View Full Version : Yet another haunt startup thread...

10-27-2008, 03:40 PM
Okay, so i've been a member of these forums for a while now. The posts from hopeful haunt entrepreneurs are countless, and usually have the same tone to them.

"i went to a haunt and it looked really cheap and easy, and i think if i do it i'll get rich quick with absolutely no headaches involved whatsoever... how much money do i need?"

this isn't one of those threads.

In my time spent quietly lurking from thread to thread, reading the great advice everyone has interjected along the way, i think I've come up with a pretty good start up scenario. Though, not perfect, mind you. I think this could actually hold its own.

Recently, I had to "downgrade my living conditions" aka, move from a city of roughly 300 thousand souls, to a sad 2,000. Family issues, what can i say?

well, looking at the town i live in now, and comparatively looking at the city i used to live in, there is still so much potential for a Halloween entertainment market, it makes my fangs drool, pardon the Halloween puns but it IS that time of year, afterall. The plan, for me, is to move back to civilization eventually, in the mean time, there is nothing stopping me from building a halloween entertainment company to move back with.

Rent in this tiny town is cheap. Dirt cheap. We live in a nation with a struggling economy, and small towns arent doing well. People with empty property are still having to shell out those precious property taxes, which havent really lowered much in the past few years here, despite the financial turmoil everywhere.

Recently, one of the 2 supermarkets in town upgraded to a newer, shinier, larger location, effectively abandoning their previous post, a large turn-of-the-century mainstreet usa type of building.... the aging aesthetics lend heavily to its appeal for me. Cheap rent, creepy building... this is going great so far, at least in my mind.

With absolutely nothing in town to relieve any sort of cabin fever, or creativity buildup, i'm going to begin sculpting again, something that i've always had a natural knack for... of course, im not talking about sculpting home-decor or coffee mugs, but halloween props, masks, and the like.

Also, the benefit to a small town, is the lack of funding that many of the highschool programs here have. Both the drama club and music departments here are out in the corn fields of rural nebraska, removing brown paper bags from corn stalks for up to 6 hours a day on the weekends, only to raise 100 or so dollars per person. (pardon the joke, but there is a lack of illegal imigrants here to perform farm labor for cheap, highschoolers are the next best thing apparently.)

My brilliant scheme would be to build most all of my own props (it keeps me busy and content with my surroundings). Rent a cheap space, like the creepy old general store. And build a haunt that can help support the school programs that desprately need fund raising this time of year.

This would of course be "for profit" though i wouldnt expect the population here to provide enough patrons to actually turn much profit, if anything i would be breaking even. The true goal is to build up an arsenal of props, scenery, effects, show systems, and invaluable haunting experience that i can take with me a few years down the road to a larger city in need of a decent haunt.

I'm not quiting my day job on some get rich quick scheme, i'm not even going all-out my first year in operation. I'm providing a haunted attraction to a town that doesn't have one, gaining experience, and building a new business one step at a time. By offering support to local school programs, i could legally get some cheap labor, and get the community involved at the same time.

To supplement the haunt, if need be, I could also put some of my better props and creations online as a haunted effects supplier, also... starting small with a focus on quality and not so much quantity. We dont need any more of those kinds of dealers in the industry, that much is certain.

There is a lot that can be done on a budget, and still amaze a town that doesn't get access to these events every year.

Though everything here seems to fit into place in my mind, i would love input from the rest of you!

Dr. Giggles
10-27-2008, 03:45 PM
There you go. A lot of people try to go into it with a bang...and start HUGE...it usually fails. I think you have a great plan!

Greg Chrise
10-27-2008, 06:25 PM
Smaller towns generally are charity haunts or what would be considered lots of people having fun. There is no law stopping a bunch of entusiasts coming together to be actors in a haunt. It is all in how it is "solicited" or comes about. Soliciting being bad and generally no one goes for.

It is not uncommon for still $25,000 per season in resources being devoted to entertain 400 to 800 guests in a small town. So, obviously if you could charge say $10 a head for the offering even with all the best masks, props and detailing, the event loses or has misused $17,000 to $21,000 in resources. Yet these can all be donated.

The tricky part is still making an income in the middle of such inefficient events. So, you must think differently. You have a haunt that you lease to a charity for say 20% of the ticket price. Obviously this doesn't mean they are going to get a 40,000 SF fully tricked out attraction for their payment.

Things like masks and costumes in a charity situation are expendable expenses like work gloves. They are to be purchased seasonally and the charity gets to keep them. Same with props and detail items. The charty yearly accumulates and pays the storage (or has storage donated) on all the small items. That way, when you walk in and the children of the haunters are using $45 masks to play dodge ball, so what, they already bought them. It's a shame but, they are expendable. If the charity wants them to last for years, THEY can worry about the care of these items.

So what do you end up with. A bunch of walls and a dream, hopefully being stored for free, like units on your or your families property, You are being paid to haul the stuff to and from the event just like a moving company or a display company.

Now what you actually do at the event is up to you. You can act in it, be someone that just watches or what ever. Some charities will hold an event, using charity and sponsor provided help, meals, facilities and have an event just to keep awareness for their cause in the community. It is kind of ike the charity and all their sponsors are making the local and surrounding communities aware of themselves, although it might bring in $4,000 to $8,000 there might be so many other fund raising opportunities that can with much less effort bring them in that much money. It isn't necessarily as fn or as widely participated in by the community at large.

If it was all about the money, charitys would have car washes, bake sales and simply go door to door or telemarket or direct mail people for $50 a pop and raise much more money. Just one wealthy donor needing a tax write off wipes out your status for contributing.

On my charities web site the haunted house is the 2nd highest fund raising event. The first is the community having a garage sale, bringing all manner of junk to their building for them to have a flea market and what ever does not sell they call pro flea market people to haul away the rest for a price. In comparison, the flea market may have taken a few weeks to coordinate, the haunted house takes 2 or more months time in the facility.

So, you yearly build more and more. The number of customers increases and as a result so does your 20%. Some props and masks are too valueable for such a ow return on investment or to be merchandised, so you save those for a later second pro location.

Years ago I posted my little business theory and it was pointed out that some how I'm using charity labor and then going pro and that change in operations is somehow deceptive. Well, organizations fizzle out over time so what are you supposed to do with all this stuff when they decide overight they aren't having the event? It is your stuff, they just happen to lease your stuff. If they don't lease your stuff you are free to lease your stuff to anyone including someone with enough money to open a pro haunt. Or, if you have the desire and resources, you open a pro haunt. This is years down the line developing resources of where it could be, knowing how many people will come to a haunt from a 30 mile radius, who wants to be a scenic designer, an actor and so on.

The big thing is that if you actually have a bunch of walls and props, showing off a little know how, the opportunities come easy. If it is just talking about a dream, it is thousands of hours of having people be a devils advocate trying to blow holes in your ideas thinking they are helping you somehow.

Wether people will admit it or not, there are the haves and the have nots. The haves use this strange word called budget. The have nots do not have a budget. Generally the really successful haunts never had a budget. Those that have a budget would be much better to invest in a Subway Sandwich Franchise. People who make things and do for themselves have just plain out done a lot more with only the cost of materials.

Once you have refined your event even if it remained a charity event, you can know that what is in your head is more important than physically moving the haunt to the big town.

If you are a sculptor you understand the term "investment" differently than some one trying to make sure their 401K is still solvent. Instead of making at over and over you try to simply rent the experience and keep the art instead of making art over and over like a job. Flat out, art materials might only be 1/10th the cost of doing something yet, the value is represented as 100% for replacement value.

In the current economy, the have nots are still making things, the haves can't seem to get financing or cover their debts or pay anyone. It's like having a $6 a month expense on your pay as you go cell phone versus a $150 per month plan and a $300 phone. They both are only phones. One you may have looked like somebody but, never get that money back, the phone company keeps it and leases stadiums and sky scrapers, the pay as you go dude, never gave the money away in the first place but, is said to be an idiot somehow.

Why are the good cell phone people always needing me to make money for them? Or why do the have nots with fancy cell phones always asking me for $30?

In a big town there might not be an alternative beyond getting big cash investors, you are competing with every big cash business there. In a small town, you are taking what is available and making a community event.

Like wise some of the true haunt customers seek out nice community events rather than the hyped big attraction events. You may never make it back to the big city

10-27-2008, 07:21 PM
I'm going to disagree with what some are saying about starting "huge" and failing; You can start with a MONSTEROUS event and still be extremely successful. With any haunt, big or small, it all comes down to your marketing and getting people to the haunt! A small charity haunt can get the HUGE numbers of a seasoned event if they market right.

For 2009, myself and my partner will be opening a 3 attraction event in one location, a first for Kentucky! Yeah, it's going to be KY's BIGGEST haunted event, and yes, our "first" year of haunting. Is this to big and will fail? HELL NO! How do I know this, planning!

We put aside a HUGE amount of money for marketing and that budget WILL NOT shrink, EVER! We're working with PR firms and designers to help make our event the MOST attractable, since we are an attraction! ;)

We are also being assisted by seasoned haunt owners, the owners of Frightworld, to help make our event a HUGE success! In reality, we're kind of "cloning" Frightworld but here in KY!

Now, will we make our initial investment back the first year? Probably not, but we've planned for that! Now, we ARE planning to break even... that's the goal, and it IS possible. That's what good marketing can do! But I will add, that with all this marketing, you've got to have the haunt to back it up! If you have a horrible haunt but awesome marketing, your guest will feel ripped off and WILL NOT come back.... EVER!

Have an awesome haunt with bad marketing... you won't bring in the money to help pay off any debt you've made to bring the event to light.

Have an AWESOME event with AWESOME marketing... the chance is there that you MAY see a profit the FIRST YEAR!!!

You've got to spend money to make money! That's a common business state of mind, and it's NO DIFFERENT with haunting! IT IS A BUSINESS!!!

Just my .666 cents worth! -Tyler

10-27-2008, 08:52 PM
thanks for the responses!

the money isnt an issue really. neither is finding a charity to partner with.

I'm planning this as a sort of incubation haunt, for the larger monster that will hatch from it eventually.

While i see the benefit to selling the masks and costumes to the charity i partner with, i more than likely wont. This will still be ran as a for-profit business, even though i fully expect not to make a profit the first few seasons... (on the haunt.)

what this will provide me with is a real life testing ground for some animations ive built and never had the opportunity to use, along with many more effects and props that are tucked away in my demented mind. I do plan on setting up a web page with a selection of my best work for sale to the haunting community, though in limited production runs. The website would (if successful) support the haunt, and allow the business as an entity to grow and perfect our operational standards.

For example, most video games go through a beta test phase that is open to a select amount of people, from varying levels of video game experience. It helps programers work out the kinks. This small town is my beta test. I do have a business partner that is interested in opening a haunt back in the larger city, but we both agree that opening a smaller haunt would be beneficial in that we can iron out ticketing systems, show control systems, and build our "army" of props and scares up a bit before we take that step.

we both also agree that a website offering sales of our props, masks, and animations would add an additional revenue stream to the company that could help fund new projects, scenes, and scares in a sort of "full circle" type of business model.

Like any business, the goal is growth, and i just thought i would start by planting a seed rather than buying a sapling.

10-28-2008, 02:43 PM
I think this is a well thought out plan that will give you some valuable experiance running an event before you enter a big market. During our first year we made so many mistakes that we learned a ton. Our second year is smoother, but we are still tinkering with our management structure.

I do have a couple of recommendations. Our first year we hired way to many actors. This year we made the haunt so that it could be ran by a dozen actors and we had auditions for these spots. After that we take anyone that wants to volunteer. We had a better batch of actors and more volunteers that last year.

My second suggestion is to buy semi-trailers and build your haunt in those. Make a portable haunted house that you can move with you to the big city. If you have somewhere to store six or seven semi trailers you can build them, try them out, change or fix any problems and then haul them with you.

10-28-2008, 03:21 PM
thats a great idea! I had actually considered using semi trailers as my main storage facility during the off-season as it is, altering that plan to focus on self containment year round and ease of operation wouldn't be hard at all.

one idea i had considered was to use the semi's as storage as i said, but to build the haunt to fit within the confines of various ScAir structures with a temporary chain-link outer boarder to add a bit of security and also support a main facade.

of course, the other idea would be to rent out the old grocery store and house the haunt there. Another building of interest is the old schoolhouse. It sits empty, and is owned by the city. From time to time there will be small scale town events held there, but generally its just a large creepy building from the early 1900's.