Sweet Axe Throwing: Taking a risk on a new venture

When Lloyd Bombell and Sarah Hilyard first heard about axe throwing, they never expected to build a career out of it. But with a quick hop across the ditch, they’ve built a thriving business in Wellington and are smashing their targets.

When Sarah Hilyard discovered axe throwing in Sydney she was confident she’d be a natural. She pulled eight of her friends together, booked a session and got ready to show everyone up. But to her consternation it was her partner, Lloyd Bombell, who ended up winning and – to add insult to injury – being offered a job as an axe throwing coach.

“I was told I had the right look, I could throw and I had a bit of banter so they asked if I wanted a job,” says Lloyd. “I picked up a few weekends here and there and started looking after their axe throwing league.”

The idea to move across the ditch and start up axe throwing in New Zealand came after Lloyd and Sarah visited on holiday a few years ago. On a road trip to Wellington to visit some friends, their decision on where they should set up shop was made immediately.

“This place is magic,” says Sarah. “We were driving down Oriental Parade and there were dolphins swimming along next to the car, everyone was out with their dogs and kids and it was so full of life.”

So now, in an old building that used to belong to the Wellington Free Ambulance sits Sweet Axe Throwing – a business dedicated entirely to chucking axes around.

Axe throwing is a sport that’s fast growing in popularity around the world, although Sweet Axe Throwing is the first of its kind in New Zealand. Ideal for group outings, like work dos or birthdays, Lloyd and Sarah coach groups on how to throw an axe correctly and insist that axe throwing is for anybody.

“It’s not gendered, it’s not based on your size, strength, or anything like that, it’s just about how well you listen to us,” says Sarah. “Lloyd’s mum’s had a go and she was terrifying with an axe.”

Beekeeper Rory O’Brien inspects a honey frame with bees on it.

Lloyd and Sarah’s entrepreneurial spirit makes starting a business look easy

Hitting targets

Sarah and Lloyd’s passion for the sport and their entrepreneurial spirits make starting a business look easy. And part of their success is in dividing up the labour to suit their different strengths.

For Lloyd this means being the face of the business, organising the bookings and running the sessions day to day.

“It’s an odd job because it’s not about axe-throwing prowess, it’s about having that persona,” he says. “I come from a hospitality background so it’s always been in me to make people have the best time they can have.”

And while Lloyd watches over the axes being thrown around, Sarah keeps the business ticking over behind the scenes.

“Lloyd’s the people person and the salesman,” says Sarah. “And I do most of the technical side of things – from social media and marketing, to administration and corporate relationship management.”

Sarah drove the planning for the business, spending months doing market research, writing a business plan and putting pressure on Lloyd to make projections for the business.

“Xero gives us live information on how our business is performing showing us graphs in a visual way” – Sarah Hillyard, Sweet Axe Throwing Co

“I heard, ‘I’m just plucking numbers out of the air’ so many times when I was pressing Lloyd for numbers,” laughs Sarah. “But we needed to know what was realistic, what was achievable and what makes our business run.”

Being able to see the big picture of how the business is performing is vital, so getting Sweet Axe Throwing set up on Xero was a no-brainer.

“The last place I was at we were using MYOB and we were working at least a month behind,” says Sarah. “With Xero we’ve got basically live information on how our business is performing, and it shows us all the graphs in a visual way, pulling in information so we can see it.”

And using connected apps like Paysauce and eWAY that communicate directly with Xero means Sarah can easily see how small changes have a big impact on the numbers.

“Xero is the Apple of accounting systems, it’s personable and accessible,” she says. “It makes things easier for a small business so you can focus on what you’re actually good at doing.”

Sarah and Lloyd work closely with Devoe Rangi at Connected Accountants who understand that like most small business owners, Sarah and Lloyd probably aren’t energised by the idea of crunching numbers all day.

“They have a really good vibe in their office and they’re really living up to their name by connecting us with a health and safety guy and an insurance broker,” says Lloyd. “They’re as hands on as we want them to be, and I think as we get busier, they’ll get more hands on.”

Alice at the kitchen table eating honey from the jar.

Lloyd and Sarah work closely with their accountant, Devoe Rangi

Rory shows Kieran a bee on his finger by one of the beehives.

Sweet Axe Throwing is the first business of its kind in New Zealand

Getting the axes out on the road

Although the business has only had its doors open for a few months, Sarah and Lloyd are already planning for the future – with going mobile at the top of their list.

“When we get the mobile rig set up that’ll open lots of doors,” says Lloyd. “There are so many little festivals regionally and it would be great to take this out to people and give them a taste.”

“And it means we could do weddings,” adds Sarah. “I’d love to turn our caravan into a mobile bar, so turning up to a wedding with that and our mobile axe throwing rig would be pretty awesome.”

But right now they’re basking in the success of opening the doors in Wellington and the positive feedback they’re getting from happy customers.

“One of my favourite things is the difference in attitude people have between coming in and leaving,” says Lloyd. “We got a lot of people who are very hesitant and worried about what they’re stepping into at first, so building up the confidence in them and seeing that transition to when they get their first axe in is absolutely fantastic.”

 

quote

It’s an odd job, because it’s not about axe-throwing prowess, it’s about having that persona.

– Lloyd Bombell, Sweet Axe Throwing Co

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