Kansas City comes first, said Matt Baysinger. And that means providing cutting-edge experiences like Blade & Timber to folks across the metro.
“As we were looking at expansion — and obviously we’re looking at cities outside of the metro and outside of Kansas — it made so much sense for us to say, ‘This is our city. Let’s make sure we’re able to represent Kansas City in its entirety,’” said Baysinger, co-founder and CEO of Swell Spark, the parent company of Blade & Timber.
A second location for the axe throwing concept is set to open May 1 in Leawood at Town Center Plaza, Baysinger announced this week. The spot will feature 12 throwing lanes, beer sales and eventually league play.
Going south to hit Johnson County, as well as southeast suburbs like Lee’s Summit and Grandview, was an easy choice, he said.
“Our people are here,” Baysinger said of taking a holistic approach to Kansas Citians. “We feel like we are a part and a fiber of the entrepreneurial spirit of this city — and we’ve felt that reciprocated — so we want to continue to pour back as much as we can into the KC metro.”
The brand’s first location opened in November in the West Bottoms, quickly becoming a top destination for those looking for an alternative to the standard bar experience. Swell Spark was named one of Startland’s Top Kansas City Startups to Watch in 2018, in part because of the Blade & Timber concept and its rapid growth.
Blade & Timber’s potential isn’t confined to the city, though Baysinger said Swell Spark already is eyeing a third location for the brand in the metro. Four spaces outside Kansas City simultaneously are under consideration for additional axe throwing sites.
“Our push right now is getting Blade & Timber open in as many cities as we can, while also managing them well,” he said.
The company also is balancing the needs of its complementary experience-based brands and concepts. Swell Spark operates Breakout and Get Out escape rooms in Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska and Hawaii, and is developing three entirely new entertainment concepts at its West Bottoms headquarters.
After bouncing it around for months, one of those fresh ideas — the details of which still are under wraps — has moved close enough to becoming reality that Swell Spark is looking at spaces to open it as early as the third or fourth quarter of 2018, Baysinger said.
And Breakout KC, where the company began to build its following, hasn’t been forgotten. The River Market location soon will have a new escape room thanks to some negotiation with neighbor Market 3, which allows Breakout 1,100 more square feet to install a new puzzle for visitors, Baysinger said.
Making it stick
Constantly refining processes and concepts are a key part of Swell Spark’s vision to build the best activity-based, curated experiences in the city, said Baysinger and co-founder Ryan Henrich.
Developing their brand of axe-throwing is a pointed example.
“When we started testing for Blade & Timber, it was not fun,” Henrich said. “I would stick one out of 12 throws. We couldn’t figure out how to throw, what axe to use, the distance that you stand from the target.”
Staff members helped work through iterations on how to make the activity better — and actually enjoyable, he said. The team went through 15 to 20 axes, trying to find one that had the right weight and feel to be used universally by customers, Baysinger added.
After about a year, it stuck.
“The next challenge: Can we teach someone a new game, a new skill in less than two minutes and get some reasonable degree of success?” Henrich said.
“The idea is that we make something that might seem inaccessible — like ‘Oh, I’m not athletic enough to throw an axe’ — and we lower the bar. We make it so that it’s something everyone can do,” he added. “We hope that you feel like you’re a hatchet-throwing warrior when you leave.”
Success was seen almost immediately at the West Bottoms location, the co-founders reported, and that excitement continues today. Blade & Timber already is nearly sold out of signups for its Monday and Wednesday league nights, Baysinger said.
It should soon be permitted to sell beer — like the coming Leawood space — with activity under the supervision of Blade & Timber’s certified axe throwing coaches, he said.