A newly opened Lawrence Blade & Timber — well-positioned on the college town’s popular Massachusetts Street — features the axe-throwing brand’s first “retailtainment” concept.
It’s a reflection of parent company Swell Spark’s ongoing push to keep Blade & Timber (as well as the Choir Bar and Breakout businesses) fresh amid an increasingly crowded experience-based entertainment market, said co-founder Ryan Henrich.
“It’s been a point of ‘Ahhh!’ moments where we have other businesses coming in to compete. We’re not going to do what we did with Breakout and sit on our heels,” he said, referencing the onslaught of escape rooms that popped up after Breakout KC launched in River Market. “In Kansas City with Blade & Timber, we’re actually going on attack mode. We’re going to up our game and really go for it.”
At the Lawrence location — 809 Mass. St. — that means four lanes of axe throwing mixed with retailtainment: a concept that allows guests to try out some of the merchandise for sale, in the best blend of Paul Bunyan-inspired shopping and axe throwing, said Jessie Poole, communications director at Swell Spark.
“We’re taking our background in interactive entertainment to recreate a retail space that offers … a selection of ‘lumberjack lifestyle’ merchandise,” she said. “We will carry a variety of Meridian Line shirts, our Blade & Timber shirts, along with axes we use in our throwing lanes, targets for axe throwing, corn hole games designed in-house, hats, pint glasses and more.”
The Meridian Line brand features apparel designed by Kansas City artist Jeremy Collins, Poole added.
Other new Blade & Timer locations also are in the works, Henrich confirmed, with sites in Wichita and Seattle the nearest to completion. Swell Spark was named one of Startland’s Top Kansas City Startups to Watch in 2018, in part because of the rapid growth of its Blade & Timber axe-throwing concept, as well as the ongoing development of new business verticals.
The Washington State addition has garnered significant media attention, he noted, with the facility expected to be one of the largest axe-throwing businesses in the country. At more than 7,000 square feet, it will feature 18 to 20 lanes and be nearly twice the size of Blade & Timber’s Leawood location.
“The market is so huge up there that it can support a really, really big facility,” Henrich said.
Swell Spark has other plans for Kansas City, he teased. A new take on the axe-throwing concept is in the works that will help Blade & Timber remain the premier experience in the metro, he said.
“How do we truly dominate the market? Answering that question is causing us to bring a better product to Kansas City, so we’re really stoked,” Henrich said. “It’ll be the wildest axe throwing location in the U.S. because of what we’re going to be offering. It’s going to be nuts.”
The Breakout brand also will see a revamp in Kansas City, he said, though Henrich was equally tight-lipped with details.
“We’re really on the doorstep of trying to reinvent ourselves with Breakout,” he said. “We dove back into the innovation stage with our escape rooms, and we’re looking at bringing a more premier Breakout location to Kansas City — really stepping up our game with the themes of our rooms and diving in deep to bring more meaning to the experience. We’re basically spending a lot more money to bring our quality as close to Disney standards as we can without going broke.”
That process already is under way in Waikiki where construction has begun on a new Breakout facility. Once complete, the Swell Spark team will take the lessons learned and apply them to the reimagined concept in Kansas City, Henrich said.
“We’re also really pumped about Choir Bar,” he said of the company’s karaoke sing-along event series. “We have this plan for the next 12 months where we’re going to keep upping the ante, and have it get really, really big.”
Not only will the Choir Bar experience continue to include a new song for each professionally choreographed event, but the venue will continue to shift, Henrich said.
“Traveling across the city can be a bit of a hike for folks, so by switching it up, making it a little more mobile, it allows us to keep it fresh and get in front of different audiences,” he said.
Choir Bar has been a passion project for Henrich and Swell Spark co-founder Matt Baysinger — in part because it’s so far removed from their other ventures, he said.
“With everything we do, we’re centered around meaningful, shared experiences. Choir Bar hits an audience that’s kind of outside of Matt and I’s sweet spot, outside of our comfort zone or wheelhouse,” Henrich said. “We’re able to provide an experience to folks who aren’t interested in escape rooms or axe throwing, but they’re definitely into choir or a group experience. I’m psyched that we’re able to cater to everyone. It’s really difficult to do that with single-focused, small-box entertainment venues.”