Extreme Sandbox is planning to become a permanent part of Hastings' business community.
Business owners and brothers Randy and Don Stenger approached the city back in 2011 with a unique business idea. Extreme Sandbox would let people operate real, working heavy equipment just for fun. It was an idea that grew from a comment Randy Stenger's young son had made about wanting to drive some construction equipment. A similar business was already open in Florida, but there was nothing in the Midwest yet.
The brothers wanted to give their business a shot, but wanted to make sure it would be successful before establishing a permanent site.
"We were trying to come in as smart as possible," Randy Stenger said.
So they asked the city for a special temporary interim use permit that would allow them to operate Extreme Sandbox at the corner of Ravenna Trail and Glendale Road for 18 months without needing to make all the permanent property improvements usually required for businesses. The permit allowed Extreme Sandbox to do business using a trailer for an office and having only a gravel parking lot.
"Without doing that, we couldn't have done this," Stenger said.
But now, the 18 months is up and it's time to make the arrangement more formal. Business has been good, allowing the brothers to add new equipment and expand their hours.
"We've been open a year and a half, put about a thousand people through and everyone just raves about it," Stenger said.
The next step is to make the site Extreme Sandbox's permanent headquarters. The brothers are planning a 6,300 square foot facility that includes a larger office, a larger training room, a gift shop, waiting area and offices, as well as a large storage area where they can store the equipment indoors -- which is key, since they operate year-round. The parking lot will also be paved, and everything will be built to ADA accessibility requirements and all other requirements established by the city.
The Hastings Planning Commission reviewed the plans Monday evening. The Hastings City Council will review them this Monday, Sept. 16. Assuming Extreme Sandbox gets the necessary site plan approval, construction on the site could begin Oct. 1. Stenger said he hopes to have the work done by the end of the year.
18 months of success
When Extreme Sandbox started, it had just three pieces of equipment and was only open on weekends. Since then, they've added a second 19-ton excavator and created the "Dueling Excavators" package, "which has been an absolute blast," Stenger said.
They've expanded their branding across the metro area and recently added a working fire truck done up in Extreme Sandbox style. The 9-passenger truck is perfect for parades (it appeared at Rivertown Days this year) and bringing the business to its customers for things like birthday and bachelorette parties.
The business is open four days a week now and has full time staff on-site to better serve its customers. Those customers are coming from all walks of life, also.
"We've just seen a diverse crowd," Stenger said.
They've hosted several birthdays for 14-year-olds, he said, prompting much joking about how they can drive a 19-ton excavator, but not a car. The business recently saw its oldest customer, a 90-year-old former doctor who just always wanted to operate heavy equipment. It's not just a pastime for men, either. About 35 to 40 percent of the customers have been women, Stenger said.
And this year, the business has seen about double the number of customers so far as last year.
Into the future
The business in Hastings has given the Stenger brothers hope for even more growth in the future. While Hastings is being planned for the permanent headquarters, Extreme Sandbox is starting to expand to other cities as well. They're working on getting another full-time office set up in the Twin Cities, and Stenger said they hope to open other locations across the country.
"We want to prove that we can replicate the success in the Twin Cities in other major metro areas," he said.
They also have ideas for bringing in more than just construction equipment and expanding their heavy equipment branding.
But no matter how big the business becomes, its heart will stay the same.
"Our team is good at thinking outside of the box and making dreams come true," Stenger said.