View Full Version : Funding a New Haunt for Large Scale Production!

03-24-2009, 02:50 PM
Hi guys,

I have recently been affected by the current situation and lost my professional job. I have a CAD Design Background and an electronics and computer media background. My haunting background is has follows: designed / built / advertised / and ran a small haunted attraction for my parents at a local campground in western pa. Iím 1.5hrs north of the 5th best haunt in 2008 Scare House in Pittsburgh PA. Iíve been there several times and the work they do is simply amazing! I am very into the haunting and dark ride industry and am considering creating a full time career! My question is to you guys how should I start to go about getting the funding from the bank to start to create my dream haunt?

My location has 3 Ė 4 major metropolitan areaís within a 1 to 1.5 hr drive! They are: Pittsburgh, Erie, Cleveland, Youngstown, and Canton.

The closest Major haunt would be in Cleveland and the Scare House in Pittsburgh. So if I can do it right and spend the money in the right places this has tons of potential to be a large event.

What kind of paper work and research should I start doing to prove to a bank that its growth potential is worth investing in?

Obviously Iíll need some sort of building or area to house this monster. And my thinking is that it should be an old unused warehouse or old unused store building that is equipped with fire suppression system. With an abandoned retail building, Iíd already have an established parking lot area. I think there might be some unused retail space available in this area. Does anyone know how to go about finding the person / persons that would control that space! And do you try to negotiate a price because a space being used for something is better than it being empty?

Do any of the haunt owners in here have an idea of what I could expect to see as a Price per Sq Ft of building materials?

With my design and knowledge of lighting and stage equipment the Haunt will be designed from the start to be a modular type haunt where scenes can be moved switched or changed with little effort and in scene making it different each and every year. This also allows for me to design the whole haunt in a 3D environment before any money is spent on materials.

Most likely Iíd start in a building space of a couple hundred sq ft for a few years and grow the event. As I gather more patrons and visitors Iíd relocate to a bigger facility.

Any and all advice to start to get a haunt up and running is greatly appreciated.

Thanks. Michael Chilson

03-26-2009, 01:33 PM

I'm sitting in the car right now with 2 others from my haunt on the way to Transworld. One of them has an "in" with the VP of a major bank in Pittsburgh and we basically got laughed at looking for a loan and this is an established haunt, 6th season, turning 30k+ paid attendance every year. In our expierence, the only way you're going to get any type of loan for a haunt is with collateral, most banks right now are looking for 100%.

This is an absolutely horrible time (financially) to get into a haunt. Most people I know put out the cash out of their own pockets. We operate on a *very* small loan, everything else comes out of pocket.

Before you go looking for space or anything else, you really need to sit down and get an idea of costs overall. Insurance, air systems (a decent compressor is going to set you back $1500 alone), wall panels, rent, tools, makeup supplies, utilities, lighting, etc. It all costs big bucks to put on a high profile show, the initial infrastructure is a huge investment. As a rough guess, I would say we probably have 8k into our air system alone. And we haven't even touched upon props, controllers and costumes yet.

I'm not trying to shoot down your dreams and I wish you the best of luck, but I doubt you'll be able to get anything out of a bank.

Allen H
03-26-2009, 02:59 PM
Borrowing money is a surefire way to lose out early, do not start out in debt if you can help it. After reading your other post about the retail space, I would recommend Looking for a retail mall or other place that is not doing well. Then they let you have space in a bad area in hopes that you will attract new customers through their shopping center, malls have empty spots all the time. Dont even ask a nice mall, ask the kind of mall where only half of the stores are open and your sure the rest will close down soon.
You also need a to find a location where you can speak with the owner or head of marketing directly. If you have never worked for a major haunt yet, do it for as many years as you can stand to learn the ropes on their dime. They will appreciate the qualified help and you will appreciate the free "education".
Right now (current economy) is a great time to look for dead grocery stores, dead shops of all kinds, make deals with the owner for back end of sales profits as opposed to rental fees. 20-25% is reasonable for no rent what soever.
alot of these deals depend on your ability to sell yourself and the ability to convince people of the profits that are possible. Location deal making and negotiation are an art form and a skill set that makes and breaks small haunts every season.
I like that you are thinking start small and grow because that is what it will be. If you are going to be successful.
Keep your overhead low and you will make it, do not spend all of your money on marketing your show at first, use cheaper techniques to get your location and haunt name/website into the publics eye.
This question is a tough one as you are asking about the essence of the business. Come to transworld, find a pro haunter in the hotel bar and buy them a beer, talk some shop. Normally we are quite happy to. You will also find that we are all experts and rarely agree on anything, but that is part of what makes haunts unique (the way they reflect their owners).
If you cant make it to transworld (right now in st. louis) then go to hauntcon, or MHC, or the national show and talk shop with other haunters over a beer.
Good luck and keep trying,
Allen H

Greg Chrise
03-26-2009, 09:05 PM
Now that we are in the great recession and I'm reading all kinds of articles that all the 25 year old journalist are trying to sum up modern history, Western Pa always pops up as an example of how times were hard and supposedly got better as companies in health care and high tech set up shop and the old architecture is cool. That is all a charming way to say maybe 2,000 lucky people actually got a good job over the last 20 years in the whole rust belt.

I graduated highschool in 1979 Oh guess what there was a recession in the late 70's. Then I had a good job and got laid off. Ooops another recession in 1982 where I kind of had no place to live. Then another good job that ended in 1986. Oh god another recession in that area. I freakin left and have never been laid off or really been out of work ever since. The area and lack of any economy sucks if you are a have not, just lucked out or happened to not had you fmily bring you into a good job.

Even in a great area that has never slowed until now, building a haunt even with something has been a tremendous sacrifice. For 20 years now I have been wondering whether my work is dead and the phone rings because of the diversity of the region. I have probably been trained for the worst beng raised in Pa. for no good reason.

Wandering the area you are in you either have to pool resources with many people with exactly the same passion or pack your shit and don't forget anything. You will be doomed to be on mommies couch for years and years. Nothing personal, that's all that is happening.

Now on the positive side, many haunts date back to starting exactly when those exact dates of everyone being out of work triggered people to do something for themselves that was under no one else's control. Many ver successful haunts. However, it took them 20 years to be somebody from shabby beginnings. There was nothing glorious about it. There was no light from the sky or magic, it was all very hard work.

Until you are in another area even in hard times can you even imagine how easy it is to get by. Then get more than get by to build something on the side. Then when there is a great recession you just hold up a little rather than try to figure out where you are going to move everything before you lose it.

Totally different way of operating having to do with more diverse economies of other areas of the country. A haunt isn't something to begin with no job and no cash. Doing hundreds of hours planning on a haunt is better spent on being able to support yourself first. Then next year as money begins to float around a bit more maybe something can be done.

Frankly I've been in Texas since 1987 and just can't get over how despirate my whole employment and college thing was messed up, how my credit was impossible to get and easy to screw up just because the normal way of life in PA is work in between tragic failures and somehow be happy with that or thankful. Everyone in my family was always unemployed ever 2 years and borrowing money from me.

I have had lots of people, haunters still in PA tell me it isn't that bad anymore. Out in the rural areas, because there is labor type work available there may be a little masking of how serious the region is being effected. Yet, these are the same people who are the first to tell you how hard they scratched to get to every level and are questioning their end result.

If you really want to build not just some walls and an electical system, if you want an entire event that makes the same amount of money every year, or has an increase every year, you need a day job or your own business that pays some serious money.

There is nothing wrong with having very fun events for years that break even but, eventually this becomes a chore and it is equally effected by whether you are in a region where the general public has any money to come see the event as well. All too often I have had people with jobs tell me how much a ticket should cost to a multi themed event if it was up to them and it isn't what it is worth or what it cost in resources to really pull off a positive event vs how many people could ever show up.

Lately I am very sorry but I have been reading so many articles about the economy and the pittsburgh area robbed me of 30 years of life even though I worked my butt off I left just as you are now. No job and no cash. Supposedly when young professionals are ready to settle down they return there to live. So what. Everywhere else in the country if you aren't making $50,000 per year, you just aren't trying. It isn't that it isn't available. In Western Pa, it just isn't available unless you are going to inherit something. The area as a whole never really recovered and it isn't going to. So that means if you can hang out you will have done what very few have been able to do out of despiration.

The super high taxes, the outrageuous emmisions standards, the law enforcement being the only thing funded like storm troopers. It is ridiculous. Then as far as haunts go now they require amusement level inspection? Forget about it. Just get out of PA and all that is gone. A real simple $15,000 per year you don't have to work for. Anywhere else a $20,000 per year job is like having a $35,000 job in PA. And again you can work as much as you want or can and keep the money for anything you want to buy or any business you would like to start.

Maybe you go work for a haunt this season in another state and use that money to begin a new life? Then a haunt with your new friends who alo have the availability of making an income greater than they need to live on. It is so simple. Of course no one in my family who lived in Western PA their whole lives knew this except that for some reason their jobs always took them far away to make money. They thought this ewas a perk as opposed to they were sent elsewhere because there was no money to be made there. They thought they were special people when in reality they were just go getters. Because of how nice all the other parts of the country became they never caught on until they were of retirement age what a dump they lived in their whole lives.

No cash and no one else in the area has cash either is bad. That big compressor gets stolen just when you need it. Not enough customers show up and you think there is something wrong with your marketing plan rather than everyone needs to just leave and get a better life somewhere else.

Was I complete dumbass for always being out of work and never finding good jobs or did the area suck. Guess what, it wasn't me. It was the stupid neglected area known as Western Pa that hasn't been right since 1970. Thanks to google streets I cruised the whole area and I can't believe things that were vacant lots when I was kid are still vacant lots. Buildings that were crap when I was a young adult are still crappy building with a better paint job. A whole 50 freakin years where no one has had any extra money to build anything.

Any town in the south you can drive through and 20 years ago these 100 things weren't here and they continue to be replaced by the next new thing. It is called progress. In PA every road is a 2 lane pot holed goat trail. Even the turn pike is only 4 lanes and it was built in the 1940's. Here my drive way is 4 lanes. The loop around the small town is 6 lanes. And it is getting too much traffic. Meanwhile another tricky day in PA is someone crashing into your car drunk every 6 months because they were playing Dukes of Hazzard and had too much to drink.

What ever it is you do or would like to do, why not go to where the best of that thing is? I just had an insurance salesman tell me today if things are slow with swimming pools here, why don't I go to Florida? He's right! Why don't I go where what I do is really concentrated. Why not go to a town where haunts see 60,000 people or more instead of hope to see 600 people?

I'm 51 and I just figured out this week the next 50 years are going to be okay. I can stop worrying because I have broken the cycle of how bad it could ever get just by reflecting on my past life and having no good jobs to go to because where I was at. No crap in the rest of the country people don't keep going to the unemployment office hoping for something. In Pa that is expected behavior. Here the only people that need placement assistance just got out of prison and no one wants them. It isn't everyone goes there every year or every two years and hopes they had enough paid in. It is the completely wrong un positive way to live and never get ahead and it isn't you, it is the underperformance of the whole region. Screw them and build something wonderful somewhere else.

I haven't crashed or been crashed into for 20 years! Screw Pennsylvania.

Greg Chrise
03-26-2009, 09:25 PM
Instead of everyone independently building crap in their back yards with no cash, why don't the young and mobile go work and support with every fiber of their being the already existing top haunts for like a decade. Really make everyone's journey easy. Move to towns where it is already happening. Keep it happening with new blood that is serious about doing it.

Instead of creating another 4,000 cardboard and magic marker haunts make the 20 or so outstanding haunts have even more life force? Everyone wants a haunt but, no one wants to actually work in one? Then do you rally want to be into haunting?

Even if you had the cash and bought a Subway sandwich business, you might at some time have to be a sandwich artist. It is what the business IS.

03-26-2009, 10:41 PM
Wow, you act like Texas is the gods gift. Regardless to if you want to face it or not, the country (the whole country, not just PA) is economically in poor standing.

A good friend of mine relocated to Houston a year ago as his fiances company relocated her. He was an heavy equipment operator up here making damn decent money. When he moved to Texas, he was able to secure a job making LESS THAN HALF of what he made up here. Mexicans will work for a lot less apparently. He's back in PA now driving a triaxle tractor making twice what he made in TX. He said the people in TX suck, too.

What about Michigan? Michigan has the WORST unemployment and worst economy out of the 50 states in the US right now and it's a few hundred miles away.

Don't get me wrong, PA has it's issues. We're a blue state to start with. Yes, the potholes suck, oddly enough, a lot of states in the snowbelt have potholes, I can't figure that one :rolleyes: Something about the ice in the winter freezing and expanding the asphalt.

Like I said, choose to believe it or not, unemployment is up across the country.

As far as haunts in PA.. We all seem to be doing pretty well. Like I said earlier, we had 30k paid patrons last year. Once you average in the VIP tickets and the discount coupons, we grossed ~$400k. Not bad for 28 nights of operation for a non-profit volunteer haunt. From what I hear, Scare House is doing just fine too.

Greg Chrise
03-27-2009, 02:03 AM
This time yes, it is the whole country doing poorly. The big saving grace that makes up for sucky people is no state income tax. In my area it has taken the last 20 years for more and more people from other parts of the country to move here.

Maybe in some outlaw company the Mexicans will accept less but, generally those are being weeded out now with imigration truely being enforced. I have found it to be the opposite, the Mexicans sort of unionize and charge even more. They aren't working cheap. The illegals days are numbered as companies are being cracked down on.

It isn't your fault but, as soon as you see the sign that says "Welcome to Pennsylvania" the road is a mine field like a Road Warriors movie. The sign might as well say "forbidden zone, enter at your own risk, 62 killed". How come Ohio, West Virginia etc. roads are better maintained? Watch for this on your trip home. Every highway between Pittsburgh and St. Louis you are traveling on sees ice and snow, salt etc. Something isn't happening with your tax dollars if you were a taxed employee.

Because of those taxes you can make half and it is the same amount when factoring in other things like rental costs and such. A long time ago someone in Michigan is paying like $15,000 a month for a 8,000 SF building and here it is $1500. That is just a whole lot more work has to be done to make up for those expenses. As a result the pace is a little more lax. Which is very tough to acclimate to in a short time. It is very tough to be with the in crowd. I have always thought in PA you say hello by saying what the F are you lookin at and here they are real nice but, ultimately after abou 6 months screw you big time somehow. The first way is at least more honest.

I'm happy to hear the haunts are doing great volume. It is the perfect environment for this kind of business. A dark gloomy war zone. Haunts here are doing those numbers around the major cities and there are 10 around each city.

I base my happiness on simply being able to have a day job or business and not having to be a millionaire to do it. Not having to be a corporation and multiple investors to pursue a living. There are lots of things that suck anywhere. This town was once a glorified truck stop, it has 60% poor people where in PA it might be 12%. Lots of trade offs but, the big thing is how many hours do you need to slave in order to make up for the differences and be subserviant.

If you can't find a decent day job that breaks above that cycle of taxation and high rent and utility costs, who suffers. You do. As far as the actual haunt income goes, I'm sure the expenses are at least half here. A big stress reliever. Still the rest of the year wandering around still sucks one way or another. There you have 400 taverns, here there are 400 churches. I'm not into that.

Charity haunts that have done 32,000 people actually turn over $350,000 to various charities. Of course after several decades of building up facilities. That is amazing as haunts are a much harder sell in the south.

I have never had much luck with banks. In Pa or here. I think they just say they loan money so you will open an account there. But, they keep all the money and make intrest on it all the same. Then open more branches to get more money. Those aren't the banks that are failing or are going to fail.

In any state it isn't as simple as applying for a job to make enough money, you have to be the company. Relocating sometimes you have to start all over as far as wages go. If everything was wonderful no one would have left anywhere or tried to get a job in another state or even had to start all over in the same state. That part of the "system" sucks big time.

Bottom line is being able to find some form of income pretty quick and not competing with 3.5 million unemployed, a lot less stress with higher take home pay as an employees wage or as a company structure. Vehicle inspections are so easy. I haven't made a killing but, the day to day stress is so much less. Not having family around also in unemployment cycles needing to borrow money helps a lot too. Being 1200 miles away they don't seem to come by because they are short $1000 again anymore.

In retrospect, I kind of blame the region for lots of family stress, lack of income, resultant drinking problems, losing businesses, so on and so on. If it was the land of opportunity they would have built something but, it wasn't and they didn't even with all those papers behind them. And I'm now thinking that for the first time having analyzed that hell 20 years later. Sure they may have all been dumbasses. I might even as a result be a dumbass. Maybe everyone in Texas is 20 years behind and here I am king of the dumbasses. However the stress is so much less and I can put it to the economy of a region. While Pa has gone through 20 cycles of down economy it has stayed the same stable level of suckiness all along here. Or persitant slow growth.

Maybe haunts don't do really as well because there isn't as much stress to escape from?

Quite a few of the articles I read are not real accurate as the reporters are probably 13 year olds writing about things they aren't old enough to have lived through and are repeating what ever and making assumptions.

I really wouldn't want to go to Florida, I hear killer bees are spreading there faster than here. It isn't just that 20 of them sting you, hundreds go into your air ways and lungs, pack you up as well as stinging until you are dead.

Have fun at Transworld. Watch out for bee costumes.

Allen H
03-27-2009, 07:20 AM
OK...this thread has seemed to go off topic.
we should change the name to depressing Pennsylvania!
I hope Michael Has gleaned something from the posts, in the mire of depression that Greg posted, there are a few pearls of wisdom in there. I would try to work for someone else before starting your own show. learn from their mistakes.
PM me Michael if you need more advice or if you have specific questions about any thing I have said. Remember that haunt related work and owning a haunt are different things. Knowledge is power and it is Always best to learn from the mistakes of others.
Allen H

03-27-2009, 12:42 PM
It's not so much about the wanting my Own Haunt! I live in Pittsburgh and there are several very nice haunts here. The one Brandon directs is decent for what they do, we also have the 2008 5th best haunted house Scare House is here. The problem I see with most of these are there voluntary which is get if your just looking for something to do with a couple day in oct. But I'm looking to get out of the Corporate Grind and work for myself. I have a strong Theatrical Lighting / Sound background with a Design degree so I can design the whole thing in a 3D environment before a single board is cut! With this information I can make accurate material Take-offs to get almost down the dollar with material costs.

I donít want you guys to think I'm just trying to make it on 2 months of haunting a year I have plan to expand my Business plan to include several other year round entertainment Factors! To help upset the 10 months the haunt isn't running. Using a Dark Glow mini Glow and a Laser Tag area In the same complex. This year seeís several months of snow in the winter so tease events lend excellent to seeing lots of activity Friday and Saturday nights in the winter months!

The thing about this area that I'm looking to build this business is there isn't any close competition which should prove to be lucrative for me. From my knowledge there are not really good Pro Haunts in the Area there are a few Volunteer haunts for the local VFD and stuff like that but nothing that can compete with like Scare House .

There was a haunt in the area last year they charged 15 per person and it was horrible walking threw an old cemetery alone would have been scarier. And from what I heard the place was busy. They basically took the old bumper car building at the old amusement park and put up chicken wire and filled the place with strobes and fog that was it! Not exciting at all! The sad thing is the park at night in Oct looks vary creepy and would make a terrific back drop for a haunted house area! So if I do it right makes them look like a joke and build it up slowly I should make it without any problem.

So I am continuing my research and development of a business plan and will keep everyone up todate on my progress!