, you’ve had a couple of beers. Call me in the morning if you’re serious about it,’ ” Stuart says. “And they would call. We had enough calls where we’re like maybe there's a way here for other people to capitalize our expansion rapidly.”
After just a year operating, the Josbergers and Oliphants decided they would franchise their idea.
Lessons for Franchisees
Stuart says franchising a Stumpy’s is easy. Those interested in franchising opportunities can go to the website and fill out a form and the conversation can start from there.
However, he has important franchise business lessons that entrepreneurs need to understand before they become a successful franchisee.
“Everything from soup to nuts we provide for you, but you got to be willing to put your nose to the grindstone and do the work. It is a job,” Stuart explains.
It’s a mistake to think that owning a franchise is like a field of dreams. If you build it, people won’t just come. You have to be willing to put in the hours.
“Even though we provide you kind of a business in a box, you still got to open that box and implement that box,” he says.
Network and market
“You've got to get out and network. You've gotta market. You've got to really do all the things that you need to do to make sure that the business is successful,” Stuart says.
Lessons for Franchisors
Stuart and Kelly also shared with Ramon the franchise business lessons they gained from years as franchisors. These are:
Test your idea
“I think the most important thing is take your idea and your concept and implement it,” Stuart says. “See if it can be widely applied and universally loved.”
There should be some need in the market and a desire for what you’re offering.
Get expert help
“If you feel like you can meet all those criteria and it is a viable business product, I would definitely seek expert advice. Pay the money for a consultant to look at your product. Get a lawyer. Do all the things to develop the product and then see if it's franchisable,” says Stuart.
Think of the questions
After you develop a franchise-ready concept, you need to think of the questions and answer all of them before you start working with franchisees. They will be asked, explains Stuart.
Learn from your franchisees
“One of the things that we've learned over the last three plus years is that the other franchisees bring a lot to the system, they have a lot of great ideas,” Stuart explains. You have to be able to listen and allow good ideas to shape the business.
Be open but cautious and firm
On the flip side, you have to maintain your vision and leadership of the company. You’re going to start dealing with a lot of different personalities, Stuart adds. Kelly says that you want to make the brand consistent. You have to decide what you’re willing to change in the business model and what you cannot compromise, she explains.
Lessons From the Pandemic
With the current business environment, Stumpy’s is changing the way it does business. The challenges have brought their own set of lessons, Stuart and Kelly say.
Kelly explains that since the business shut down in March, they did not sit back.
“We really took a look at all of our systems. We took a big deep breath and decided to use that time to fine-tune our details,” she says.
Another area they are focusing on is supporting franchisees. They keep in touch and provide resources such as webinars. Kelly says that the challenge is just staying hopeful and keeping everybody positive.
“We're all feeling it. It's a scary time, but we have a lot of things that we're grateful for,” she tells Ramon. “We're seeing progress every week. People are getting a little more confident going out.”
Above all, the key is to try and instill a new sense of confidence in the business among clients, according to Kelly.
“We've got a really good protocol on how to keep our Stumpy's Hatchet House venues safe to try and get the consumer to feel confident to go back out again,” she explains. “We know people are still thinking about that. They're not sure if they're ready to go out yet.”
For Stuart, the lesson highlighted by COVID is being able to adapt quickly. He explains: “Look at what's going on and be able to react and move and groove and make the adjustments to the business model so that you can survive and get to the other side of this thing.”
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