Randy Stenger has the lucky job of helping people indulge their inner kid. He owns and runs Extreme Sandbox, a business that provides team building (and sheer joy) by teaching groups to handle and drive heavy machinery.
Founded in 2012, Extreme Sandbox is located on a stretch of Hastings farmland-turned-all-ages-playground. It hosts groups from five to 100, training participants to handle the machines and then letting them loose to bulldoze, excavate and complete time- and goal-based activities.
“Our core is in construction equipment,” Stenger said. “We call ourselves heavy equipment adventures.”
Stenger, contrary to what most visitors expect, has no background in construction. He was working at Target’s corporate headquarters in 2012 when a daytime drive with his three sons took a turn past a construction site. His oldest son, age 8 or 9 at the time, remarked that operating the machinery looked like a lot of fun. Stenger was left with an unshakeable feeling that his son had voiced a wish shared by many others. So he decided to figure out a way to give anyone the experience that, until now, was available only to professionals and young kids.
Stenger continued working full time at Target while he got Extreme Sandbox off the ground, spending nights and weekends arranging city permits, researching zoning requirements, and finding that “big sandbox to play in.” The business first opened with just three pieces of leased machinery.
“We started smart by starting small,” Stenger said. “It was always guerilla marketing for us – word of mouth and social media. It just organically grew.”
Along with the growing business (a second location opened in Pottsboro, Texas in 2016) is an increase in the type of packages and equipment Extreme Sandbox offers. Packages include themed challenges, holiday specials, and an Extreme Harvest Experience that puts participants behind the wheel of a combine. A firetruck also recently joined the excavators, bulldozers, and wheel loaders that make up the foundation of Extreme Sandbox’s equipment fleet. Stenger said the company is always looking to add new experiences to its lineup of packages, available for people aged 14 and up (there’s no age cap — a 92-year-old currently holds the record for oldest participant).
“When I first started I had this whole business demographic,” Stenger said. “It took me about six months to throw my business plan out the window.”
Extreme Sandbox participants include about 40 percent women and welcome families, bachelorette parties, and birthday parties — and while the business first grew and was marketed as a tourist attraction, Stenger was surprised to discover it was also drawing interest from businesses seeking out-of-the-box team bonding experiences for their employees. Corporate groups now comprise about half of Extreme Sandbox’s business.
“It’s not like bowling or golfing,” Stenger said. “It brings everyone out of their comfort zone.”
In addition to hosting private groups, Extreme Sandbox is helping build the next generation of construction industry professionals, organizing high school tours and ‘heavy equipment camps’ that introduce youth to construction industry jobs and the rewards that come with it. The program grew from a conversation with one of Stenger’s construction partners, who shared his concern about a dwindling pipeline of talent in the construction industry.
“We recognized the industry is really hurting for skilled labor,” Stenger said. “We’re not a formal trade school, but we can bring out high school students who may never have considered construction as a job and give them something they’d otherwise never experience.”
Individual and group packages all include safety training and practice time, and sessions are monitored by trainers who use a wireless communication system to provide guidance and carry engine cut-off devices that can power down the machines (in the company’s five years of business, they’ve never once been used). But because the machines are so big, Stenger said, they are extremely unlikely to tip over, which makes it a relatively low risk activity.
The other advantage of the way the machines are constructed?
“We like to say if it’s 0 degrees in January or 100 in July, it’s always 70 in the cabs,” Stenger said.
The machine cabs, where the driver sits, are climate controlled, which means Extreme Sandbox is a comfortable activity whether you’re plowing snow or scooping sand in the sun. There’s no muscle required to operate (although fine motor skills don’t hurt), making it a solution for just about any group that’s willing to embrace searching for an unorthodox activity — or is simply looking for an afternoon of good, high-powered fun.
‘I’m a big kid at heart,” Stenger said. “I think that’s evident in the business.” SMS
Find more information about Extreme
Sandbox at www.extremesandbox.com
or at 855-DIG-4-FUN.
1901 Glendale Rd, Hastings MN 55033
You can reach Isabelle Wattenberg at firstname.lastname@example.org.