View Full Version : Off season opportunities?

11-30-2007, 08:23 AM
This past season we changed our haunt to a Victorian mansion floor plan. For our scenes we mimicked the rooms from the board game Clue and added a couple of rooms that are not included in the game. However, the story line we used leaned more toward Rose Red with the house itself being the main character. Awakening a dead cell as in the Steven King story. This is our third year in this same location, and we are pleased with our turn out during the Halloween season. However, since we lease this location the entire year, we are planning on changing the venue slightly to be able to open throughout the off season as an interactive murder mystery for private parties. The city we are in has activities and events nearly year round that bring in a large number of visitors almost to our front door. I was wondering if anyone else has made use of their haunt in a similar manner. And if so, how successful it was.

11-30-2007, 09:21 PM

If there are other reasons for you to get traffic by your place, it could work.
trying to create an event on your own and advertise it on your own, when it may be just for a day or two is really hard.

Like Larry always says, it takes two weeks of word of mouth to get the ball rolling, and by then your event is over.

BUT if it's in conjunction with other stuff right next door, it may be worth it. and I do mean right next door.

The more average joe, blue collar area you are, there are ton of people who will LOVE you in the fall, and just walk past you saying " it's too early for halloween"
or too late or whatever. at other times of the year

hell, we got that at promotions in August for the Halloween movie.
people who are friends and customers, and are ON THIER WAY in to see the movie, telling us, it's not halloween time yet, why are you dressed up.

But now that you're in a permenent location, and don't have set up, it could be good in conjuction with other events.

try to get a bulk ticket going, like, they pay for you plus other stuff in town, so when those others sell the tickets, you'd get your cut whether the people come se you or not. and they may come see you just cause they got a great deal, and then you can hook them for Halloween as well.

Greg Chrise
11-30-2007, 09:34 PM
I have seen some failures and some hear tale of a success or sorts. It comes down to mindset.

Off season, the demographic changes to being kids of school age and the occasional parent. Not using Ripply's believe it or not or any majorly funded company year round haunt as an example, there are paintball games, lazer tag arenas, Family entertainment centers of wide variety. They range from a large building with inflateable landscapes to crawl and slide on to a building full of token operated arcade games.

What it comes down to is.....If you consider how much effort it takes or the money it takes to get a few hundred people a week in your haunt or as other events exist nearby, it cancels out on what the ticket price will bring in. Anything from miniature golf to a pin ball machine brings in more per square foot. Any form of common self empoyment with a piece of equipment such as welding or painting, even pressurewashing makes more per hour than such an event.

Unless you have the mindset that every opening of the door is quite alright to just continually break even as it is indeed the advertising for the Autumn haunted house event. To be realistic, you have some event in town, and are able to invite somewhere between 12 to 80 people. You must operate in a maner thet the guests pretty much entertain themselves such as playing a game or only get scared 5 times and that is that. With each occurance is the chance to invite them to the fall festivities that are obviously 75 actors and has things going on and so forth.

I have watched what should have been the ultimate set up in a large FEC in a town of 240,000 right near 4.5 million and it should have been grand except the haunt guy thought at any time there needs to be 10 people to run the thing or somehow didn't convey it could be run by two inspired people. The FEC people has no problem putting people in place (on the payroll) but, the real choice of the customers was not to do the haunted house, there were so many things competing for their attention and it was low on the list fro the customers perspective. To combat this, the offering needed much better facades, signage and of course shouldn't just be sitting there with the front door open and no one in attendance. Then people kind of check it all out for free. Quite frankly what they moved out of the space to have an exciting haunted house, made more per hour regularly and was far more obviously requested to do than a haunted house.

In the big picture? You might not walk away with nothing more than a few left overs to much on from an off season event, but, in a bigger scope, it is like you spent each and every one of those dollars on some high dollar advertising campaign. It is tough for those that want the big bucks now to see this method of operating. Why would you provide a service that sometimes you even lose money? Actually I do this in my day business to an extent. Every opportunity to provide a service is another opportunity to go see what work is available and be part of what ever the planning to do bigger projects are. A form of advertising that simply states that you are able and available.

Then of course those of us that are a bit nuts emailed each other and came up with dozens of off season money making things from the same core equipment that is a haunted house.

Things like playing clue in the real world
using the sets as a photo back drop
running a spooky TV show from the sets
hide and go seek games
a more theatrical presentation by a single guide rather than 75 people in costume

Offer the facilities to a LARP group
I think it could be a lazer tag arena
Mine is used off season as a fire fighter training center for about a month but, this makes no real money.
Of course you already have this Ironstock event.

There are opportunities that seem a little off the wall that tie in to a haunted house. Here there are chruches on every corner whereas in Indiana there might be bars and taverns on every corner. So here and everywhere there is an unseen activity where churches have youth pastors and ministers that have activities to keep the young ones off the streets and guide them toward the church for when they become collecting plate age. So, many of the larger churches have turned a large building into a scenic design with a stage for a band to play and open space for what ever activity they can dream up. They also get them in busses and vans and take them places for scavenger hunts of a sort, even if it is reporting on the world at large like, what did you see in a haunted house and what is up with that.

Well, this isn't what you had in mind nut the pastor walks up with money that came from their budget out of the collection plate and pays for tickets for all the kids who can't on their own. They show up every year by tickets and probably spend the rest of the year in religious therapy discussing what they have seen. Bottom line is they bought tickets and had an activity. Country wide this is something that is "happening" as the churches actually compete for what doesn't suck as activities for the children. I discovered this only because I was alone at dinner in a resturant one night and a group of pastors started a conversation with me that sucked from the very first. I don't generally have sports talk because I hate sports and they were a little loud so I couldn't help looking at them. They had a dream of better decorating their little attraction which I kind of poo pooed thinking it was a place under a tree with a bench and a rock. No, it was a freaking 100 foot by 300 foot metal building entirely devoted to only the youth ministry.

And they wanted 150 lineal feet of highly detailed sets to a theme they had in mind. And they want to pay for it. So if such a place existed for the youth groups out there to go, you have a cottage industry.

In season we had churches showing up enmass to our family event with the youth ministers walking up to the ticket booth with a hand full of money as it seems all the youth ministers from all the churches like to share ideas regardless of how stuffy the old preists are about every other religion seems to have it wrong.

There are more ideas than this obviously. It comes down to the opportunity is how to talk to people and figure out what they want and need. Frankly at this restautant I was quite rude to these guys in the form of being pretty disrespectfull about what ever normal topic they wanted to discuss like footbal, church, children untill they discovered my subject, the haunted house. Plus once seeing the place having enough balls to walk into a big church and ask where this guy is.

This same thing is how Family Entertainment Centers, and even mid sized amusement parks are promoted. Today is this school district's day. Today is the others. The customers become the college art class to the history class from in my town 3 different colleges.

Greg Chrise
11-30-2007, 09:35 PM
Then there is this shitty haunt in Shanghai China that is tremendously lame with about 5 scares that has become a world wide sensation because they are promoting the hell out of it with every news group known to man. They get celebrities in there and scare them and video tape it and wala, there is your free advertising on You Toob. It claims they text message the working class who just needs a reason to escape and relax by being scared and so it is something new that you must do and of course it is open every evening and reservations must be made. There is kind of a high population there and it is not old hat to them as there haven't been haunts for 30 years, to them it is totally unexpected and changing what ever is in there. It has even been an episode on Chinese TV with goofy scares like a samuri is going to karate chop you and an old woman is looking at you from under a sheet. Never the less they have matched the demand with what works for now. The latest video I saw was the girl from Resident Evil was taken through. So every one looking to find out about Resident Evil or this girl sees her go through a haunted house if they are intrested in such a thing.

In America it is not new, but, something that has only not been done by younger people. Everything to do with a haunted house still works because they are generally in a supervised, protected indoor, fabricated environment untill they are old enough to escape and run wild through the ghetto and get scared for what ever is in their pockets or for their fancy shoes.

But, in the case of a haunted house, every off season customer, even if you only see 100 people a month or less, is your further precious opportunity to personally invite them to the fall haunt or other similar events, developing regular customers that those 2.5 minute tours and running to the cars in October don't afford you. This personal invitation implies even with out asking that they will be bringing others and talking about it to many. You know you have heard 40,000 times in your business life that the best advertising is word of mouth advertising. Who said this? Confucius? Reader's Digest?

As a customer, I kept track of one haunt I visited over 30 times and many times paid for others (many different small groups) to watch their reactions as I studied haunts. I probably at $23 a pop for me and others gave that haunted house $1400. I bought a hearse because they advertised free parking for hearse. I spent $5,000 to save $2 parking and get a spot up front. Okay, there is the underlying secret. People want to be involved and will pay. If your haunt is highly developed and interactive and you treat customers as they are important they will come back over and over, many times the same year just to see what you have come up with. This haunt is more than an hour away so I probably spent another $1400 on gas to get there.

The other reason many have failed off season is they expect you need not engage the customers at all. You must have the skills to interact with each and every off season customer as if they are the only one you are telling this information to and put something in their head and maybe a brochure or a coupon?

The failed ones expected someone else to do everything or to be able to just buy something rather than earn something. They expected that because something was going on over here it would be some kind of percentage formula and money in the bank with out having a personality to begin with.

As far as formulas go, inviting other haunters to your event off season is only about 10% of the off season clientel potential but, every area requires sitting on the curb with no responcibities and wonder how does this town work?

I still to this day, even having my own haunt, mention two or three others that have somehow effected me probably 20 times more than my own event.

12-01-2007, 11:37 AM
it sounds like it has potential if you had another reason to get them in. other wise the advertisng cost would not bring in enough sales to pay for its self. i would think which i dont to much

Jim Warfield
12-01-2007, 01:39 PM
I have observed in this part of the world that any business needs to be able to hang in there for at least three years to know if they will be developing a base of customer support.
Three years of everything, a viable product, positive referrals from past customers,enough open business hours to please your clientel, ads and free-bees in the form of newspaper articles about your "new" business, tourist publications, trade association group ad programs, Chamber of Commerce help with promotions, but mostly, you just have to be able to keep the doors open and do the best that you possibly can by those people who you rely upon for financial support.
"Happy" customers bring more customers.

12-01-2007, 04:30 PM
and thats a good reply i was always tought in business the three year rule! 3 to servive five to strive.
it is only my opinion but a business plan should always have a three year projection and a five year when soliciting financial support.

unless you can handle it yourself which most cant.

i use the old plant saying i have always adhered to as a colector of exotic meat eatersLOl the first year they sleep the second they creep the third they leap then look out.

Gore Galore
12-02-2007, 08:53 AM
I know the location quite well. It is in my home town. It is right across the street from a major hotel and venue. But the demographic that attends this music venue is much older. And it is a major traffic street in the downtown.
Marketed properly and I seriously think Ironman could have something here.
But it really is going to be a matter of getting the word out.
This city has the most restaurants per capita of any city in the mid west. So, its population does like to get out and enjoy themselves. well, atleast stuff their faces.

Greg Chrise
12-02-2007, 11:51 AM
Okay, the Rippley's Haunted Adventure is right across the street, a walking non traffic seat of walking only in San Antonio right across the street from the Alamo which sees millions per year. In the begining years they saw generally 100 to 150 per night on weekdays and the most was 350 in a night in July when another festival was going on. At $23 a pop this would be very respectable for a small venue but, I wondered how many millions this portion of the building actually cost that they were in. The other half of the multi story building is a Believe it or Not Museum.

In comparison, 90 percent of the haunted attractions I have traveled to see think putting a vinyl banner on a crappy old metal building or store front is some how going to sway cutomers to come running.

Rippley's opened up the store front structurally so that the facade is maybe 60 by 100 of just themed entry with an incline trolley taking you to the second or third floor fully in view. An actor is rigged with a microphone, in costume and voice changer system continually interacting (screwing with) potential patrons walking by and creating a scene that attracts attention.

So this facade cost with detailed shipping crate look and spooky things mabe $200,000 to $300,000. The haunt itself is nice but low detail and standard fare that at such a price per person does not have enough detail or script interaction to warrant ever taking the tour more than once. The market however would be tourists that might be considered to only visit the city once.

Even the Ravens Grin Inn, an all year long event, if you consider all the outdoor stuff a facade is maybe 8,000 to 10,000 SF of stuff, in some instances 50 feet in the air. The value is unknown by me but is two decades of building things that will inspire people to stand ther looking and wondering so they can be approached for a tour.

In other words it could work needs to be turned into it must be made to work by getting out there and working. Hustling up the crowds and such. Regular businesses fail all the time thinking all they need to do is have some stuff, buy a neon open sign and sit there waiting for someone to show up. There is nothing extra ordinarily inviting about a neon open sign unless you can also smell pizza over the car exhaust smell on the street.

Our place is 6 miles out of town and opens at 7 PM. I will cruise around in the hearse with signage until sometimes 8:30 to places that have crowds. Sort of like cruise night at Sonic only hit about 6 places where the traffic makes me drive through slow, even grocery stores and movie theaters, even Walmart. By time I get back to the Haunt, there is a respectable line because they were inspired right now and then to take action. Some places will park several hearses at several locations but, I only have one and don't intend on getting more because it moves. This makes up for no advertising budget or botched advertising for a smaller haunt. It still might cost $20 in gas.

Along the line I have seen some creative ways to advertize. For example, a cut out cartoon character holding fliers to a local football game that of course is selling tickets. Why not have such a thing in the entry way of restaurants and pay to have a Frankenstien or spooky butler guy with buisness card or post card sized invites. Be willing to pay for the mini location as much as a candy machine would make?

I've seen haunts with city streets have two or three monsters slowing cars and handing out coupons.

Not that any one of these techniques alone is that great, but it is continuous work to have strangers asking what is that about and force the locals to be in the know. You have done your job when you drive down the street and get shout outs anywhere in town. Or chanting as the line of cars come out of some local big plant shouting out.

Frighteners Entertainment
12-02-2007, 12:45 PM
I definitely think something like this could work. Promoting with the restaurants for package deals and such. Being one that has gone to a few murder mystery theaters myself. Much fun to be had!

Jim Warfield
12-02-2007, 01:40 PM
Gregg, As you drive by the plant and guys are shouting out to you I hope it doesn't become too scary for you.
"That guy in the hearse is the guy I saw your ex-wife with last Tuesday at the bowling alley!"
"Oh, yah? He will be riding in the back of his hearse when I get done with him!"

12-04-2007, 08:06 AM
Thank you all for your input. With any idea I have, I try to be as analytical as possible, but it’s easy to be biased on your own idea simply because of your desire for it to work. Which is the main reason I posted here….to get a few outside views on the project. As Kevin said, our haunt is located in downtown Owensboro, KY. right across the street from one of the largest convention center complex and hotels in the area. Due to this, we get quite a few extra patrons during the season besides our local traffic. For example; this year there was a national girls collegiate volleyball conference held there, and thanks to that, we had several bus loads of lady ballers visiting us making our second week-end numbers really great. Owensboro also has a very aggressive downtown activity program in place that promotes a variety of festivals and conventions throughout the year. There is an annual BBQ Fest in May that brings in nearly 100K people for a week, a new mystery writer’s convention in June that runs 10 days and has gotten quite a bit of attention for it’s first year binging in writers from all over the US and Canada, plus a series of smaller street type festivals all summer long called ‘Fridays After Five’ that offer concerts along the river front and other nightly activities that are very popular. And just this past October a new ghost walk tour started that has really caught on. All of these things take place within a two to six block area of our haunt. And…..since, like most haunted houses, our building is dormant most of the year, it has prompted me into trying to come up with an alternate venue that could work for us with the least amount of alteration to our floor plan.

Frighteners Entertainment
12-04-2007, 08:37 AM
If you haven't already attended a murder mystery yet, I would suggest doing so. Besides having a good time, it's also a good way to network.
There are also companies that you can hire to come out and put it together for you until you get the swing of it.

Greg Chrise
12-04-2007, 06:43 PM
Yes, it is still a haunt, a themed facility where once through the entry area is a very large queue area with tables and chairs like a mini convention or gathering. With a podium and audio visual/PA system available. A gathering for dinners and such relative to each conventions largest groups. $10 a person per pop just for the facilities and they provice all the VIP doings such as caterers and what ever their expectations are, you just have the place and the lists of information for the out of towners to do a quick arrangement deal.

The haunt is used only according to payment as a scavenger hunt, corporate team building thing.

Or we are back to a grand facade to attract the bored convention goers.

I've been watching some Internet types and the conventions include splurging on limos and super limo busses with stripper poles and wet bars wisking the elite, invite only away to an evenings entertainment.

All that is required is that some segment of the existing conventions has an elite that thinks they are special. It wouldn't matter if it was a bowling convention. Some big bowling ball would sponsor a gathering for all their affiliates and associates and you have the place.

Usually the haunt would just be boarded up but, for more local clientel, they have been there because of the convention, as a result intimately know where it is, how to get there and would be intrigued enough to come back in the fall? Especially if they got some creepy key chain thank you gifts to remember their gathering.

It could be a place for pre convention training, post convention sell out and auctions all in the space that would be a huge queue area in season.

Jim Warfield
12-06-2007, 07:15 AM
During October I will always hear some very enthusiastic customers ask if I would ever have a Christmas /haunt or a New Years /haunt event?

Well, boys and girls, I can plan all of those that anyone can imagine...but like today it's -02 degrees here! Not a temperature to inspire a festive mood.
Then add snow, ice unpredictable possibly life-threatening weather and surprise surprise! Nobody shows up!!???
Go figure?
"Getting here is NOT half the fun!" (An old ad line )
Once theyr'e here I can turn on all three furnaces and make it nice .(I used to only have one furnace, I could probably use a couple more)
They must overcome their fear of the Weather Boogieman! I do stress on my answering machine to NOT come here if the weather looks to be real bad.
"I'm calling from my cell phone, I'm in a faded white VW beetle at the bottom of a 50 foot ditch I slid into and I think the snowplow person didn't see me and covered my car pretty good, can you bring a shovel and find me, please? Before the cell phone battery dies?"

Greg Chrise
12-06-2007, 06:35 PM
Today in my part of Texas it was 67 degrees. This doesn't mean it is fun time for the locals though, it means it is time you had better be working your butt off in this new economy of $3 gas prices and 1986 pay rates. The end result is that people are under too much stress and have worked all day and somehow every one has two things on their mind.

Christmas is coming so they have to spend money on that and hopefully if it all works out righ the tax refund might bring something to themselves several months later. Non of this sounds like even Mickey Rooney could say "hey kids! Let's put on a show!" which of course was a story about the great depression where everyone was out of work and couldn't work if they wanted to and there was nothing better to do than create the baby boom generation and entertain themselves.

So, unless you are prepared for small tours once a night or once every other night, It might be a disappointment. That's the customers, now how about finding psychopaths that want to be scary 365 days per year that aren't already incarsarated or on the run? Is there a dental plan?

12-13-2007, 02:51 AM
I've actually posted on this before, because I think people should be able to keep their haunts open year around for this type of thing, or group tours from out of state groups and stuff.

A haunted house owner could contact someone who produces these shows and rent the place out. You make a few bucks and do no work.

Another thing is why not open with a very limited staff in the spring and summer? Just join your local tourist association and they'll give you leads on all groups coming to town.

I'm planning on doing it full time once my new addition gets built to the building.


Jim Warfield
12-13-2007, 10:20 PM
Let me make a guess Larry. Your new addition will be highly automatic in nature I assume?
Nobody can afford to a payroll for people standing around waiting.
I know that is the boogieman for most haunts since they need more than a skeleton crew to operate with or without aneshetic unless those skeletons are all Buckys.
To make it more fun for groups when there are none or very few haunt-actors on duty I try to create ways that the group can see to find ways to scare one another , with maybe a very small hint or two from me..........

Greg Chrise
12-14-2007, 03:11 PM
The new addition has a secondfloor one way mirror keep all your eggs in one basket and keep your eyes on that basket kind of thing with couches and coffee bringers. Or it is the Las vegas style security camera war room. Here you make out tabs for damage to hand out at the end of sublet events. Oh, yeah doob, that's a $12,000 pop up you just messed with, are you gonna pay cash or get it on credit for $24,000?

12-18-2007, 07:00 AM
Our mystery plan involves a very minimal staff. The idea is to bring a limited group of guests into a presentation room set up in the existing queue line area and lay out the scenario through telling the story along with accompanying slide and video of the crime scene. Since this was an unsolved murder from the past, each member of the group will be given a packet that includes background sheets on the individual players in the crime, police reports, newspaper clippings, and photos of any physical evidence. This would involve a few of our actors coming in for staged pictures ahead of time, but not actually working the haunt for the event. By doing it this way, we can easily alter the story line and change the outcome of the mystery occasionally by simply changing a few of the clues. Once this initial presentation is made, the ‘players’ now take on the roll of cold case detectives and wander through the house collecting clues that will decisively point to the killer and solve the case.

We have never had a problem coming up with a story line for our haunt, but we have discovered that writing a detailed mystery that intertwines various scenarios is really hard to do without inadvertently injecting a bit of horror. So, we have managed to convince a professor friend that teaches literature at a local college to make a story writing project out of it for his classes. We have laid out the basic guide lines and layout of the house for them, and hopefully we will end up with several stories that we can use in the future. We have also tossed around the idea of coming up with an additional story of mysterious sightings and happenings in an old mansion. This would then make the group paranormal investigators rather than crime detectives. This also allows us to use some of the existing animations and gags that we would normally not use for the murder mystery.

In the past week I have run this idea past several local groups such as the visitor’s assoc., the local theater workshop, downtown merchant’s group, etc., and so far all the feed back has been very encouraging. Some of the merchants have even offered whatever help they can to assist us in kicking this off.

12-18-2007, 09:49 PM
SInce you have a clue type layout ... do live action board games. We do that and it works out well.

12-19-2007, 06:09 AM
Our attraction is operated in conjunction with a Family Entertainment Center. We have all the essentials, Bowling, Go Karts, Mini Golf, even a bar for the adults. This has allowed us the opportunity to open at anytime of the summer (any other time is too cold) and we would get a decent turn out if we were to do so, if not only because it is "another activity". And, in a way, that is why we do not open in the off season. We pride ourselves on our intensity and our ability to produce a fresh, exciting show every year. And we work hard to put it in peoples minds that despite being at a fun center, we are NOT a childrens attraction. If we were to open, i believe it would just further the childrens mindset, and/or make people feel like they have already seen our show, before we ever REALLY open. If your attraction has the ability to open in the off season, ask yourself a few things... will people be detered in october if we open now? Will it be worth the extra effort? Are we losing any kind of reputation by opening? Over all, it could be VERY effective if you already cater to the little ones, but if you want to drive them away in October, I wouldnt recommend opening in the off season.

Jim Warfield
12-19-2007, 08:53 AM
Good point , Steve.
In the opposite direction of things I knew some guys who were all very eager to have a haunt UNTIL a location for it was proposed to be in the spacious basement of their property!
They had a business upstairs that catered to mostly elderly people and they assumed that somehow, even though I am sure none of their elderly patrons would actually ever frequent their haunt, that bad PR would result because afterall the basement was dirty and dusty(as most basements are)

In opposition to your arguement though there is the human "Boredom Factor" which has people wanting to experience almost anything out of season whether it is a sporting event or a holiday situational experience.
Granted, your off season customers would mostly be halloween enthusiasts and would probably not be worth the effort financially to put in the time hanging around waiting, add a payroll obligation and it really becomes strained. It would require alot of years of advertising being open to create any possible regular clients for what you are offering, off-season.
Yes, I know this all very well, from personal experience.

Frighteners Entertainment
12-20-2007, 07:38 AM
Groovy IM. I do hope this venture pays off. My assumption is that LI is putting th show together already!?

12-22-2007, 08:57 AM
Thanks Jeff, we hope it works out. Melissa is definitely in on every aspect of the plan, but she’s working six days a week right now out in the real world, and you might remember that we have a self imposed ban on talking Halloween from November through December. However, since this is technically NOT Halloween related, it is a main topic of conversation here. We also hooked up with a small independent horror movie being filmed in Owensboro, and we are building some of the effects and she is doing the make up, so that has taken any extra time that she has until the shooting is wrapped up in January.

Frighteners Entertainment
12-22-2007, 09:38 AM
Awesome! If there is anything I can help you out with, just give a jingle.