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Boni
01-30-2009, 10:20 PM
This question is for those who currently run a haunted house as their primary source of income, or at least a major source of income.

Think back to your first 3 years hosting a haunted house. How did you start?

Some of the facts I would be curious to know......

Home Haunt?
Not for Profit Haunt?
Take over an existing haunt?
Did you build it from scratch?
How many guests did you have in year 1, 2, 3?
What were some keys that set you apart from others doing the same thing?
Before being able to use lots of special effects, what were your most successful scare tactics.

My goal with this thread is to help those of us in our first 3 years move up the learning curve faster. If, as Larry often says, the Haunt Industry is better off having more haunts in many markets, then this type of information could really help some of the industry as a whole, but also those of us entering that phase where a significant investment in materials, effects, location are needed to move forward.

I just want to know from those that are successful, what their roots are in this industry.

rwrussom
01-31-2009, 11:13 AM
Similar questions are often asked but rarely responded too in much depth. The amount of regular active posters with actual working pro operations is quite small. Hopefully, a few will jump on with comments.

Uptown Haunts
01-31-2009, 12:45 PM
Hi there,

I'm new to haunting but have been trying to get a location and get approvals from the local officials since April 2005. Nothing happening yet but, there's a chance I may be able to team up with an existing haunt this October. We still have to work out the details. I'm also planning the possible construction of a trailer show. Multiple trailer units which interconnect. Terror on the Fox, The Asylum of Fear and a number of other haunts are done in trailers. Just think of them as buildings on wheels. Another idea in the works is joining forces with 2 or more other small haunters and setup in a warehouse. This offers multiple shows at one locatoin but would require taking a lesser amount of money per ticket sale for each haunt in order to make it a good value for your customers. Obviously, showing a profit would require cranking through pretty big numbers of victims or you could erect a religious statue of your choice.

Steve.....

Boni
01-31-2009, 07:07 PM
I guess I think it would be very useful information to know where some of the more successful haunters started. I wish they would be willing to share a little more about their early years.

For those that truly are supporters of the industry as a whole, I would think they would enjoy sharing this information. Looking back at how they started and the couple things that really allowed them to shoot out of the pack and be successful.

spookhaven
01-31-2009, 09:42 PM
Larry has some good videos that he has produced that share a lot of information. I am actually sitting here watching a few of them as a reminder of what I need to do for this year. Some of the big haunters, such as Ben/Netherworld (and many others), are usually on these and really great about giving the details you need and showing you their haunts with "lights on". This is a real education on how they are doing things. We are only in our third year and see the detail we are missing but will come with time (and money). This forum is one of the best educational tools (both good and bad opinions) but conventions are also a great way to see what new products you can add and get ideas for your haunt (and wish list for the following year). I agree it's sometime hard to get the "big guys" in this business to respond here, but they seem to do it through the Hauntworld Magazine and videos so they hit everyone that shows they really want to learn by purchasing these educational tools. Another place that I have had one on one contact is at seminars. Believe me, listen to everyone because there is truth to everyone's opinion in one way or another.

Boni
02-01-2009, 08:45 AM
Surely someone has some great stories about how they got started that can be learning tools for those of us in our 2nd to 5th year.

What set you apart and allowed you to get where you are now?

Kallie
02-01-2009, 09:34 AM
Hi Boni, can't say I can help you because we don't have the haunted houses class in my country as in the US. But, I set up haunted houses at fetes, private functions etc.

In my way of growing in this business it is marketing, although I do it through my entertainment. I do not like to use kids as artists. Normally they make the house unprofessional. If I do, he / she must be very smart, and know something about drama to play and act some roll. I try to be different than a normal school ghost house setup, so people can see and feel the difference, and go out and TALK about it to somebody else. That's your best advertisement. If people hear from friends etc. your house is different from the normal, people will get curious.

I normally set up in a double garage, or they must give me a large enough tent. Black shade netting help for walls or 'roof' cover to darken area's.

I like puzzle's in the house, for instance to open a door before a nearby werewolf / mummy arise. At a church fete or place where people know each other, you can get people caught if they fail in a time puzzle etc. These can be bailed out by family or friends by paying something to the fete's organizeres and produce the slip at the haunted house.

Boni
02-01-2009, 09:31 PM
Why is this question so tabo?

I am a long time basketball coach who has had tremendous success. I post on a youth basketball site and when someone comes in as a new coach seeking advice, I, along with the other long time coaches on the board bend over backwards providing plays, drills, practice plans, how to deal with parents.

Is it because those with DVD's out there want you to buy it. Do the big shots find this type of question boring, or do the big shots just not want to help, fend for yourself kind of an attitude.

Raycliff Manor
02-02-2009, 10:35 AM
Hey Boni, I don't think it's that no one is interested in answering, it's just that it would take pages to reply. I've looked at this post several times and wanted to reply, but I just don't know how to answer your questions concisely. There are sooooo many variables. I've found in the past that general answers to these types of questions, lead to more questions, and so on and so on and before you know it, you've spent hours and hours trying to help. I'm going to try my best to give you as concise as possible answers below, but please keep in mind that "your experience may vary" ; )

Home Haunt? Raycliff Manor was born out of years of passion and the seeds of it began with Halloween parties established to collect food and other items for the San Diego area homeless.

Not for Profit Haunt? Raycliff Manor is a "for-profit" business. To date, the majority of the proceeds, after making a charitable contribution, have gone back into further developing the attraction and business.

Take over an existing haunt? We purchased an attraction (long story), but we ultimately re-built what we purchaed and expanded it considerably.

Did you build it from scratch? See answer above

How many guests did you have in year 1, 2, 3? This is a question that I prefer not to answer for a number of reasons. One of many is that individuals reading this will "do the math" and assume I'm getting rich off of Raycliff Manor with no concept of the sacrifice and expenses that go into a haunted attraction business. I think you'll find it hard to get an answer to this type of question on a public forum. This is where survey data is very helpful. Keep in mind that attendance varies considerably from one area to another and your business plan should be based on your local market research.

What were some keys that set you apart from others doing the same thing? For our local area we are unique in that we maintain continuity of theme throughout the attraction and we provide a strong theatrical show combined with high-startle scares.

Before being able to use lots of special effects, what were your most successful scare tactics? Our most successful scare tactics are the use of misdirection and startle. Drop panels have been and continue to be very effective for us! We change them up to maintain the element of surprise. Most of our pneumatic props are home made out of recycled props. (i.e. we have a pneumatic bed jumper and a pneumatic trunk that are made with recycled Ex-Mortis puppets).

*** Now a word of "personal opinion" advice*** Before you know your market will support the investment in high tech toys, invest as much as possible with your own sweat equity and your teams talents! Don't over-sell your show, but don't undersell it either. If you can put together great looking sets (use yard sales, freecycle.com, Craigslist, etc.) and develop a great team of enthusiastic Actors when you start out, your show will build a reputation that will enable you to continually enhance your production and your audience will grow! I'm not saying don't buy some of the great props available by the VERY talented vendors in this industry, I'm just saying make sure you develop a business plan with a BUDGET, operate a SAFE show and you will be around much longer to support the vendors in a much greater way in the long run. ;)

I hope these answers help and I sincerely do wish you success in the manifestation and realization of your dreams! If this is your passion, don't let anyone or anything get in your way! Be honest, be fair and be generous. This industry really is filled with amazing people and if you maintain a postive attitude and outlook, you'll attract the same into your support system. Just never forget your struggles and the people who helped you achieve success. Then pay it forward!:-D

Kel

Mike Goff
02-02-2009, 12:09 PM
Kelly is right, this is a very complex question that could fill pages.

I think that the single most important thing is to clearly define an objective, and to have a carefully thought out plan on how to achieve this objective. Our main objective is to generate word of mouth advertising.
The basic formula that we use to achieve this objective is to overwhelm the senses with highly detailed scenes, and larger than life scares, in at least 6 scenes, and to field an acting crew that functions as a well oiled machine.
I personally believe that your average customer will remember 3 to 5 scenes in your haunt. If you can afford to make every scene in your attraction top notch, that is fantastic and you will probably have a great show, but it is not necessary to achieve consistant growth. I think that the role that large animatronics and detailed scenery plays is one of credibility. In many cases it's an intimidation factor. I think that these are the things that your customers will remember and talk about (IF THEY HAD A GOOD TIME!) It they did not have a good time, all of the scenery and props in the world will not matter.
How do you ensure that they have a good time. You do this with a top notch acting crew. Getting a top notch acting crew is alot like finding sponsors. It takes time, and personel attention to detail. Success breeds success! Once you start to get more and more great actors, and when they start to function as a team, it becomes much easier to find and retain talent. We employ just under 100 actors, last year we had 8 positions to fill and had hundreds apply for the job. This afforded us the opportunity to hold try outs and pick the best of the best. It also sends a very strong message to all those who scare here, that if they don't get it done, there are alot of people who would like a chance to take thier place. We have a highly motivated, and loyal staff. We tell them from the very beginning that unless they join the Marines they will probably never have a more physically demanding job. This type of attitude filters out the sissys and instills a sense of pride in those who remain. Most of these kids are misfits in thier day to day lives and have made a career of screwing up, but for 18 nights a year, they get to be a part of something that they feel is elite.
A haunter must wear many hats, and they are all important, but I believe that the difference between success and failure is leadership.
I have tried to keep this post concise, but I believe strongly in this subject, I could ramble on for days.
I would think that a basketball coach has the perfect resume to be a top notch haunter. You already know how to get a group of young people to perform, how to make them work together, and how to win. Use those skills with your acting crew.
For a more indepth look at our employment policy, go to our website and click on "So you think you can scare"

Boni
02-02-2009, 10:12 PM
Thanks for the answers everyone. Lots of good stuff in those posts, while some of it may seem very basic, for someone new, it really is good stuff.

I think the natural thought is to add more animatronics while mostly what I am hearing here is to make sure your actors are awesome first, then move on with animatronics.

Speculo
02-02-2009, 10:34 PM
-I did home haunts and school haunts as a kid and young adult

-I did 3 years of Charity Haunts (the first a Trail) in conjunction with my TV show "Tales From 6 Feet Under"

- I worked for a big Chain of Haunts SILO X for three years as a designer and actor.

- Also freelance designed some Haunts over the years...

- The last 13 years this October will be NETHERWORLD. We started NETHERWORLD with a real understanding of the business (Learned from SILO X) but it still took YEARS to really make money. We were in the black every year (including year one), and we have always gone up each year in attendance, so that was good.


Tips - Love your actors, be creative, don't forget the basics, scare people, use detail when you can afford it, the TV loves eye candy, and GIVE THEM A SHOW!


Thanks!

RJ Productions
02-03-2009, 02:45 AM
I would guess that a majority of current haunt owners either started as a home haunt or volunteering for a charity haunt. I was the former. I ran a home haunt in Chicago then Vegas starting in the early 80’s. But I actually started a “profit” haunt at age 8 in the early 60’s !! By 12 I had created a “dark ride” with the patron being pedaled through the attraction in a specially build “chariot” attached to a trike! So like many, it’s always been in my blood!!

My suggestion to anyone wanting to start is to realize up front the most important thing is that THIS IS A BUSINESS FIRST.
Second most important thing is that THIS IS A BUSINESS FIRST.

The problem with our industry is that it is populated by artisan owners. But that I mean most everyone gets in the business because we love the holiday and we are the creative type. We are the ones with the vision, the ones that design the attraction, build the effects. Which gives us a unique perspective. But if you are not a business type person you need to get one for a partner or face eventual doom!!

Before someone jumps in with contrary examples I realize there are always exceptions. IF you hold firm to that type of attitude that I suggest you attempt one of those get rich programs that populate the airwaves every night! If you think you are the exception in the haunt business, then you might make more money being the exception buying real estate or selling SMC products on line!!!

This business will take a LOT of hard work, period! It will take a lot of investment in time and or money, ( I always say you need one or the other, if you don’t have a lot of money then you need a lot of time, if you don’t have a lot of time, then you need a lot of money!!!) So with that in mind you will need a lot of personal support. If your spouse or significant other is not either in the business with you or super supportive, you are doomed! A friend tried the business, he and his wife worked for us and other haunts for the experience, took classes, the whole nine yards. One season in the business and they were divorced! It can be that much of a strain!

Just because you see huge lines on Halloween does not mean the Haunt is making a ton of cash (we WISH!) There are tons of expenses and because you are a temporary event most will wants their money up front!! After a few years of establishing yourself many vendors will give you terms, but don’t expect it up front. Don’t expect to be profitable year one. ANY business hopes to make back its investment by year three, why should a haunt be any different? If you do not want to deal with all the mundane details required in running a haunt, get a partner that will or just work for someone else.

Be “over-educated”. Attend every class, seminar, or workshop; read every book, magazine and article; attend the trade shows and conventions; talk to haunters especially other owners and operators. If you think you know everything, take one more class!! And don’t just take classes on scares (this REALLY bugs me!) Face it there aren’t that many different scares. What is REALLY important is marketing, promotion, safety, financing, …BUSINESS aspects!! Learn outside the haunt industry. Classes at IAAPA, Fun Expo or other related industries can be EXTEMELY beneficial.

Never….I repeat NEVER invest any more that you are willing to lose!! This is another good reason for having a business oriented person on board. Someone has to be able to ask the tough questions, “Can this market support another haunt? Can we really afford this? Do we REALLY need this?” Build your business slowly, soundly and responsibly. Only then can you hopefully avoid being one of those statistics that state a majority of new businesses fail in the first two years. Nothing is guaranteed, do anything you can to hedge your bet!

drfrightner
02-03-2009, 03:38 AM
IN MY THIRD YEAR OF HAUNTING... here is where I was.

Home Haunt? NO

Not for Profit Haunt? NO

Take over an existing haunt? YES

Did you build it from scratch? YES

How many guests did you have in year 1, 2, 3? 8000, 8000, 8000

What were some keys that set you apart from others doing the same thing? PASSION TO GROW! DESIRE TO BE THE BEST! Because I wasn't it only drove me more! I worked year around with a desire to learn everything I could I wanted to be the best.

Before being able to use lots of special effects, what were your most successful scare tactics.

CHAINSAWS, POWER TOOLS, even weedeaters. lol

Boni
02-03-2009, 03:52 AM
IN MY THIRD YEAR OF HAUNTING... here is where I was.

Home Haunt? NO

Not for Profit Haunt? NO

Take over an existing haunt? YES

Did you build it from scratch? YES

How many guests did you have in year 1, 2, 3? 8000, 8000, 8000

What were some keys that set you apart from others doing the same thing? PASSION TO GROW! DESIRE TO BE THE BEST! Because I wasn't it only drove me more! I worked year around with a desire to learn everything I could I wanted to be the best.

Before being able to use lots of special effects, what were your most successful scare tactics.

CHAINSAWS, POWER TOOLS, even weedeaters. lol


Larry, what year is this for you now.

Thanks for the reply.

rwrussom
02-03-2009, 11:29 AM
How many guests did you have in year 1, 2, 3? 8000, 8000, 8000




Larry -

Looking back, why do you think your attendance did not grow in what should have been a growth (or die) period for a new start up?

rwrussom
02-03-2009, 11:32 AM
[QUOTE=Speculo;57244

- The last 13 years this October will be NETHERWORLD. We started NETHERWORLD with a real understanding of the business (Learned from SILO X) but it still took YEARS to really make money. We were in the black every year (including year one), and we have always gone up each year in attendance, so that was good.


QUOTE]

Ben -

What lessons or "real understanding of the business" did you take from that time that can be passed along?

Again, thanks for all the real answers starting to come to this thread.