This past Saturday, Shane and Valerie Little didn't spend their regular date night having a romantic dinner or watching a movie.
The husband and wife stepped outside their Kanata home to gleefully swing baseball bats and crowbars at objects that could be easily shattered into a million pieces. They had booked the Vengeance Van, a new mobile "rage room" created by Ottawa entrepreneur Bren Walker to give area residents an outlet from the stress and boredom experienced during the coronavirus pandemic.
Walker bought a five-tonne truck last year and turned it into a safe space for clients to smash and destroy objects with any one of an array of “tools” at their disposal. He drives the vehicle to customers’ neighbourhoods and takes care of the mess and disposal.
The Littles, who have a 13-month-old baby, described their rage-releasing date night as “cathartic.”
“This last week, we’ve been bickering about all the small things, and this was a nice little break from that,” said Shane.
“It was a good way to still be able to bond and do something totally fun together and to release all the pent-up aggression from being inside all the time,” said Valerie.
Before COVID-19 arrived, Walker had been running The Wreck Room, a smash/rage room on Kaladar Avenue as part of GlowSport Ottawa West. His entertainment-based operations didn’t stand a chance once lockdown measures were introduced last spring.
“I basically lost my shirt in the first three days,” Walker acknowledged.
He came up with the idea for Vengeance Van but first needed to get his hands on a large truck. Walker started a property maintenance business, Polished Properties Ottawa, and worked hard all summer building decks, installing patios and tending to lawns to save up enough money to buy the vehicle he needed.
By July, the entrepreneur had launched his new venture. He registered Vengeance Van as a mental health service to protect it from being shut down during lockdowns.
"It was basically like going to the casino and putting the money back on the table. It was like, ‘Let’s roll the dice.'"
“It was basically like going to the casino and putting the money back on the table. It was like, ‘Let’s roll the dice’.”
“But, I had a really good vibe. I was like, ‘I know it’s going to work; let’s just try it,’ and here we are,” said Walker, 33. “Almost immediately it took off. It was profitable within three months."
During this busy time of his life, Walker also welcomed his baby daughter, along with her most unforgettable name, Sky Walker.
Overall, business has been "fantastic," said Walker, who, other than gas and insurance, has low overhead costs. This past weekend, Walker saw another spike in bookings, which he attributes to frustrations over the current lockdown and stay-at-home orders.
“I get the sense that people are almost lost, like they don’t know what to do anymore," said Walker. "They’re hearing different things on the TV every day. ‘You can’t do this, you can’t do that, stop doing this, this is bad for you’. Everything is so convoluted right now; everyone’s confused. They’re annoyed. They’re angry. Their kids are at home, their kids are angry. They don’t know what to do, they can’t hang out with their friends. So, it’s kind of a snowball effect.”
Walked said current government restrictions on travel and gatherings have led to Vengeance Van gaining popularity with families. He's seen a rise in bookings from parents of children who are bouncing off the walls. Families are running out of activities to do, and it's one option for helping kids release their extra energy, he said.
“You can only go sledding with them so many times a day,” he said.
Under Vengeance Van rules, kids are given plastic rather than glass objects to break. Everyone has to wear safety gear. Customers can destroy dishes, beer bottles, drywall and smaller-sized items or they can customize their experience to include larger items such as old stereo equipment, computers, keyboards, televisions, printers, doors and windows. The vast majority of the items are objects originally headed to the dump. There are different vengeance packages, including one for divorce parties.
The cost to participate starts at $25 per person.
When Walker first launched his business, he relied on guerrilla marketing tactics to pique the public's curiosity and to get people talking. His ultimate goal, however, is to see his brand name become generic, much like Kleenex is to the tissue industry.
“So, when you think of smash rooms, you think of Vengeance Van.”
Walker, who is currently in discussions with an interested Ottawa investor, would like to franchise the business and introduce new concepts. He also thinks the Vengeance Van could appeal to practising psychologists for use with certain clients.