Creating a business plan for owning and operating a haunted attraction

 

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Winning at the Haunted Attraction Game requires knowing the Rules

By Cydney Neil/Owner-Producer/Rocky Point Haunted House

 

 

Even though business is somewhat of a game, it is not a guessing game. There are rules to winning the game of successful business and the clearer we understand those rules and the more closely we follow them, the more chance we have to succeed. These are the Rules of the Game of Haunting, as I see them and have learned about them over the sixteen years of being in this business. If you follow them closely, you can’t help but win!

 

Objects

To create a successful haunted attraction that fulfills your personal, professional, creative, and financial needs.  To contribute quality, themed entertainment to your community.  To create a positive work environment and experience for those who work for you and with you.

 

Requirements for Winning

This is not a game of chance or luck.  Winning in the haunted attraction business game requires skills in many different areas, from design to construction to public relations and accounting.  It requires a love of Halloween and everything scary.  Winning also requires dedication, perseverance, stamina, patience, a positive attitude, and the ability to lead a team towards a common goal.

 

Preparation

Every participant  must understand that they are individuals who will play by the same rules, but with their own game plan and strategy.  Producing and operating haunted attractions is a business, and needs to be handled as such.  But it’s a creative business, and we are creative people, each with our own unique imaginations and ideas about how we want to entertain people, or at times, have them entertain us!

 

How to Play

Once you have made the decision to get in the haunted attraction game, your success will depend on your ability to follow through with a number of specific steps.

 

1.             Make a Plan and Set Your Goals

              Be clear about what you want to accomplish and the actions you will take to reach your goals.

                              Understand your motivation and give yourself a time limit.

                              Review your progress and reassess your goals as often as necessary.

 

2.             Find a Location

                                Important factors to consider:

                              Is it centrally located with a large population nearby?

                              Is it accessible from highways, freeways, or main roads?

                              Is it a safe area where parents would feel comfortable about dropping off their children?

                              Is it zoned for commercial use and specifically for use as a temporary amusement event?

                              Does it have plenty of well-lit parking?

                              Does it have room for expansion?

                              Is it suitable for a haunted attraction?

                              Is it available and affordable?

 

3.             Obtain All Necessary Permits and Clearances from Local Officials

              Research all fire, building, and other local requirements and identify all officials who will need to give you clearance.

              Schedule an appointment with each official individually to walk through your building and go over your plans.

                              Ask for their advice and make lists of what they ask you to do.

              If possible, do all the things they ask. If a particular request seems too difficult or too costly, try to negotiate an alternative.

                              Involve them every step of the way.

 

4.             Decide on a Theme or Overall Idea

              Decide on one overall theme or break up your attraction into several areas, each with its own theme.

                              Make your theme catchy, creative, and memorable.

                              Use your theme as a marketing tool and to attract repeat customers.

 

 5.             Design a Layout

                              Put all your ideas on paper.

              Walk your building to see where your ideas will fit in your space. Example: We have an area with large heating and air conditioning units and very tall ceilings. This makes the perfect spot for Frankenstein’s laboratory.

              Get a blueprint of your building, or make one, with exact measurements and square footage.

                              If possible, design using a grid system based on 4x8 plywood panels.

              Lay out your entire attraction, room by room, allowing for scare spots, emergency exits, and actor and security access.

                              Go over your design with the building and fire inspectors.

 

6.             Create a Budget

              Get a complete list of expense categories. The best places to get this information are from other haunters or a qualified consultant.

                              Research, don’t guess, the estimated costs of all necessary products and services.

              Set realistic goals for expected income based on figures from other similar events in area or from previous year’s figures.

                              Adjust your budget as necessary to create a profitable outcome.

                              Break annual budget figures down into monthly expenses and income.

 

7.             Assess and, if Necessary, Raise Sufficient Capital

              Use your own money if possible. This lowers your exposure to risk and leaves you with control.

              If you don’t have sufficient capital, decide which is the best option for you: taking out a loan from a bank, family member, or friend, or taking on a partner or partners. There are risks, disadvantages, and advantages to each option. Weigh them carefully before deciding.

 

8.             Hire a Crew

                              Make a list of every person you will need to help build and run your attraction.

                              Create specific job descriptions for each position.

              List the qualities and skills you would like the person to have and feel are most important in the individual positions.

              Look for people who have the same passion you do and who want to be involved long-term.

                              Hire the most qualified people you can afford.

              Treat your crew with respect. Show appreciation for their efforts. Pay them on time and give them a bonus if you have a successful year as a result of their contributions.

 

9.             Recruit Cast Members

              Based on your design, determine exactly how many cast members you need to run your show. Identify the minimum number necessary to operate, and what their positions are, and the maximum number of cast you want and can afford to have.

              Create a professional poster to post in schools, costume shops, and any other place you may find suitable cast members.

              If possible, hang a banner with a phone number on your building asking for cast members.

              Set an age limit of 16 and older to eliminate problems that younger cast members can create.

              Allow younger kids to work only with a parent in the same room (we have recruited many a parent this way. They come with their kids and get hooked themselves!).

              Know from your budget what you can afford to pay cast members or if you will work on a volunteer basis

              Develop a program with daily, weekly, and annual incentives as well as strict rules and consequences for breaking those rules. Consistently follow through on both.

              Hold auditions and cast main parts whenever possible. Always have an understudy or second for main parts.

              Hold regular actor training and orientation sessions with a professional actor or director as the coach if possible.

              Establish a professional, clean, organized, and comfortable cast area with specific areas where the cast can check in, take breaks, and hold meetings. The homeier you make this the better.

              Install a water facility for unlimited use and have soda pop or other beverages available for limited consumption.

              Do everything you can to make the cast experience fun, positive, and worthwhile. Show them respect and appreciation. They are a big part of whether your show is successful or not.

 

10. Advertise and Attract Publicity

              Based on your advertising budget, as early as possible, schedule all media advertising and promos.

                              If you are not an expert in this area, it is best to have someone assist you who is.

                              Get as much of this sponsored as possible.

                              Decide on your theme and design all advertising around that theme.

                              Target your customer market only.

              Pre-plan weekly publicity ideas, with publicity beginning at least one month before you open.

              Get as much positive publicity as early as possible, but continue it through your closing night.

 

11. Manage Your Show Efficiently

                              Assess the needs of every department at the end of the night.

                              Have everything repaired, running, and ready to go every day before the show opens.

                              Know who is going to do what, when, and how.

                              Pre-schedule cast so you know the day before if you have a full cast.

                              Prepare for any and all possible emergencies.

              Be on headset with all main employees and be in the show or available for them as needed.

                              Have a quiet, professional area where you can deal with customer issues as they come up.

 

12. Maintain Safety, Security, and Insurance

              Safety is critical for a long-term, successful attraction! Make sure you have all your permits and licenses and keep up with all safety issues throughout the run of your show. Deal with any and all safety issues immediately.

              Hire a professional security team with specific posts and duties. Have a head security person who handles all security issues as they come up and keeps you informed or gets you involved in all major security issues.

              Design your ticket booth away from the front door if possible and station a security guard by it at all times.

              When you take money out of the ticket booth, make sure you are accompanied by a security guard to your office or safe area. Keep cash in a locked safe in a locked room. When transporting large amounts of cash, have armed security guard accompany you whenever possible.

              You must have sufficient liability insurance to obtain permits and licenses. In addition to liability insurance, I recommend adding a policy for theft of property and cash, fire, or other damages, and a medical policy for minor injuries of customers. You can also add a loss of income policy in case your show is shut down early. These do not cost much and will pay off if you ever have to use them.

 

13. Take Control of Finances

                              Pay close attention to your established budget and make an effort to work within it.

                              Assess your financial position on a daily basis.

              Create weekly budget progress reports to compare budgeted vs. actual spending and income.

                              Keep track of all expenses and record them daily or weekly.

                              Create profit/loss reports at end of season and comparison reports.

                              Pay all bills and accounts payable before taking out your profits.

 

14. Wrap up, Follow up and Prepare for Next Year’s Start up

                              Celebrate your season with your cast and crew, regardless of its financial success.

              Follow up with thank you notes and/or gift baskets for all who contributed. Make these creative, following your original theme if possible. 

              Secure all props and materials. Clean and sort all costumes before storing them. Keep costumes that need repairs separate so they can be repaired before the next season.

                              Take some time off to relax and catch up on sleep.

              Start preparing for the next season as early as possible. Make your plan, decide on your theme, establish your budget, and secure your sponsorships before you begin the season

 

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