Donna Alexander doesn’t have a lot of rules at the Anger Room, the business she founded and runs at a Dallas strip mall. But she does insist that customers not bring in their own machetes or chainsaws. “I get that question pretty often,” she says. “They’re like, ‘Oh, you don’t have any machetes? Can I bring my own? It’s a really nice machete.’ And I have to tell them ‘No! Under no circumstances can you bring a machete in here.’”
But she still provides plenty of perfectly deadly weapons. Anger Room customers are offered a selection of baseball bats, golf clubs, tennis rackets, crowbars, and, if they’re feeling particularly creative, mannequin arms and legs. What they do with those weapons is up to them. The Anger Room is equipped with a tantalizing array of non-living things to destroy, like TVs, computer monitors, and office furniture. It’s a controlled environment where customers can freely act like psychopaths, taking out their frustrations on anything within smashing distance.
There are safety precautions—all customers wear hard hats and protective goggles—and strictly enforced time limits. You can choose from a five-minute “I Need a Break” session (for $25), a 15-minute “Lash Out” ($45), or the less popular 25-minute “Total Demolition” ($75). “Most people only last between two and three minutes on average,” Alexander says. “We have some regulars who can last five to 15 minutes.” When a customer requests 25 minutes, and actually uses all of it, Alexander considers it a red flag. “That’s when it’s time to suggest they look into real therapy,” she says.
Since opening the Anger Room in December 2011, she averages 240 customers a month, and the numbers are rising. With just one designated space for cathartic meltdowns in her 3,000-square-foot storefront, she recently decided to expand. “We added two more rooms a few weeks ago,” she says, most of which are no larger than an average office space. She’s also been approached about franchising opportunities, with offers from would-be partners in all 50 U.S. states. “I’ve had about 180 inquiries so far,” she says. “Investors want to open Anger Rooms in Australia, Romania, Germany, just about everywhere. It’s mind-blowing.”
Alexander first came up with the idea when she was 16 years old, living with her family in Chicago in the late 1990s. “I saw a lot of high school fights and domestic violence,” she says. “An Anger Room just made sense. People needed a place to vent without getting in trouble. But I thought it was such a great idea that somebody else would think of it, too, and they’d do a better job than some Chicago teenager of turning it into a business.” When she moved to Texas in 2002, to study graphic design and multimedia at Westwood College in Dallas, she launched an informal prototype of the Anger Room in her home. “I told my friends and co-workers (she worked in marketing at an aviation company), ‘Hey, for $5 you can come over to my garage and tear up some stuff.’” Word of mouth began to spread, and soon strangers were showing up on her doorstep, baseball bats in hand, offering her cash to destroy old office equipment. “It freaked me out,” she says. “I have two kids. I don’t need them to see that. That’s when I knew it was time to find a more official place.”
Making the Anger Room legitimate wasn’t easy. She says it took three years to find a willing landlord. “When I told most of them what I was trying to do, they were like, ‘No, no, no! That’s for crazy people!’” She eventually found a Dallas landlord willing to take a chance, and the Anger Room has attracted a loyal clientele ever since. She knows of only one similar business—San Diego’s Smash Shack, which opened in 2008 and closed shortly after—but she has theories on how the Anger Room is different. “From what I understand, the Smash Shack was just about people breaking dishes on a target,” Alexander says. “That’s something that anybody could do at their home. And it’s a very gender-specific thing. I can’t picture a man getting much satisfaction from breaking a dish.”
The Anger Room, she says, is designed to appeal to both men and women. “We’ve got mock kitchens, but we’ve also got living rooms and replicas of actual workplaces. We’ve got big-screen TVs, VCRs, fax machines, desks, potted plants; the list is endless.” Most of the items are donated, or purchased at steep discounts at garage sales. If it’s something a frustrated human being has ever wanted to destroy in a fit of rage, Alexander will find a way to stock it.
Her clients, she says, include “everything from company executives and CEOs to bachelor and bachelorette parties. We get birthdays, team-building retreats, corporate mixers.” She even gets office workers visiting during their lunch breaks, though she recommends they bring a change of clothes. “It’s a full body workout,” she says. “You work muscles you didn’t even know you had.”
Her most high-profile guests were a small group of “associates” of H. Ross Perot, Texas billionaire and two-time U.S. presidential candidate. “It was about five guys,” she says. “They were having a party or something. That was so amazing and cool.” Their exact relationship with Perot—whether they were employees or friends or relatives or something else entirely— Alexander never learned, or isn’t willing to share. “We try not to ask a lot of questions,” she says.
(This story originally appeared, in a slightly different form, on the Bloomberg Businessweek website.)