During the day, Matt Miller works at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, maintaining facilities at Harper, Smith and Schramm Halls and The Village. His wife, Desiree Miller, is a postage worker. After clocking out of their day jobs, however, they work on something more destructive.
The Millers are the founders and owners of Smashin’it 402, Lincoln’s first rage room complex. Smashin’it 402 opened its doors in July 2020 on Park Boulevard, just north of Van Dorn Street. While in the plywood and cinder block room, customers can hit, break and shatter glass, furniture, electronics and more as a way to release pent-up anger and tension.
While the destructive chambers are the first in Lincoln, their concept isn’t a new one. Other rage rooms are scattered around the country, though Desiree Miller said she doesn’t like using that term.
“We didn’t want to use the word rage,” she said. “We don’t want people to come in there and be angry; we want people to come in and release. Our motto is ‘Making anger management fun.’”
The Millers were already thinking about opening a small entertainment business in early 2019, but they wanted to bring something new to Lincoln.
“I had seen a few places on TV where people would go to do therapy and smash stuff to get their frustrations out, and I was like, ‘There’s no place like that around here,’” Desiree said. “This was about the time that axe throwing and escape rooms were becoming big, so we wanted to do something that was different.”
Through his job at the university, Matt was able to receive some guidance by talking to faculty from the College of Business as he and his wife journeyed toward opening day. The two ran into the most obstacles when dealing with insurance.
“That was our biggest flaw, whether or not insurance companies would be interested, because of how — I don’t want to say how dangerous it is — but the liability involved,” Desiree said.
After they had built, painted and decorated Smashin’it 402’s two smash rooms themselves, the Millers decided it was time to test out the facility.
“We had friends come over to test it out to see if it was something they would be interested in,” Desiree said. “We had some college kids come down as guinea pigs, and when they said it would take off, they told their friends, and they were interested in it.”
The Millers describe Smashin’it 402 as half fun anger management and half electronic recycling. The smashable objects are bought from university and state surplus auctions and thrift stores, giving a second life to electronics that may otherwise be thrown in a landfill. They also receive donations of broken electronics from thrift stores, and their friends collect glass wine and beer bottles to give to Smashin’it 402. The amount of donations the Millers receive allows them to keep the prices of sessions down — they claim the lowest prices in the country: $35 for an individual, $30 per person for a small group and $150 total for a large group. However, the amount of donations also means the Millers are running out of room.
“We are in the process of looking into getting another storage area because we have a surplus of stuff,” Desiree said.
The amount of smashables — items provided to patrons to destroy — a customer gets depends on how many people join them. An individual package comes with 15 small glass smashables, five medium smashables and one electronic item. Meanwhile, a large group package designed for four to six people includes 60 small glass smashables, 15 medium glass smashables, four small electronics and two medium or one large smashable. Customers can also bring in their own glass or electronics to destroy. Even with this bulk of possibilities, Matt said customers often get more than they paid for.
“I can happily say nobody who has come through has only gotten the minimum stuff,” Matt said. “Everybody’s gotten more things to smash because we can use the donations to make it more plentiful and more fun for people who come through.”
The Millers said most smashers come in as groups, not individuals. They see a lot of couples and groups of over six people, which has included a veterinary clinic’s staff and a Girl Scout troop.
“It’s a lot more fun when you have a lot of people,” Desiree said. “We provide windows in our rooms, so you have people standing on the outside of the room haggling the people on the inside, telling them, ‘You’re not doing it good enough,’ or ‘Hit it harder.’ It brings in a different aspect because you as a group can destress or have fun and destroy everything in there at the same time.”
Smashin’it 402 may have expansions in its future. Matt said he would like to find a way to fill glass objects with paint and offer smash painting. Desiree envisions a whole entertainment center, complete with fruit smashing and Nerf gun wars. The Millers said they are also open to helping other companies like theirs get off the ground, including a thrift shop in Sydney, Nebraska, whose owner has turned to the Millers for help creating a smash room in his shop’s basement.
“If we can help somebody out to open up something like this as well, we’re all for it,” Desiree said. “We’re not those types of people who are like, ‘No, you’re stealing our idea. No, you need to come up with it on your own.’ We did everything on our own … so if we can be someone that people can come to to ask questions, to get ideas, to find out what’s the best avenue to get this, get that, we don’t want to be standoffish about that.”
The Millers see Smashin’it 402 as a way to give back to the community. Matt said he wants to use the company to spread joy and positivity.
“With how happy we are, no matter what stresses us out, we want to help people have that same feeling, even if it’s just for a half an hour of their evening,” he said. “Hopefully that can give them that spark they need to keep going.”