Extreme Sandbox: This Sandbox is for Big Kids
Dig It Up: You’ll Feel the Earth Move!
Did you like to play in the dirt when you were a kid? Use big trucks or earth-moving equipment to dig holes and make tall mounds of dirt to motor over? Push cars and other objects around a sandbox or backyard play area with the big trucks? I did! And I got to do it again recently! This time, I was the driver of a 20-ton bulldozer and a 26-ton excavator. I carved out holes and created sand piles and then motored over them. I even pushed a truck like it was a matchbox model and lifted a car into the air to maneuver it to a different location with ease.
It was childhood memories of this type that motivated Randy Stenger to start Extreme Sandbox—a heavy equipment adventure company. When he began in 2012 in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota, the business was a weekend-only operation with two part-time employees, a construction trailer, and three pieces of equipment. It quickly grew into an applauded adventure attraction, giving visitors the unique opportunity to revisit their childhood play activities or challenge their adult desires to operate machines that are typically used for construction, including a skid steer, bulldozer, excavator, and other large-sized “toys.” Climate-controlled cabs on the equipment allowed Stenger to operate the playground year-round, regardless of the weather or temperature.
The set is a 10-acre “sandbox,” where expert instructors teach participants how to master the machines, following a video “chalk talk” that describes the basics of using the specialized equipment and the safety rules. After developing expertise in the use of the controls, the learning sessions add activities like “golfing” with an excavator, crushing a car, and fun, competitive time trials against another participant to perform tasks of precision. Parallel tracks allow for observation of another participant—Stenger and his staff encourage their customers to bring a friend, family member, or the entire family for this “parallel play.” All participants wear headsets and receive instruction and encouragement throughout their adventure from highly trained staff members, who also have a “kill switch” to immediately stop the equipment if needed for safety.
Stenger’s success quickly grew the company in Minnesota, so the entrepreneur added staff, built a 6,000-square-foot event center, and included up to seven pieces of equipment—even a fire truck! Convinced he had a winning business concept, Stenger went to Shark Tank, where he caught the attention of Mark Cuban and Kevin O’Leary, who are taking a closer look and making suggestions to aid in the growth of the company with a “handshake deal” at this point. The CEO/founder opened his second operation in Texas in April; it’s located approximately one hour north of Dallas, two and a half hours from Oklahoma City, and three hours from Tulsa. He is now in the process of expanding the heavy-equipment adventure concept across the country.
While playing in the dirt might not seem the perfect mix for a first-class resort, the Tanglewood Resort and Conference Center in Pottsboro, Texas, contacted Stenger to add this activity to its resort, which boasts a premier golf course and luxurious accommodations and attracts corporate groups and a wide variety of guests to the Lake Texoma area. “We are thrilled to partner with this well-known Texas resort to provide our signature high-caliber entertainment experience for our fans in the South,” Stenger says. “Lake Texoma is an absolutely beautiful area, and we are excited about bringing this new type of activity to that market. We expect to benefit from the market’s strong tourism and [expect] an increase in corporate group offerings by partnering with Tanglewood.”
“Extreme Sandbox is a perfect addition for individual guests looking to fulfill a ‘bucket list’ adventure, or corporate groups seeking fun and unique group outing and/or team-building activities,” says Roger W. Thiltgen, President of Tanglewood Resort Properties Inc. “We believe the resort experience is so much more than a comfortable room in beautiful surroundings. We strive to create lifelong memories with family, friends, and business associates. I can think of very few activities that come close to meeting those criteria like Extreme Sandbox does.”
What’s on your bucket list? If playing in the dirt, being at the controls of giant earth-moving equipment, or having a unique experience with family or friends comes to mind, you won’t go wrong when you spend a couple hours in the sandbox!
In addition to hosting corporate groups that visit the venue for team-building activities, along with birthday parties and other group events, Stenger and his team also work with local high school guidance and career counselors to host Heavy Equipment Camps, where students can learn about job opportunities in heavy equipment operations and diesel mechanics and receive hands-on exposure to these trades. (The minimum age to participate is 14.)
Stenger’s Extreme Sandbox has also now formed an alliance and sponsorship agreement with Komatsu America Corp.—a leading global heavy equipment manufacturer—that will introduce a growing number of markets around the country to heavy machinery as a form of entertainment and an under-explored avenue for rewarding careers. The sponsorship talks were initiated after Stenger’s appearance on ABCTV’s Shark Tank. “The exclusive sponsorship deal with Komatsu is another big ‘game-changer’ for Extreme Sandbox,” Stenger says. “We believe the alliance will help transform these two-story marvels of engineering from work-zone curiosity into an informative, exciting, hands-on experience,” says Rich Smith, VP, Product and Services Division for Komatsu America Corp. “Long term, we hope these machines inspire a new generation of men and women to consider careers in the construction industry.”