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BizCast 32: Jenn & Jason Slusser’s new Features Fieldhouse, West Salem

Episode 32

Jenn & Jason Slusser’s new Features Fieldhouse, West Salem

About BizCast Greater La Crosse

We bring you news from the business community. From startups to experienced problem solvers, you’ll get in-depth insight on the challenges and opportunities of doing business in Greater La Crosse. Our show is a collaboration between and BizNews Greater La Crosse ( ).

Full Transcript [ generated by AI]

[00:00:00] Jason Slusser: the idea kind of just sparked that, we could do something very similar just with basketball courts.

[00:00:07] Jason Slusser: Volleyball courts, and of course the newest sport out there pickleball.

[00:00:11] Vicki Markussen: Welcome to Biz Cast Greater Lacrosse, a weekly podcast from Biz News. We bring you news from the business community. I am your host and founder, Vicki Markussen. And I have Jenn and Jason Slusser. They are the owners of features and the brand new features Fieldhouse. So that opened, is it Spring? May, yeah.

[00:00:36] Vicki Markussen: This year. Yeah. So a few months old, right? I was in there on Wednesday. It is beautiful. Thank you. But before we get into that, I will, I wanna start just with background, right? So you own features, right? And that was going fantastic. And what led to building a field house?

[00:00:59] Jason Slusser: No, it was it was a, an idea that was started meeting some guys who obviously weren’t from the area when they walked in, in the middle of February wearing flip flops and a t-shirt. And they owned the Woodside baseball fields and they were curious about building a bowling center on site there just to keep people On their property spending money and after them walking away, the idea just sparked that, we could do something very similar just with basketball courts.

[00:01:26] Jason Slusser: Volleyball courts, and of course the newest sport out there pickleball. We’ve got, I. Two high school basketball courts, four youth basketball courts, and four pickleball courts. So that’s how the whole idea started and that’s what brought us to where we are today.

[00:01:42] Jason Slusser: This would’ve been February, probably 2021.

[00:01:45] Vicki Markussen: That’s an interesting time to be talking about that too, right? The pandemic was still happening, but it’s funny how another business can walk in and send your business in a totally different direction, right?

[00:01:56] Vicki Markussen: Absolutely. Yeah. Yeah. So those baseball fields, if you’re not familiar in Moss, And they’re phenomenal. They’re a great place to host tournaments. And I think they even have some, I think there’s a Western theme to that whole campus. And they have little stores and shops and the hotel. Yeah. Oh, that’s right.

[00:02:12] Vicki Markussen: And a hotel. Yeah. So that’s the spark that got the Fieldhouse going of, oh yeah. We could be more. Right. But this was something like, Jen, you had been thinking about this earlier, right? ’cause you have. Children that travel for sports. And so how did that spark get started? I think I’ve

[00:02:31] Jenn Slusser: always just said, just been involved highly with the volleyball community with coaching and things like that.

[00:02:36] Jenn Slusser: And coaching our daughter as she grew. And she actually had a back surgery right during C O V I D and really was forcing me to get her in the gym and get her back ready to play volleyball and wanted. We were searching and searching and couldn’t get in the schools at that time.

[00:02:53] Jenn Slusser: And so it was just one of those things where I just kept saying, maybe this is something we should do. People are always looking for gym space. It definitely, like you have practices, you have all of those things. Where do the families go to, we drive around and go to grocery shopping or do we just meet and have a burger and a beer while we’re waiting for our family?

[00:03:12] Jenn Slusser: To get done with practice. So I think I started pushing it prior to that, and then when the guys from MO walked in, it kinda let Jason have that bigger idea, I think, than just my idea.

[00:03:23] Vicki Markussen: It took a couple years. To seed and then finally kick off. And so what did that process look like? Is that easy to walk into a, I assume a bank and say, Hey, we wanna build a field house?

[00:03:34] Jason Slusser: No, that, that’s an actually a very good question because I didn’t know, um, at all.

[00:03:40] Jason Slusser: So I did, I reached out to a bank and I actually had my business plan ready for him, and he’s well, we’re not quite there yet. Ah, so we need, yeah, there’s some stuff we need to, figure out before we even get to that point. So once we got through all of that, then it was an issue of materials.

[00:03:56] Jason Slusser: We were initially supposed to be open. Right after Christmas of 2022. But the steel didn’t even arrive until November 1st, I believe it was. The process was a long process of sitting, waiting. We even started questioning should we wait until the steel prices go down? And after discussing all of those factors with everyone involved, it’s no, if you’re gonna do it, do it because there’s no guarantee.

[00:04:23] Jason Slusser: Prices are even going to be as high as they were if they were gonna be even higher if we waited. So that was the process from the beginning to where we are today.

[00:04:33] Vicki Markussen: Yeah. So you started with a couple month delay. Everybody now knows what supply chain means ’cause there were those shortages.

[00:04:39] Vicki Markussen: Absolutely. And probably looking back, you’re probably thinking, wow, we’re glad we didn’t wait. ’cause now you have the interest rate issue. Right? So yeah. So you basically broke ground in November and it was completed in. May

[00:04:52] Jason Slusser: We broke around. We had to do some excavating. There was a house that we purchased that we had to tear down.

[00:04:58] Jason Slusser: That’s where our parking is now. So there was things that we could have done or we did do to stay ahead of the game. So when materials did arrive, it was just a matter of putting the structure up and getting going.

[00:05:11] Vicki Markussen: How was the village of West Salem? Were they going, Hey, this is a great idea

[00:05:15] Jason Slusser: I think, once, once we start getting tournaments in town and once we start bringing people in all the other businesses in town.

[00:05:22] Jason Slusser: That was part of the intent is in fact, one of the things that we’re really pushing for is keeping things local in West Salem. Pushing people between games. Obviously not everyone is gonna want to go to features, go to Hunters, go to cronies, go to Chrom, go to these other big bars, bars, restaurants that West Salem has to offer because there’s some really great places that people.

[00:05:44] Jason Slusser: Might not ever have heard of if they hadn’t come to one of our tournaments. Not that we’re not wishing the best for these larger restaurants or chain restaurants, but really pushing them towards locally owned businesses.

[00:05:59] Vicki Markussen: And businesses are smart. They’re gonna say, ha, look at all the people that are three blocks down the road and here’s a coupon to for 10% off of Linda’s.

[00:06:08] Vicki Markussen: Right, right. And They’ll absolutely wanna drive those individuals to their businesses. So you had a business plan, which kudos to you. I know that’s needed to get a loan anyway, but I’m guessing that caused you to say, this is who we’re expecting to walk in the door and essentially have a plan for who’s your target market.

[00:06:29] Vicki Markussen: So who is your target market?

[00:06:31] Jenn Slusser: I think that’s a big one. Our target market is, Pretty much anybody. I think that’s the way we went in with our business plan was we’re more than a sports center. So yes, our focus is sports. Yes, we wanna bring tournaments and people from outside of the area and gain that knowledge of this area.

[00:06:47] Jenn Slusser: We do have a lot of high end athletes that don’t have to necessarily travel to play at a higher level. So right there, that’s a key target audience, audiences. All of those clubs and organizations across the state and in Minnesota and Illinois. But then locally here, we wanna bring in some music.

[00:07:05] Jenn Slusser: We are having an art fair, craft fair. Anybody in, everyone locally we ran leagues this summer, we’ll run leagues all winter during the week as well as maybe developing some of our own club and basketball, volleyball clubs as well as the pickleball association, which I never even knew existed in lacrosse before we opened this.

[00:07:24] Jenn Slusser: So I’ve met a lot of great people that way.

[00:07:26] Vicki Markussen: Yeah. So that gets you some of the weekday traffic, if you will. And, we were talking before I hit record that lacrosse is obviously a destination for tourists. They love coming here, but like you said, The sports opportunities, we end up going out of town.

[00:07:43] Vicki Markussen: And how do you see being able to attract those tournaments and becoming a destination, if you will, on its own? Sure.

[00:07:51] Jenn Slusser: I’ve spent a lot of time connecting a lot of time putting our name out there, introducing myself to pretty much anybody in that. Everybody, every club and organization across the state.

[00:08:01] Jenn Slusser: We, I have met a gentleman that runs the Central Badger League which is usually over in like the Fond Dulac Milwaukee area. He was super interested in coming this way, bringing his league over here. So he’s gonna do that for a couple tournaments. Joining some of the associations like the a a U program the Badger region, the J v A for volleyball.

[00:08:20] Jenn Slusser: Just becoming part of that. Also having, we have a lot of. Clubs and organizations that are talking that wanna use our facility as a home base. So I think once you have a higher end home base club and organization that you can say, we’re sending one your way. We’re running our own tournament here now. So you know, as you show that you can compete and you have these higher end athletes.

[00:08:40] Jenn Slusser: Coming to your associations, the payback is mutual. So Yeah. Hopefully that will drive it to happen.

[00:08:47] Vicki Markussen: Yeah. And I know from sitting on the tourism board that there, that is part of their job is attracting sports. So now you’ve just added another feature. Bambu, right, right. To attract people to our area and so they can be helping and guiding with that as well, which is fantastic.

[00:09:07] Vicki Markussen: So you open this, and I’m guessing that you didn’t know what semi-pro team was gonna approach you, or did you know, did you have that conversation with the Showtime? We actually

[00:09:17] Jason Slusser: had a conversation prior to us. Opening. When we made the announcement that this was something that we were going forward with, I was approached by the general manager and we, there were discussions but I actually figured is it just wasn’t gonna come to fruition for a few different reasons logistically speaking, court size and stuff like that.

[00:09:37] Jason Slusser: That locker rooms. But then as we got closer to finishing, being approached by him, we were able to work some stuff out. And I think it’s gonna be a great fit for both of us. And, going back to what sets us apart from any other facility like this, it’s, we’ve got a mezzanine that that you saw as well.

[00:09:53] Jason Slusser: Where it’s not that we’re promoting the drinking aspect, but we call it the adult locker room. And it’s a place for parents to go upstairs. They can watch their student or they can watch their child play basketball. And there’s enough seating up there for about 80 people with TVs all over the place.

[00:10:11] Jason Slusser: And we have one TV that’s dedicated just to the courts so you can continue to watch the games as you’re sitting there enjoying whether it be an adult beverage or just a place to get away to do some work on the weekend whatever. So I think that’s what’s different about our facility compared to other facilities.

[00:10:28] Vicki Markussen: Yeah, so when you walk in, you kind of do a, about face, if you will go up the stairs. There’s a nice, like you said, mezzanine tables. I’m sure you’re gonna be serving food up there or, and throughout have concessions and when you already have a lineup of the type of events that you had. You mentioned pickleball, but do you wanna run through some of the.

[00:10:48] Vicki Markussen: Things that you have?

[00:10:49] Jenn Slusser: Sure. Yeah. Right now we just finished our summer sessions of league, so we did a great, we had a great middle school turnout for volleyball and high school. We did, we are doing a pickleball league right now. A ladder league, which has turned out to be super fun. A lot of new people that hadn’t played pickleball before.

[00:11:07] Jenn Slusser: We had. Basketball, adult basketball, adult volleyball. And all of that will be starting fall sessions. So right now we’re looking for signing up of fall session adult co-ed sixes women’s volleyball and men’s volleyball, as well as men’s basketball and women’s basketball. And then two pickleball leagues will start in September as well.

[00:11:25] Jenn Slusser: So we have a doubles league and a ladder league that we’re looking for people.

[00:11:29] Vicki Markussen: Wow. Now all you need is like a pickup, noon game or something for adults, or

[00:11:35] Jenn Slusser: I thought that maybe we’ll try that in the winter once everybody is done playing

[00:11:38] Vicki Markussen: outside.

[00:11:39] Jason Slusser: We do plan on putting on events, whether it be quarterly maybe just twice a year. In similar size to Features Fest.

[00:11:47] Jason Slusser: It brings a whole different dynamic with the floor, being your number one source of income, you need to make sure that’s safe. So we do have a floor cover for that. But I think, the few times that you’re gonna have a concert, it’s not gonna compete with Peach’s Fest, I don’t think.

[00:12:03] Jason Slusser: Great.

[00:12:04] Vicki Markussen: Yeah, so my common closer is what makes you passionate about what you do. You can both answer.

[00:12:12] Jason Slusser: Hmm. Well, I’ve been doing this for 30 years, so my passion gets thinner and thinner. Um, no, my, really my passion is it’s to see new faces come in and to see the excitement on, on their face.

[00:12:28] Jason Slusser: Like I’ve, our very first tournament when we first opened up, it was I was working the concession stand with a couple of my kids. And to see people walk in the door for the very first time and then look around and then walk upstairs and come back down and go, there’s a bar upstairs. You, you know what I mean?

[00:12:44] Jason Slusser: Like it just to see the excitement on like how this is something that is so different from anything anyone’s experienced. And it’s right here in Must Salem. So that fires me up. That still gives me that, okay. We can do some really cool things here and to watch and again, just being excited to see some kids come in and give them these great opportunities that maybe they never would’ve had before.

[00:13:05] Jason Slusser: So that’s what drives me right now.

[00:13:08] Jenn Slusser: I think I’m probably a little different. I resigned from education after 22 years to run the field house. So I think mine right now is just the total difference of thinking the creativity, the drive to make sure this works. The Complete excitement of doing something new, but doing it together.

[00:13:27] Jenn Slusser: I think it’s really benefited our family. Our family has worked it. We’ve always worked features I guess, but really pushing the kids to understand this is a lot of work. We are starting from scratch. It’s not features that’s been there and been. Established. So I think it’s just that drive of really reaching out and, when we hook another tournament, I’m like, sweet, okay, we’re moving forward.

[00:13:48] Jenn Slusser: So I think it’s that it’s just pushing and making sure that this is gonna be successful.

[00:13:53] Vicki Markussen: Yeah. It has to be very, like you said, very mentally stimulating because you’re not running. An extension of features. This is a whole different business model, like success is driven on totally different metrics. Yeah.

[00:14:08] Vicki Markussen: Thank you for taking that leap. I always respect businesses because it is a risk, right? Like you take, you launch and you hope it’s gonna be successful. You know what it takes to be successful. Full, and then you just have to hope that the public takes it and runs with it and, and makes it a smashing success.

[00:14:27] Vicki Markussen: So thank you for joining me. That is Jen and Jason Schlosser with the Features Fieldhouse and of course, features which they have owned since 2007.

[00:14:37] Vicki Markussen: You’ve been listening to Biz Cast Greater La Crosse. I am your host, Vicki Markussen. We will catch you next week.



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