Hastings business shines on ‘Shark Tank’

HASTINGS -- Randy Stenger, owner of Extreme Sandbox in Hastings, has always liked the ABC television show "Shark Tank." On Jan. 5, Stenger watched himself pitch his own business to the "Sharks" and walk away with a $150,000 investor deal.

HASTINGS - Randy Stenger, owner of Extreme Sandbox in Hastings, has always liked the ABC television show “Shark Tank.” On Jan. 5, Stenger watched himself pitch his own business to the “Sharks” and walk away with a $150,000 investor deal.

Stenger auditioned for the show in the hopes of getting some funds to grow his business on a quicker timeline than he could manage on his own.
“To me, it’s crucial to accelerate our growth quickly,” he said.
Extreme Sandbox, which allows customers to operate heavy machinery like bulldozers and excavators in a controlled environment, has had success since Stenger opened the company in 2012. He started out leasing land and a temporary structure for an office, just to give the business idea a test-run. Working part time that first year, the business did $140,000 in sales, he said on the show. That was enough to prove Extreme Sandbox was viable, and the second year it went into business full-time, doubling its sales. In its third year, sales leapt upwards again, and as of the episode’s filming, last year was on track for another increase.
Now, Stenger said he wants to expand his business to a national brand, adding locations in major metro areas around the country, and that’s something he intends to do with or without investors.
“I will make Extreme Sandbox successful regardless, even if it’s just me,” he said.
On his own, expansion would be a slow, refined process. Investors, however, would be able to add fuel to the fire and push the timetable up.

Getting on the show
While Stenger had thought he might someday try to get on “Shark Tank,” he didn’t seriously consider it until last spring, when Mystic Lake Casino held an open casting call.
The casting call brought the idea front and center, Stenger said, but he never actually went to it. He did some research and found that open casting calls tend to involve tons of people and tons of time - a resource he doesn’t have to spare. That couldn’t be the best way to get on the show, he figured.
“So I put on my entrepreneur hat that’s gotten me this far,” he said.
Doing more research, he found the email addresses for the show’s casting producers and emailed them a pitch directly. The very next day, he got a call back and he was officially in the audition process.
The audition process took several weeks, but Stenger eventually got invited out to Hollywood, Calif. He had spent months preparing, he said, but he only had two weeks lead time before filming started in June. Stenger was only in California for three days for filming.
“It was a pretty quick turnaround,” he said.

On set
Being on the set was “absolutely surreal,” he said.
It was awe-inspiring being on the set of a show he’s loved for so long, he said, but what really made an impact was the other people there.
“The most exciting part for me was just being around the energy of these other entrepreneurs,” he said.
They weren’t allowed to discuss their pitches with each other, but they did get to talk about their businesses and the passion they had for their work.
“It was just really cool to meet and see other people in the same boat as me,” Stenger said.
The pitch itself was a little more involved than the eight-minute segment that aired last week.
“We were probably pitching for about 30 minutes,” Stenger said.
The only thing that was scripted, he said, was his own 90-second pitch, which he had memorized leading up to the show. That in itself was a challenge for him.
“I’m horrible at memorizing,” he said.
But he nailed his speech, and his natural talking skills took care of the rest.
Stenger requested $150,000 for a 15 percent stake in his company. And while not all the Sharks bit, two of them did. Kevin O’Leary was the first to make an offer of $150,000 for 20 percent. Mark Cuban joined in on the deal, going half-in with O’Leary.
On the episode that aired, it looked like Stenger wasn’t quite ready to take the offer. When asked about the hesitation, Stenger laughed.
“I was so excited to get the offer,” he said. “I think that might have been edited in.”
He did pause, he said, because he wanted to make sure that the Sharks’ support would be for more than just one new location. Once he got that assurance, he took the deal.
It’s been a whirlwind of activity since the show aired, and people are saying all kinds of great things about it.
“I’ve been overwhelmed at the positive support,” Stenger said. “… I’m on cloud nine, it’s amazing.”

Next steps
Although Stenger got a “handshake deal” with O’Leary and Cuban on the show in June, they haven’t actually closed the deal yet. They’re in the due diligence process now, Stenger said, and both sides can still back out. It’s normal, he added, for deals like his to take anywhere from six months to multiple years to close. He said he’s hoping to close the deal by this spring.
In a Business Insider interview in March of 2014, Cuban said he closes 60 to 70 percent of the deals he makes on the show.
Even though the deal is not finalized, Cuban’s team has been working with Stenger on multiple levels.
“The support from his team has been absolutely amazing,” Stenger said.
The team visited Extreme Sandbox last fall, although Cuban and O’Leary themselves haven’t come to Hastings.
For now, Stenger is focusing on the next step in his business, which is launching his second location near Dallas, Texas.
“Right now, all my focus is on Texas,” he said.
The new location isn’t part of the “Shark Tank” deal; Stenger has been working with Tanglewood Resort and Conference Center on the project since early 2015, before Stenger auditioned for “Shark Tank.”
A side effect of appearing on the show has been interest from others who want to get in on the business.
“We’ve been absolutely flooded with franchise requests since we aired last week,” Stenger said.
He’s not looking to take his business that direction, he said, but even if he was, his second location has to succeed first.
“If we can’t open a second site and replicate what we’re doing here in Minnesota, we have no right even talking about franchising,” he said.
However the company grows, Stenger intends to keep Hastings as his headquarters.
“We absolutely love the city of Hastings,” he said. “They’ve been great to work with.”

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