View Full Version : Am I crazy considering opening a haunt for $50,000?

01-24-2008, 04:07 PM
Well, before you answer that please consider the following:

My company is known for our elaborate theme parties, mostly done for bar and nightclub venues, Halloween being our biggest event. In addition to my company, I am a professional bartender.

We have exhaustively researched the haunt industry for over eight years, attending several of the Halloween and Party and IAAPA conventions, including seminars and traveled across the US to visit some of the most popular haunts (Rocky Point, The Beast, Edge of Hell, The Darkness, Pirates of Emerson, Headless Horseman, Spookyworld and many more). I have seen and read most of the haunt videos and books which are available. We have a very detailed business plan, power point presentation, art work, logos, and even a mock up of one of our haunts, etc, etc.

I live in a very large city (don’t want to disclose) which has less than 20 haunts and corn mazes, most of which are poorly done and overpriced for the experience. The market is fairly new and uneducated on haunted attractions, mostly due to the fact of poor detail and overall poor experiences.
The one thing that caught my attention when traveling and talking to other haunters was their memories - visiting haunted houses during their childhood and how they would make it a point to go every year. I had no such experiences in my market, simply because there were none.

So, what’s my problem? - CAPITAL!
Over the years we have presented our project to many potential investors, but are reluctant to invest because of how the haunted attractions are perceived in my market and I also do believe that more people are not willing to part with their money especially in our financial market today. We have also have worked with banks and city programs, which all require a partial investment on our part – hence the saying: “It takes money to make money”. I did have one bank loan me $50,000 for expanding my current company, which we all know it is not even close to what I need for my whole project.

So, this is what I have:
My home sits on almost an acre lot approx. 15 min. from downtown. I figure that I can use at least half of my property for my attraction. It is on a very busy road. I have a 1200 sq. ft. garage/building on the back of my property, were I host our annual Halloween private parties. My property is in an un-incorporated part of the city and zoned Agricultural, which means I able to do my event at my location. The back and side of my property is next to a church parking lot. The other side of my property is farmed by my neighbor. Most of the area I live around is small farmland and industrial with a few homes scattered around. The night temp in October is usually around 45-50 degrees and snow could possibly be a small issue, but usually gone in a day or two if it did occur.

So, my plan/goals:
Produce a simple unique and entertaining open-air venue with elaborate detailing, utilizing great actors and scares to create an awesome experience for a reasonable ticket price.
Budget approx. $20,000 for advertising and promotions and use the remaining amount for building materials and props.
Utilize my garage as a ticket booth and actor area, since I will not be able to use for customers without adding sprinklers.
Give the church a kickback on our admission for using their parking lot.
Convince the farmer next door to grow a corn patch for an added attraction.
Come up with some elaborate publicity stunt – because we going to need all the help we can get!
Overall, to produce an unforgettable attraction/show and start to create a higher standard within my market and attract a potential investor.

So, what do I need?
Any suggestions or comments will be welcomed.
Am I really crazy for considering this for such a small amount of money?

Thank you for reading and any suggestions or comments that you can provide,

01-24-2008, 05:00 PM
ANYONE that opens a haunt is a bit crazy! :)

Seriously though, you never know unless you try. I have known some haunts that have a budget of $200k and they fail. I alsoi know of some that start smaller than yours and succeed. It seems like you have a good plan, advertisin budget is OK IF you spend wisely. for $20k you might end up with 8,000 customers IF the formula the industry says works holds true. I used to doubt that formula, but the past 3 years it has been REALLY close to being true at my haunt.

The main thing you have to remember is MOST likely, you will lose money the 1st year, break even #2 and start to make $ year 3. Can you deal with that?

01-24-2008, 06:53 PM
The first year is always the hardest, for a variety of reasons. You need to buy everything to start and (relatively) little the years after that. Advertising is also a little easier in ensuing years with good word-of-mouth talk, so it's important that it's all good. Something I am working on this year is alternative forms of advertising, since conventional media doesn't seem to be that effective. You essentially need to create a buzz, and newspapers don't do that unless someone recalls seeing your ad and begins discussing it with family/friends. TV/radio are better but again, you have that short attention span/sensory overload thing where the potential customer quickly forgets about it.

It sounds like you have a good start based on your background. Planning, preparation and an early start will be important this year.

And you definitely have to be crazy, at least a little. A lot helps. Read the posts by Jim Warfield for proof.

Greg Chrise
01-24-2008, 07:10 PM
It wasn't hard for us to originally go from 80 people to 3,000 by adding spooky things as we could afford even with a minor amount of advertising at grass roots level.

This did not carry over to being a pro haunt and talking to others it seems to hold true. The customers from the origional home shop location did not patronize a later commercial endevor.

It doesn't take much to turn one acre into a zoo, being too popular, noisy and possibly a traffic accident waiting to happen out on the main road.

There is a big distinction between being a party that people stand around all night and an attraction that cycles people at some figure per hour.

In retrospect, the small parties made as much or more in one night than two weeks at a proper facility within miles of each other. A year or so ago, someone joined the forum that did large parties in Florida and that got me thinkng that for this particular area going back to the party atmosphere with the attraction as just an activity might be something to go back to.

Most rural events, especially on the grazzing trails of larger cities with 20 lame haunts needs to be on 18 or 46 or 56 acres. Of course we are talking half a mill spent, not $20K

Over all there is no way to tell how a community will react until you do it. The party goers will not be your customers and the haunt customers can't be excited about a party in great numbers. Either can be a population that needs quite the infastructure and manning the event.

Parties can be moved to larger facilities and they do follow. Haunts start out brand new with each move and take years to develop a clientel.

But, what was the well detailed ammenities of our original parties that charged admission to the whole property is what became the first prop haunt. Each year more as added, entirely new things were cycled and storage off site was filled up.

Still to me even $20,000 is real money. No need to spend that much if it grows organically over time and always pays for itself. Then when you out grow the property with the event or simply you and the neighbors can no loger tolerate what gets torn up, you have the first bigger thing ready to go. It is no longer a what if proposal, it is I have this equipment and I'm going to use it.

01-25-2008, 09:53 PM
I Say Go For It And Do It If It Has A Good Business Plan Or You Have One Heck Of A Pair Of Pant To Ge Tby On.

Why Not.

RJ Productions
01-25-2008, 11:51 PM
While the property is zoned agricultural, a thing to consider is parking. I know from when I opened a children's theater. They look at the space and the possible occupancy and then is a parking formula. You may be required to have more space for parking than you do for the haunt!!!!

You mentioned a church nearby. any chance of using their parking space?
Maybe even use the church or a youth program within the church as a sponsor.

The biggest problem in a non-commercial area is the impact. Having a small business and having a couple customers showing up is one thing, have several hundred all showing up at once is another!

Also with 20 establish attractions, will your market support another attraction??
You may think they all suck, but the uneducated audience is already used to them. You may want to raise the bar, but the audience will lump you right in with the rest of them.

Good luck

01-26-2008, 12:24 AM
I also think that being in a market with 20 or so other haunts, will hurt you more than help you. Yes, those haunts might suck in your opinion, but you will need to come out with a BANG!!! To me, $20K is a LOT of advertising- compared to my first haunt: total advertising dollars brought in roughly 3X the amount as anticipated. This is mainly due to the fact that we made it our goal to go all out our first year, and work hard to get better every year therafter. For us- as with every other haunt- it was word-of-mouth that made our year.

So for you- it will be hard to get your name at the top of the list in your market, but that will be your key- in a 3 year plan. The general rule for haunts- as stated ealier, is 2nd year brake even and 3rd year start making somewhat of profit. To me, it didnt work that way. I was actually making money(after total investment of last 6 years) during our 2nd season.

To me, it's all about how you market your haunt, and how aggressive you are every night.

I dont want to fill this thread up, but I can keep on for a long time, over what I've learned. So if you want to PM me, I'll be glad to throw in more info for you.

01-26-2008, 12:36 AM
you have a done deal with the church to have use of their parking lot. What if the church board decides that a haunted house is too anti-Christian and changes it's mind? What if some of them go through your haunt the first night, are aghast at what they see, and lock the gates to their lot? Just something to consider.

A local Christian group has begun having a Harvest Festival on Halloween to draw kids away from the school carnival. The carnival organizers aren't the devil-worshipers they are made out to be; they just want to promote a successful fundraiser that will assist the school's programs for the rest of the year.

Greg Chrise
01-26-2008, 09:18 AM
With every new haunt we build in the area, another church has a harest gathering which seems to be fill the parking lot with tables for some kind of shin dig.

To me it is like Pep Boys and Autozone. All over the country they are right next to each other, totally seperate companies but, different customers. A split of the I need it done and the Do it yourself people.

But, not all churches are against you. We have a phenomina having to do with the youth Ministers bringing bus loads of children on some kind of scavenger hunt of Experiences to discuss. They come every year so it must give them something to talk about for some time to come.

Who will win this battle of their minds, the over enthusiastic Youth Leader or the black plywood habitrail of death? Let their IQ sort it out.

Greg Chrise
01-26-2008, 09:20 AM
Man I'm a genius

Church goers need it done for them.
Haunt Goers do it for themselves.

01-26-2008, 12:37 PM
Hey, drop me an e-mail at nuupiper@aol.com

I'll send you my cell number and you can call me if you like. I get tired typing and have a lot to say. All good.

Tim Harkleroad

King of the semi-successful budget haunt.

Jim Warfield
01-26-2008, 09:23 PM
Does "Semi-Successful" mean you need a semi to haul all the money to the bank each day?
I just use a chromed wheelbarrow, I like to flaunt it!

Greg Chrise
01-26-2008, 09:39 PM
Means you can afford to take calls on the cell phone, still a few months out of the season. The rest of your hot cash tribute to the underground economy can reside on gift cards. Continental breakfast in the morning is first come first serve and the coffee is burnt.