Wanna ride a bulldozer? Excavator? Hastings business can help.
Jeni Christopher really digs heavy machinery.
How much? Christopher, a St. Paul mother of two young children, passed up a last-minute pedicure and manicure invite from a friend to instead run a 19-ton, 115-horsepower excavator on a recent rainy Saturday afternoon – all for “fun and the experience.”
“Maybe that’s the tomboy in me,” she said.
Christopher was among the first customers of Extreme Sandbox, a new business in Hastings that gives people the chance to pay to “play” with an excavator, skid steer loader or bulldozer.
The company, which opened April 7, bills itself as being the first of its kind in the Midwest.
Its marketing motto?
“Let the kid in you play!”
“Unless you’re a construction worker, most people don’t get the opportunity to play in these big-boy toys,” said Randy Stenger, who owns the venture with his older brother, Don.
That was the case for Christopher, who used to work in sales for a construction company but wasn’t allowed to run the equipment.
So when her husband, Bob, saw a Groupon deal for Extreme Sandbox that offered an hour on a skid steer for about $95, he jumped on it. They later decided to spend an additional $150 to get her inside an excavator for an hour-and-a-half session instead.
“I knew she’d be right at home in that,” he said.
After signing a waiver, Christopher went through a short safety and instruction session.
She told the Stengers the only familiarity she had with an excavator was through watching the cartoon “Bob the Builder.”
“Just try to think of the excavator arm like your arm – with three joints,” Randy Stenger said, moving his arm up and down, his fingers acting like the scoop.
Before jumping into the Caterpillar’s cab, Christopher admitted feeling excited and a bit nervous.
“These are valuable pieces of equipment,” she said.
‘WE HAD TO GO FOR IT HERE’
The business idea first came to Randy Stenger several years ago as he and his three boys drove by a construction site. One of the boys remarked on how fun it would be to play on the trucks.
“I remember agreeing…and wishing we could go jump on the machines,” said Stenger, 35. “I’m a kid at heart.”
He didn’t give it much more thought until about two years ago, when he saw a national TV news report on an outfit in Florida that catered to people wanting to operate heavy equipment.
“I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “We had to go for it here.”
He chose to keep his day job as a retail consultant and also summoned the help of his brother, who works in law enforcement.
Because they both live in Farmington, they wanted to find a location in the south metro. That proved to be difficult.
“We basically tried everywhere in the south metro,” Don Stenger said. “Zoning was an issue. When you try to tell somebody you want to run a business that’s basically like a construction site year-round, they’re like, ‘Ah, that’s not in our zoning code.’ ”
While searching industrial areas in Hastings, Randy Stenger happened upon a site owned by an excavation company near the city’s industrial business area. They worked out a deal with the owner to lease 5 acres.
Because the land is zoned agricultural, the only approval they needed from city officials was an 18-month permit that allows them to operate out of a temporary building.
Still, the overhead to run the business is high, Randy Stenger said.
“Insurance and equipment leases are our largest costs,” he said, adding that the equipment is worth about $350,000. “It’s expensive…and that’s reflective in the pricing.”
Packages range from $195 for an hour on a skid steer to $895 for seven hours on all three pieces of equipment – the skid steer, a bulldozer and an excavator.
The brothers also offer a two-hour group package at a cost of $1,800, he said, with the hope that they attract companies looking for team-building – or folks looking to throw a party.
“With this first year, we’re really testing the concept,” Randy Stenger said. “We want to make sure that people want to do this and that they’ll pay this kind of money to do it.”
For an additional $450, a customer can enter the “Destruction Zone” with the excavator and crush a car.
“Again, this is one of those bucket-list things,” Stenger said.
They’ve sold more than 200 packages, he said, with the average customer spending between $200 and $300. Kids have to be at least 14 to play.
The male-female ratio has been about even, he said.
“I had a daughter book one for Mother’s Day for her mother, who is like 60 or 65,” he said.
A CHANGE OF PACE
Hart Rosenblatt was surprised to learn he was just the third customer of Extreme Sandbox.
“I thought they had been around for a long time,” said Rosenblatt, 31, an estate planning attorney from Minneapolis. “I mean, it makes sense. How often do office guys like me get a chance to do stuff like this? My day is made up of typing and reading and talking on the telephone.”
Wearing a buttoned-down dress shirt, Rosenblatt sat in the excavator and took operating directions from Randy Stenger.
Within five minutes, Rosenblatt was eager to tackle an obstacle course that let him knock tennis balls off the top of cones with the excavator arm and scoop up basketballs and drop them into a large barrel.
He completed the course in just under 20 minutes, which is about the average time for first-time operators, Randy Stenger said.
Rosenblatt described his experience as “outstanding.”
Was it worth the price of admission?
“It was a little spendy,” he said. “But, I mean, it’s not like there’s any competition…(where) I could go price shop for this.”
Nick Ferraro can be reached at 651-228-2173. Follow him at twitter.com/NFerraroPiPress.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Call 855-DIG-4-FUN or go to extremesandbox.com.