View Full Version : What's a realistic starting budget?

03-31-2011, 09:34 PM
What a responsible budget to get going? 20k? 50k? I have nothing in my area within a half hour drive and quite a few abandoned strip mall sites.

Bradenton Haunted Trail
03-31-2011, 09:48 PM
That is like asking how far is it to New York? There are so many variables that this is something that you need to figure out your budget. First start off with where do you want to put it strip mall old grocery store and find out what your rent will be. And the size of the building so you can start doing a construction cost and so on and so on and so on. But this something that you need to do some research on before you ask a question like that. Put it this way my first business plan was a 600k budget and now i am doing a haunt on just under 10% of that.


03-31-2011, 10:53 PM
located in ohio, spec'd out 20 room haunt for 2013, estimated cost 65k-80k ...figure it will fall in between somewhere. Depending on where you live , cost will greatly vary...and I live it's fairly moderate compared to New York, guessing.

Jim Warfield
03-31-2011, 11:11 PM
I can't EVEN begin to compute just HOW many pounds of soggy spaghettii and peeled grapes that much money would buy!?
Don't forget to buy the blindfolds or else people will know it's not really guts and eye-balls and then they will demand that you return their money!
If you even hesitate to do that, they will punch you in the guts and punch you in the eye-ball!
And you will cry.
As you are then forced to open an Italian Restaurant.

Greg Chrise
03-31-2011, 11:29 PM
mmmmmm. Lasagna.

04-02-2011, 07:51 AM
I live in the midwest and dont have a attraction within 150 miles to compete with. This is my second year and I will be around $30K-$40k by the time we open this year. I will have 2 attractions (4000 sq ft haunt, and "The Last Ride") I own my own building so this saves me alot of money compared to rent so keep that in mind. I do not have a bunch of crazy animatronics however I could not pass up Dark Ravens spiders and snakes this year at Transworld. That added around $6k. i opened last year for about $15k. That included all my walls,detailing,some high end props (gore galore,ghostride,etc) 100% crap lighting and subpar audio. This year we added LED lighting, great audio, and more props and walls and fixed what didnt work last year. By the time we are done with the main haunt, and some add on attractions we will be around $100k.
Also last year we were a financial loss. This year we will be a financial loss. However I believe we will start seeing profit around year 4-5. I am fine with this as I am treating it like a business. On the up side, I was out for supper last night and I had no less then 5 people come up and ask about our haunt this year and cant wait for it to open. I hope this helps you out and good luck. Do not underestimate the cost involved to open this type of venture and do it right. The hidden costs can bury ya.


Greg Chrise
04-02-2011, 09:50 AM
You have to factor in that those haunt makers that have successfully spent $65,000 and got it all back the same year did not stay in their same old little funky town and try to develop a market. They hit the road and hooked up with something else, a Family entertainment center or existing haunt that was lacking in a town of 4.5 million people and advertised as much as they could. In the haunt guy and the property owners cases this scenario would have been 20 years developing their formulas of what to do, not first year even though it might have been the first year of some haunt name.

There is nothing wrong with making an investment if you had the money to do so. That is different than a financial loss. A financial loss is you aren't able to open and no way to get your investment back ever. If you are comparing it to a real business by 90 or 120 days the guy in the limosine comes by and wants to know why there isn't a profit yet and if it doesn't happen right now he's pulling the plug. In haunt years that might be 4 years of being open for a month. Still there is no reason you can't match income with expenses and be real close to breaking even every year. Smaller start ups might sound like they are a ridiculously slow turning of the wheels but, they prove to be stronger more reliable markets in the end that others want to feed off of. Some were just lucky and were located close to larger towns to begin with.

Taking numbers from a larger town out to the boonies can be just plain wrong in the end. I'm starting to see maps that show where everone is leaving, where they are going and what has remained a stable market that chose not to participate in the recession. There is nothing wrong with being a bit more on the campy side matching your small town market. If it is a small town they may actually reject high dollar items figuring you have so much money now they don't need to support you. There needs to be a conservative deal where the customers believe the progress of he haunt or business was somehow developed through their involvement rather than some rich guy or spoiled person of means is having a party to further pad their wallets.

Although some things no one knows how much they cost, high dollar props also give everyone in town the idea there must me money in this and then there are 5 competitors.

Greg Chrise
04-02-2011, 10:03 AM
I have seen some pretty cheesy haunts with no animatronics and no sound system see 36,000 people at $18 a pop, on a dirt floor with no requirement for any fire systems. It might get a $3,000 per year paint face lift every year. If it was really a business, what looks kind of pathetic that brings in serious freaking cash as a total profit is the business I would want to have. Okay they did hire a sound and lighting guy on the cheap, not something they own. Ill bet 70% of the money was being held in the end.

I have made it my business to really get into the customers heads and they really like cheesy and talk about how silly it is for years, thus big word of mouth. Cheesy and silly is fun. Overwhelming impact and high dollar props you pay for twice as people don't know what to think and don't talk about their experience so guess what, you have to have exorbidant advertising budgets. Even if you can put a third mortage on your house or come up with money to invest, does it match your local market?

04-02-2011, 01:04 PM
I have seen some pretty cheesy haunts with no animatronics and no sound system see 36,000 people at $18 a pop, on a dirt floor with no requirement for any fire systems. It might get a $3,000 per year paint face lift every year. If it was really a business, what looks kind of pathetic that brings in serious freaking cash as a total profit is the business I would want to have. Okay they did hire a sound and lighting guy on the cheap, not something they own. Ill bet 70% of the money was being held in the end.

I have made it my business to really get into the customers heads and they really like cheesy and talk about how silly it is for years, thus big word of mouth. Cheesy and silly is fun. Overwhelming impact and high dollar props you pay for twice as people don't know what to think and don't talk about their experience so guess what, you have to have exorbidant advertising budgets. Even if you can put a third mortage on your house or come up with money to invest, does it match your local market?

All I could think as I was reading this was that it sounds like you're saying a chainsaw is a must-have and a great investment. A little simplified perhaps, but not too far off the mark?

EDITED: I just realized that you took out the line "You read this again (or was it twice) didn't you?"

Greg Chrise
04-02-2011, 07:30 PM
I have been to many that had no chainsaws. Somehow though there are so many gas powered devices, weed eaters, trimmers and edgers that sound like chainsaws out in the real world neighborhoods. Even those not scared by a chainsaw, it is just one of those things in the real world that lingers. You hear something fire up and think chainsaw massacres are happening in the gated communities of the world just long enough to think haunted house all year long.

You just have to imagine playing hopscotch might be a little tough getting your foot on specifically the right square when being threatened by a chainsaw. My original idea might have been crazier than that like a pendulum or beheading. I'm sure it was completely wrong, maybe spikes that come up out of the sidewalk, to make the people that are around me laugh for hours on one vision gets a little tough. They remember Voodoo Hopscotch of Death for years and it has never really happened anywhere yet. It is all in their heads. I may have to ask them what I said. It might just have been you were cursed to hell if you stepped on a crack? Or zombies reached out for you in the dark. It was non the less a difficult game that ended badly no matter what but you had to pay first.

The chainsaw thing is real popular in Texas I guess. You have to go with it. Even having close friends across the county that try so hard not to have one and as a result have their own thing going on. After going to a haunt or being at one and hearing chainsaws so often and then being out in the world and for half a moment hearing a chainsaw and fake screaming is fun. It might be more fun than counting cars with one headlight and it IS haunt related.

I'm afraid chainsaws are part of the tradition here.

One haunt with chainsaws impressed me early in that they not only had chainsaws but they were highly personalized machines with full paint jobs. The one I liked the best for some reason matched the clown paint job on the walls of their fully themed attraction. Just the little touches that make memories for the nursing home.

Greg Chrise
04-02-2011, 08:10 PM
I have been laughing all day while going about my business with Jim's $85,000 worth of spagetti and peeled grapes. What would that look like? Couldn't you actually start a haunt by going through a restaurants dumpster?

Our society is so brainwashed. For ever ailment or smell there is something you can buy for that. For every drink or piece of bread there is an appliance for that. For every stage of business and work there obviously must be a magical cost to overcome. If you just had $75,000 all at one time it would all magically happen. I have watched that not work too. Those that have accumulated that much cash and have nothing better to do are not necessarily fun people and so they fail.

If you have the ultimate goal of being rich it also involves being seriously anti social. No one except those that are going to talk to you involving you getting $1000 from them get to have a conversation. So how does such a person change their predatory nature to all of a sudden be super accessable and sociable? It doesn't work. At least not long enough for their true attitudes to be found out.

It is an important part of the process to have support for what ever entertainment you have from the masses. Today driving around I thought how one consultant was saying he liked reviewing how small bands with a CD promoted themselves from town to town living on the road, living off of cover charges and CD sales at the various bars to propmote and somehow this was important. Well, yeah if the band sucks they can still use facebook to put out 3,000 messages to the town they are headed to and 75 people show up anyhow and the cover charge is at least what is needed. However if the band was really good, those sales wouldn't require spam notifiications. It wouldn't be forced, automated, here is what we do that works, people would pack the place wondering in advance when that type of event uld be available in a town near them.

Some of the gypsy haunts did this too, a forced sale that sort of worked but had no real life to it. They got the money and made the payments. They didn't even know or perhaps care if their offering was lame. It worked in their eyes. No word of mouth at all or perhaps leave town when the word of mouth does come around?

Developing a market is tough, perhaps it develops faster than one person can make things and expand a haunt and someone else captures it with more money, more energy, more people involved. Still there was a market there to begin with that was developed over decades that had to be cultivated all the way from peeled grapes feel like eyeballs in the dark or behind a blind fold. Pulling in with 6 semi trailers full of peeled grapes doesn't translate or throwing people into an entire small river of apples to bob for. The notions started out fairly cheap. How much does it cost to be in the dark? Maybe it costs alot if you are in a place that there are lights on everywhere?

So do you get people in a city that never sleeps to be in a 50 million dollar building and turn the lights out or do you get them to drive to a place that has no street lights? One is just stupid, turn the lights back on asshole. The other is an adveture that even the trip is memorable as a life experience enjoyed, different.

04-03-2011, 12:13 PM
The location I wanna use is a shopping area which is a zoo during xmas. 1 mall and probably 6-7 strip malls all located within arms reach of one another. Provided the town allowed it, I could make it zoo during halloween I bet too. I see alot of value by searching the for sale forum here and see quite a few big scale props which would appear to let me stretch my dollar much much further. I think I"m more concerned on what isn't cheesy and as my other post indicated what a room will cost me and how large that room is. I've seen a haunt which was totally dark but extremely scary. All you could see where lights on the floor with guys with night vision goggles walked around you. These dark rooms, catastrophic rooms, and black light rooms seem very cost effective which seems a good deal for the money.

Greg Chrise
04-03-2011, 08:17 PM
Rooms can and should be sort of small, roughly 12 feet by 8 feet or odd shapes that are less than that. Or you go for a ful 12 by 12 if there is some significant amount of props and scenic dressing. So 10 walls per room at $30 per wall is $300 plus some kind of door header in and out. I do this with panels that are 16 or 18 inches and leave the exit or entry a full panel 4 foot width. The some form of 2x4s would be screwed into the top in a bunch of angles or a full grid to keep all the walls stiff.

If you are clever you can make lots of props for uder $150 per room. That's 12 x8 or 96 square feet. I consider even hallways between rooms to be decor worthy or another room. They become either mini dark mazes or also have something going on with openings in the walls whether is kind of looks like a window or a willy wonka door or bricks missing in the wall or the dredded drop picture or a jail cell type opening. Every 1000 SF section might cost $3,000 to $5,000 and include 6 to 10 rooms.

My original responce what kind of room could you build for $3,000 to $5,000 would be a man cave or kitchen with granite counter tops. See the designers at Home Depot for that. I would buy a truck to move the walls for that much. Or us that much for payroll for a couple weeks.

Being outside a mall this might be under a tent? or several tents that can be rented? Like how they have someone sell oriental rugs for too much or sell Christmas Trees? I wouldn't put more than about 2,000 SF out in a parking lot. I have seen 3,000 and it ended up not being quite as detailed as it should be because of the time to move it in and out, the kind of things you don't mind leaving unsecured in a parking lot? Remove all valuables and lock your car door territory, we are not resoncible for theft kind of deal. You only put things no one would want or could not unbolt.

It could be a cheaper ticket and only 1,000 SF to see if the location works. Sometimes that type of building expecs everyone to be gone by 9 PM to protect all the stores. You can actually be open in broad day light if you do it right when there is alredy exisiting traffic and when everyone is gone you are done too.

I'm not sure what you would have to pet there, all the mutated animals no one cares about? Homeless people with nice hair?

Greg Chrise
04-03-2011, 08:46 PM
A whole 2,000 SF haunt can be done if you make everything yourself and repurpose things from the real world for under $10,000. You might make $3000 to $30,000 the first year. All your totally groovy efforts need to be how attractive the outside looks.

To stay away from cheesy don't paint all the walls with stuff. One room might be weird only like that. No Walmart props. If you must, use those for inspiration to make bigger ones. Hand fashioned figures even crued are apreciated. The walls might be new materials but everything else is something used, disguarded and simply givin a haunt paint job and some cob webs. If something that was free with 10 minutes invested gets turned into kindling who cares.

If you are clever and buy all the wall materials on craigslist, each panel might be $5 with every paint stores used paint on it. That 2,000 SF haunt could really be done with say 120 wall panels at $5 for a total of $600 if you don't mind pulling nails and patching holes. You'll spend more than that like $800 on fire retardant spray and paint additives. Grand total $1500 not including your find crap for the haunt $50 a day rock star budget. $20 in gas and 6 meals a day at McDonalds. Work off that 8,000 per day calorie diet and don't forget onsite porta potties for the revenge of ronald the clown.

The system needs to be up off the ground to let ground water through or you have to build a sand bag wall on the up side of the parking lot so you don't create the Possiedan Adventure haunt in a heavy rain storm.

Now whether you would be allowed to do such a thing and how much the lot rent is, I dunno. You can start out at $8? Something better than that would need to be high dollar detailed with your own watchmen/costumed super heros 24/7.

Greg Chrise
04-03-2011, 09:01 PM
For haunt lighting, jump a fence to a gated community dressed like a Ninja and steal all the little solar side walk lights. Or you gotta have a $600 generator or rent one of those and take it home everynight. If you figure out how to repurpose rich peoples lawn jockeys, garden gnomes and concrete squirrel collection, lemme Know :cool:

04-03-2011, 09:44 PM
LOL funny Greg, No this area with the economy has quite a few vacant spaces. The one I keep eying use to be I think a BBB (Bed, Bath and Beyond). It's gotta be least 10,000sqft. There's the shopping center parking lot, an park and ride across the street, as well as a huge distribution center with a very unused LARGE parking lot across the street too. It's also right next to the highway too.

04-03-2011, 09:58 PM
more nervous I'd f**k up.

Greg Chrise
04-03-2011, 11:12 PM
Those are kinda empty because the rent is about $8,000 per month or $15,000 per month even in hard times.

04-04-2011, 11:50 AM
The most important thing to consider with budget is if you're using investor money, you want to pay back the initial investment within 3 years. So when you do your demographic study (find a marketing intern at a college, they work for free and know how to quickly get that info) , then plan your haunt budget accordingly. It's very tempting to go for all the fun toys, but it's very possible to start off with a reasonable amount and build on it. Last year was our first year and our budget was around $45,000. We went for actors over animatronics and had a very successful first year. The most important thing is to BE SCARY. If your haunt isn't scary the first year out, you'll have a hard time attracting customers back the following year. I expect to pay back our investor within the 3 year time limit and have plenty left over.

04-04-2011, 02:00 PM
I started almost 20 years ago doing haunts.....I think our starting budget at the time was maybe $200 out of my pocket....but we worked with what we had. We scanned the free ads for unwanted building supplies, built most of our props by hand...and most of all relied on the dark to fill in the detail. Our first few years were ok and we usually made a few hundred bucks <mind you this was a tiny town>

As things grew we added on and eventually we decided to move it to the closest big city - When we started doing a haunt in the city we called on all the vacant buildings, informed them of what we wanted to do - we stressed that it would draw people to the property which in turn may help the realtor to fill the space when we left, we also stressed that we would leave the building in the same shape - if not better, than when we start. People have an idea of haunts in their head and seem to think we have to destroy things to make it scary. We would generally get the space for a percentage of the sales, or a flat rate - it helped that we always donated some of our proceeds to charity, we would make the donation in our name as well as the realtors name - they really liked this idea.

Over the years it grew and grew - Due to one fire marshal we ended up taking a $6000 loss one year.....but most years we would break even, and we were ok with that because we loved haunting and it wasn't about money. We are to the point now where everyone knows about us in the area and have a repeat customer base and are considered one of the best haunts in Northern Michigan by many. Our budget has grown to about $30k a year after paying rent, utilities, storage <we still do not have a permanent location>, etc. We pump that right back into next years show for advertising and new additions.

So my suggestion for a starting budget is.....A Love of what you are doing!!!! Without that your haunt will not survive, you can always tell which haunts do it for money and which ones are in it for the sheer enjoyment of what they do - and with imagination and some thinking you can make a haunt with any budget at all.

Good Luck!!!!!!

04-05-2011, 02:04 PM
For a first time haunt, advertising is key. I don't know how much you might be spending (which will vary on your area and how efficient you are able to handle and hire a team to build the haunt.) I'd recommend using cheap labor including vollunteers and day laborers from Home Depot to keep labor costs down. Instead, I would pack about 40% of your costs on advertising.

Expect to spend about 100k-150k. It always comes out to be more than expected...because you should have very strict goals to conserve money.

Nathan Polanco