Beyond merely axes, Throw Nation offers an experience that includes a variety of projectiles.
Officially, Marty Parker is the owner and president of Axe Throwing LLC. Among the parent company’s brands is Throw Nation, a new, self-styled “throw bar” in Dublin that invites visitors to toss, pitch and otherwise hurl everything from axes to footballs in a series of engaging games.
Yet, when strangers ask what Parker does for a living, he has a different answer at the ready.
“I say, ‘Well, I sell Facebook pictures,’ ” Parker says. “When people come to us, they don’t know it when they’re doing it, but they’re here vying for a Facebook picture or Instagram picture, that says, ‘This is how cool I am. I take my kids out and do this kind of crazy stuff.’ ”
Throw Nation—like its sister brand, Columbus Axe Throwing on Busch Boulevard—is part of a growing industry known variously as “active entertainment” or “competitive socializing.” To compete with the various electronic options at consumers’ fingertips today, industry leaders dream up activities that require a degree of skill and feature an element of competition.
“Consumers are at a point where if they’re going to go do something, they want to have some kind of experience like that,” says Lee Peterson, an executive vice president at WD Partners, a strategy and design consultant.
As Parker sees it, such activities provide friends or acquaintances with the space to get to know each other offline. “Because you have Facebook and Instagram, by the time you go out with someone, what do you even talk about?” he says. “You already know about their kids, their wife, their job. We’re seeing new businesses coming to a forefront where we’re paying someone to arrange for us an activity where we’re engaged.”
That’s where Throw Nation steps in. Among the games the bar boasts are Beersbee (in which Frisbees are tossed at toy beer bottles), foot bowling (in which footballs supplant bowling balls) and, of course, the signature activity of axe throwing. “It’s like, ‘Hey, a location where you drink beer and you throw stuff,’ ” Parker says. “It’s not a Dave & Buster’s. It’s not a Topgolf, even though that’s our number one competitor.”
Yet there’s a method behind Throw Nation’s madness—even a bit of science, according to Parker. The bar is based around the idea that throwing something, or smashing something, is intrinsically satisfying.
A native of Greenfield, Parker began his career far from thoughts of such fun and games. Upon graduation from Ohio University, Parker pursued a career as a trader on Wall Street. Then, in 2011, Parker shifted the focus of one of his companies, Life Learning Devices, from motivational products to event producing. “From mud runs, we heard about color runs,” he says. “That morphed into bubble runs, where you run through bubbles.” Escape rooms and zombie rooms were not far behind. And, to run such events, Parker formed Bucket List Productions (which remains in business).
Then Parker got into axe throwing. After a friend tipped him off to the existence of the activity, Parker traveled to Canada to check out a location, where he judged it pretty dull. “I could see where it could be more fun if you added some actors, some engagement, more competitiveness—just something to win at the end,” says Parker, who, in 2017 opened Columbus Axe Throwing.
“Bowling alleys are ripping out bowling lanes and they’re putting in axe throwing,” says Parker, who currently owns five axe throwing venues across the country. “It is that much fun, it caters to all of our needs.”
Yet Parker sees Throw Nation—housed in a former Damon’s restaurant that was renovated for “multiple hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Parker says—as a hardier business than Columbus Axe Throwing.
When the axe throwing craze dies down, the Dublin bar—and a second one soon set to open in Chicago—can diversify. “Throw Nation does not need axe throwing,” he says. “There’s a ton of other games that we’re looking at that can go in there for years to come.”
Throw Nation, which can accommodate parties up to 250 people and relies exclusively on social media advertising, caters to customers celebrating birthdays, bachelorette parties or date nights. Also important is a category Parker refers to as “when grandmother’s in town” (“So, when grandmother’s in town, what is she going to do?” he says), not to mention corporate team-building.