Where to start?
I have been a haunter for as long as I can remember. I have worked in the professional side for years as an actor and laborer for build outs and have been doing the home haunt thing. So I have been thinking for years now that I want to own my own professional haunt. Am I crazy for wanting to do this? Some might say so.
So my question is where did you start? Where should I start? I'm not looking to start something this season but I want to plan and do things the right way if this takes years then so be it, I want to learn as much as I can from where ever and who ever wants to teach me. I have worked with John Burrton a.k.a One scary guy for a few years. I have learned alot from him and would have to say he was the biggest influence for me to get into this.
So where should it start?
I notice you are from Philly, that's a crowed market that dominates the entire mid Atlantic region. With so many high quality haunts in the area I would think it'd be impossible to make a dent without at least a 300k budget to start. I think the best area to create a niche up there would be in the areas in the middle of Philly and Pittsburgh maybe around penn state university?
I just posted this yesterday on another thread, but I thought I'd re-post it here for you:
I know a successful haunter on these forums who had a really big home haunt, and then decided to go pro. He made a video of his awesome home haunt and took it around to various farmers in his area, to see if any of them would partner with him to do a haunted trail on their land. He ended up finding a farm to partner with, and now his pro haunt gets rave reviews, and grows every year. He never told me the exact amount of his first year budget, but he hinted at it strongly, and I definitely get the impression that it was below $10,000. Possibly under $5000. It is unlikely you're going to get any less expensive than that. The farm provided the land and insurance. He provided all the sets, props, costumes, marketing, and volunteers.
If there's a less expensive (but still SAFE and legal) way to get started than that, I'd love to hear about it.
Best of luck to you!
There are a few in Philly I can think of 3 in Philly itself. Most people I have talked to about this are tired of them because they change things up. Im thinking of pairing up with a local civic assocation. I have spoke to them about in the past and they are still showing intrest. I also might be able to partner with someone who does have some undeveloped land he owned a hayride about 15 years ago. He would supply the land and I would do the rest. So do you think first year operating cost would be?
Originally Posted by Darkangel
Did you say 3? When I say Philly that means the entire market as people will travel an hour or more and that's still considered the philly market if they get Philly radio and tv channels.
Here are a few off the top of my head that I've personally visited over the years....
Field of Screams
Valley of Fear
Eastern State Penn
I'm sure there's more smaller ones...
Plus you could extend it to Frightland in DE since that's close to Philly and the Jersey Haunts nearby.
I know several of the Philly area haunters and I go to this area every Halloween a couple weekends. There is no way you could do a haunt at a high level at that price point and expect to compete with those haunts I mentioned. If you're just trying to open and exist and offer people a low budget, fun festive experience you could survive but if you're expecting to compete on any level with the likes of Terror behind the walls/Estern state or Field of Screams of Bates' haunts, you better be looking to spend a few hundred thousand at leasts. By the time you build your show, detail it, pay your staff and expenses, and marketing you're looking at close to a half a million at their level at least. I have heard that those big haunts spend over 100k-200k for advertising each year alone. That's a BIG and thriving market up there but like I said it dies out a little between the big cities. Again I don't know if you plan to come on strong like the big boys there but since you said you heard people are tired of them, it sounds like you are?
Originally Posted by Dark Tiki Studios
I'm not sure where this would be. I am just looking for advice on how to start and how to learn more
Originally Posted by Darkangel
I have read up on alot of diffrent subject matter about this. I would like to know where people started and where they made mistakes along the line. Maybe I can learn from others.
Mike. I'll tell you my story. And I'll try to keep it simple, one liner timelined.
Wife and I had (ex) had been together for 11 years in the 2012 season, our 'Pro' debut.
We had always loved Halloween and she loved the fact I had always thrown Halloween parties etc.
I built my own props, made my own yard haunt etc.
She had inherited a home (old n rundown) and house was paid for
We sold the house, a 67 Camaro SS, a 74 Nova drag car and took our savings.
Paid some bills off and started our venture with $40,000 to build the haunt.
We rented a place in town. Was our 3rd choice and one of the most expensive.
Rent was $2,000 a month. Made a deal for $7,000 down ($1,000 a month) and rest paid after season
Fire Marshal initially said 'ok' to the haunt in the old church building which was then a daycare.
Then he realized it was 6,500 sq feet. Said we can't do it, he apologized and I made a new plan.
I put 2, 996 sq ft metal buildings on the parking lot. Used the 1,500 ft house and these 2 buildings.
Long story short, people loved the haunt, but my ex wife went crazy in about august and ran the business into the ground.
Lied about paying certain bills etc, divorce happened, now I'm here with my tv, my truck and computer. I have a half a truck load of Haunt stuff and that's it.
All the money, gone. All the masks I made, stuff I bought for the haunts, Thousands lost in tools and airbrush equipment.... all gone. She didn't pay rent like she said she did (took the money) and divorced. When I came back to move more stuff out, it was confiscated / foreclosed on. So I lost all of it. Trailer, tools, haunt gear, costumes, masks, mask making equip. etc.
March, I asked her "Before we sell the house and the cars, I need to know if you are 110% happy with me, the marriage and our family" She said the most perfect answer. Now comes the reason. June 19, she was prescribed Citalopram, an Antidepressant for slight chest pains, saying it was stress. In 3 months time, she was a completely different person. Stealing, lying, drugs, cheating with the actors etc.
Why is all that prudent? Because I lost everything Mike. That's why. After research, I learned A LOT about antidepressants and it's really an under-looked problem with personality change. So yes, I think my haunt's failing was because of the drug, which I didn't learn / make the connection until after the season.
1. Obviously should've researched the drug before allowing my wife / partner to take it.
2. I went TOO big, too soon. I thought $40,000 would buy all I needed. Nope.
3. I learned you need to go to other haunts for inspiration and LOOK! WORK, don't just go to play and get entertained. If you do, go twice.
4. LOCK UP YOUR MARKETING MONEY! I had to dig into my $10,000 marketing cash I had set back to help finish.
5. Always scale back. I should've looked at how much foam work I was wanting to do and reduced it by at least half. I spent $1,500 just on the 3 rooms with foam work.
6. I should've thought more on "Cheap Scares" ... only by budget, not 'cheesy cheap'. Drop panels are a huge thing and cost very little. A gate latch and some wood. Maybe 2 metal strips.
7. Never stop planning! I didn't and I think i'd fked up ROYALLY had I not! Of course, I'm a business man (entrepreneur / retail experience) and I still feel I could've done more planning. Plan, ask, question, plan and plan again. When you're done, GO OVER IT AGAIN! Always thinking of safety etc.
I think I should've made my budget $20,000. Took half of it and set it back for some major b/s crisis like I had. Mainly thinking "if we don't get enough people I can still pay rent till next season" We lived there so it helped us mind it better. So taking off our rent etc... utilities, we only thought of the haunt rent as $1,000. 160 parking places and was a decent place.
But yes, I should've cut the money in half. Only used ONE metal building and the house. Planned the haunt a bit better for efficiency and budget. My best recommendation is DO NOT TRY TO OUT DO YOURSELF! Don't try to keep the mindset "Go big or go home" It doesn't work that way.
I hope this has somewhat helped. Btw, I am still planning on doing something. Making my next show mobile.
Ohh. .forgot #'s.
By the time I was finishing construction, my ex / partner was going out partying with the actors / volunteers, staying out late etc. Blowing money... you name it. Like I said, she completely flipped in personality (even prior to all the people showing up, so it was NOT the flood of all the young people. Her change was prior) I didn't notice it in time to stop, I was busy :( So anyways, she failed on 80% of our marketing plan! Guerilla marketing was our plan. Stunts, etc were planned. We only did 3 of the 20 location stunts, crashed only 1 theater instead of 3. Only got flyers out to a 1/3 of the surrounding towns. She only got 1 radio ad going instead of the 3 planned, and the ONE we got was the cheaper, less listened to station. (was a new station. Great, but new)
And we still pulled 800 people. The bad? We only needed 2,000 to take care of EVERYTHING till next year. I lost my job during all this mess so it went from hell to extreme b/s in just a matter of months.
We sold lots of Tshirts too. People were loving the haunt. People still msg my facebook asking / begging for us to open another haunt this year. People loved us. I had noted 2 wet pants before the seasons end. Not many to a lot of you guys, but I MADE PPL PISS THEMSELVES!! haha. Was awesome.
Also, on actors. If you hire YOUNG people, be sure to do a thorough interview. You want to try and weed out the trouble ones, you have to look under their façade of behavior to see who is who. Also, make them your EMPLOYEES at first. Friendships can come later!! Haunt takes priority. Not partying and being a great host.
Anyways, I think that's all I got for you. Good luck with your venture.
I’m one of the least qualified to give you advice. I come in from a different perspective since my main income, helping peeps setup up home based biz in network fitness as they lose weight, is very lucrative. So that said cash flow is not an issue. As I shop for buildings now in the Nashville area and decide if I want to go Mega off the bat or go small for a fun’r ride for the 2014 season I have a couple mindsets you may want to think about.
Partners really have sucked for me in the past. I had one were his commitment was marketing. He fulfilled his contract by getting billboards up in the last 3 days of the haunt.. total screw. So one, pick your dance partner carefully and get out of the excitement stage and think like Spock.
The second thing, it is just like any brick and mortar biz… lack of capital investment is a huge reason to fail. So when you do this say to yourself I am not going to be able to pull a check from this for five years. Any money I make will support this venture. If you make it sooner great… but if you don’t, Its in your plan.
Give yourself time to market.. shot myself in the foot by putting up a 30K ft haunt in 3 weeks…. Pat myself on the back . But as Scooby Doo would say Rut Ro… no time to market. Haunt was a success only on pee in the pants numbers.. but overall numbers not so good.
I think a huge huge huge factor is can you be in the same spot next year and the 4 after that. The mindset is that all money coming in is going to bills and marketing. So basically you don’t get paid for your first year customers. Only return customers…. And they need to return to the same place. It needs to become tradition! That’s the bucks.
Like I said earlier there are a lot of guys more qualified than me, and as always there are exceptions to the game. But at least I would get these mindsets into play.
Big money can only be found in marketing and innovation…. Until you have a stack of repeat customers no paycheck for yourself. Big or small!