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Top 5 Things You Need To Know To Succeed In The Haunted House Business!

by Leonard Pickel of Hauntrepreneurs(R) Haunt Design and Consulting
First published in Nightmare Zone Magazine

Synopsis: Learn the five most important aspects of running an October seasonal business, that make the difference between a hugely successful event and being out of business.

Navigating through the treacherous pitfalls in the business of a Haunted Attraction Event is a horrendous task even for seasoned veterans, and what you don’t know can kill you, but what is it that makes a dark themed October business successful? Looking back on my 37 years of professional haunting I started seeing common aspects of successful Halloween Haunts and boiled them down into the following five aspects of the successful October seasonal business. I believe are the difference between being hugely successful and being out of business.

What is Successful to You?
Before we can discuss what makes a haunt “successful” we have to define what successful means. It is my heartfelt position that “The goal of any successful business should be to make OBSCENE profits.” (What profit margin you consider to be “obscene” will vary between operators.)

I have started numerous companies over my life time; most of which were underfunded and on a shoe string profit margin, just making ends meet. I believed “if I could just sell a few more, or just get a few more people to buy, or save some money it would be successful.” Unfortunately, this tight margin leaves no room for error or bad weather or 911, and with no income buffer eventually what should be just a slight hardship will break the company’s back and put you out of business.

Remember, “if you don’t make enough profit then you don’t get to play anymore!” Which brings us to the first thing you need to know to succeed in the haunted house business

Number 5 – Marketing Equals Attendance
For years I have been saying that an attraction needs to spend between $2-$3 per person in advertising, and for years my detractors have tried unsuccessfully to prove me wrong. Take a good look at your total advertising spent and divide that by your total attendance. If that number comes out lower than $2, congratulations! Just increase your advertising to achieve your desired profit margin. If the number is higher than $3 then you should take a look at where and how much per impression you are spending on advertising.

To drive 25,000 people to your event, you will spend between $50,000 (established event) and $75,000 (first year event.)

Number 4 – Show Quality Equals Customer Satisfaction
As it turns out, the high detail attraction across the country are not only the most popular with haunt owners but also with attendees. High detail and a consistent theme or story line throughout the experience greatly increases the entertainment value and helps pierce the suspension of disbelief for a greater overall satisfaction level. Complete, unworldly environments, big props and animations work in concert with well trained and well costumed actors to truly set an attraction apart from other competitors in the market. If you list the best haunted events you have seen, I bet they are all high detail attractions.

Number 3 – Capacity Equals Profit
As attractions spend more money on advertising and higher detail, their attendance numbers go up. Ticket lines get longer and parking becomes an issue. No matter how great your haunted house is, a really long wait in line can wreck satisfaction level and low capacity can kill your profit margin. Never make people wait in line to give you money! Have more than enough ticket sellers available to speed up your capacity.

Increasing event throughout starts with location selection. If people have trouble finding your location, then you are in the wrong place. Look at the ease of access on and off the property. Make sure there is plentiful parking either on your property or nearby.

Then to be successful, you must design your attractions for high capacity. Every actor, every scene, every special effect must be designed to scare people forward, accelerating the flow of patrons. Give people a show, but give it to them on the run. Stopping people in the attraction is a capacity killer. If you must have some special effect that patrons have to stop moving to experience, then have several of them side by side to handle capacity. To handle 20,000 people in October a haunted attraction needs to be able to operate at peak times in excess of 700 people per hour.

Number 2 – Permanent Location Equals Longevity
Paying for a building for 12 months out of the year when you only make money with it for 20 days or so seems inefficient, but being in the same location every year gives a haunt an air of legitimacy badly needed in our industry. The signs stay on the building to let people know year round where the haunt will be. It gives you the opportunity to open off season for special dates and events and helps to build a following that cannot be done if you are in a different building each year. Rather than spending time money tearing the attraction down every year, those funds can go toward adding detail and building large immovable special effects that could never be possible in a temporary location.

Today’s economy also provides haunters with a once in a lifetime opportunity. Property will never be cheaper than it is right now. Owning your location builds equity that can then be tapped into in hard times, or recovered in the future when you retire and sell the property. Money spent in rent is building equity for someone else. Now is the time to buy your location of move to one you can purchase.

Number 1 – Watch The Money
Set a budget and stick to that budget! Funds are limited, and each item on the budget needs that amount to function properly. When you steal from one column to pay for another, you start a domino effect that can destroy your event. Advertising is usually the item that takes the hit which is the worst thing you can do. (See Number 5 above!)

Make sure you have enough money to pull off the event. Not having adequate funding is the number one reason that companies fail. Borrow, save up or rework the business plan, but do not move forward until you have enough capital to be successful.

I can’t tell you how often I have met with a client who cannot tell me how many people attended their event. They know how much money they put in the bank, but have no idea if everyone who attended paid. I have a dear Haunting friend who found out his child was embezzling thousands of dollars from him. It destroyed their family. No matter who is selling your tickets, trust but verify. Use numbered tickets for each pricing, then tabulate how many of each you sold every night multiply by the price and then you know how much money your should have made. Then count the number of people who enter your attractions, so you know if there are counterfeit tickets being circulated for your event.

It’s Just a Haunt How Hard Can It BE?
I know what you are saying, “Leonard advertising is hard. detail takes time and is expensive, no one will loan me money for my haunt, cheap locations never have parking, fire marshals are mean!” If haunting was easy, there would be way more people doing it successfully!

But the question is, “are you willing to do what it takes to be successful?”

Innovator, designer, writer, speaker, teacher and leader, Leonard Pickel has been a driving force in the haunted attraction industry for over 3 decades. As owner of Hauntrepreneurs(R) Haunt Design and Consulting Firm, Pickel has been blazing a path for the haunted attraction industry to follow since 1976 with over 100 attractions to his credit to date. Contact him at hauntrepreneurs@gmail.com or check out his web site at www.hauntrepreneurs.com