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Thread: Where did you start out? Ideas and insight wanted.

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  1. Default Where did you start out? Ideas and insight wanted. 
    #1
    Join Date
    Apr 2013
    Location
    Southeast Michigan
    Posts
    69
    I've been wracking my brain lately, working on a location to open my haunt, and I'm wrestling with a lot of questions; long-term lease? Seasonal lease? buy?. Everyone i know in the industry either bought their haunt already up and running, or started back in the late 80's/early 90's when the landscape was a lot different. I figured this forum should have a wealth of stories about personal experiences on finding the perfect location from people who started from scratch in the last 10 years (older opinions welcome as well )

    I'm finding commercial lease rates, even in less than the greatest areas, to be rather high for a seasonal attraction, and I'd really love to not have to tear down every season, and have somewhere to work on things in the off-season to continue improving. Anything for sale on a land contract generally needs lots of work or has no fire suppression. We've looked at shopping plazas (not ideals in my point of view), and almost bought a free-standing building (needed about $150k worth of roof, electrical and HVAC work). I've gone back and forth between thinking the best plan is to rent for a few years and build it up, and thinking that we have to just have our own place to have free reign with what we want to do.

    So I'm interested in hearing what everyone out there has to say on the subject. What would you consider as a reasonable lease rate and an ideal space for starting out? Does anyone have any tips on where to look for unconventional spaces that are still large enough and will meet fire codes? Is it really as much of a pain as I think it is to run a temporary attraction and put up/tear down every year? Is temporary really the only way to go to get things running unless you are independently wealthy and money is no object?

    Thanks for any feedback!
     

  2. Default  
    #2
    Join Date
    Jul 2006
    Location
    Connellsville, Pennsylvania, United States
    Posts
    89
    Well, I think a lot of it depends on where you are. When I read these forums sometimes I'm shocked at what people pay rent and/or lease. It also depends on your competition and whether not or not you're in an area that is "Haunt friendly" or in other words, if they're welcoming you with open arms.

    I don't claim to be an expert, however, because '17 will be only our second year in business. But sometimes it's nice to hear from the "little man"😜

    We purchased our building in 2008. It is an old brick school building with 3 floors. It had been in use since it was built in 1916, which was a good thing. It was formally the Administrative offices for the school district. We didn't have the money to make it a haunt right away because we had a mortgage to pay. So we renovated the classrooms and rented them out to businesses. At the moment we have a daycare/preschool, a hair salon and a tanning salon. We used to have my nail salon in there as well, but I moved into my garage so I could be closer to my kids, and also to feee up a space for the makeup/dressing area for the haunt. The long-term plan is to turn the entire building into the haunt. We have a full basement with a gymnasium, and 2 floors of classrooms, so around 21k sq ft. When we purchased the building, NO ONE wanted it. We are in a very small town about 50 miles outside of Pittsburgh Pa. When I say no one wanted it, I mean that it was a burden to the town. We have a lot of older building in this town that haven't been maintained, and are now in desperate need of demolition. In 2008 there were many many buildings that the city was fighting the owners to have torn down. But no one could afford it. So we purchased our building for 35k. That isn't a typo. We took out more money to renovate, but the mortgage is almost paid off.

    When you said it would be nice to have a place to work on stuff in the off-season, you couldn't be more right. My husband I say all the time about how much of a pain in the ass it would be to have to build everything outside of the haunt, then bring it in-if we were leasing I mean. Our location is fantastic, we are right off of a busy state road. Our neighbors across the street allow us to use their Parking lot (haven't had to yet but it's nice that we have that for overflow!) And the city officials are all so happy just to see another business open in town. I think we got lucky when we found our building because things are now being torn down and rebuilt. Our town is getting cleaned up. There are people fighting to buy property close by my haunt. We have a bike trail that is very busy and bringing people thru our town from Maryland and Philly. And we are 1 street away from the bike trail! You can see our school perfectly from US Rt 119. A new Sheetz convenience store was just built across the street with a perfect view of our haunt!

    As far as funds go, we didn't get any investors or loans for our haunt. We out in a ton of hard work and time into it last year, and we will be doing the same thing this year. My husband is a jack of all trades, which anyone in this industry can tell you, saves us a TON of money. He is a machinist by trade. We wouldn't be able to even HAVE the haunt if it weren't for him. He is also a certified state haunt inspector, which was probably the best idea we've ever had.

    I think had we not found the school, we would probably be operating an outdoor haunt at this point. We know a lot of people with farmland and have even mentioned it in the past. The trouble with that around here though, is the rain. I have no idea how to create an outdoor scene that can stand up to the elements, but I'm sure many others on this board can help out with that. So maybe you can collaborate with someone who has a building or property?
    ~nail in the coffin~

    **Crawford School of Terror**
    Connellsville, PA
     

  3. Default Thanks! 
    #3
    Join Date
    Apr 2013
    Location
    Southeast Michigan
    Posts
    69
    Thanks for the reply, NITC! Great insight for sure. Honestly, if I had a commercial roofer in my crew, we would have a place already. I've got three guys who do construction and remodeling, I handle electronics, wiring, welding, fabricating...but the building we wanted needed a new roof and that put the price tag a bit out of reach and made it a bit too risky. We definitely believe in the "do as much as you can yourself" mantra!

    And your story is interesting for sure, and just goes to show how people come about their haunts in many different ways. Luckily, we do live in a Haunt-friendly area, and I have a lot of friends in the local industry, but they are scattered all over. I have the option to possibly buy an existing haunt, but its a forest, I don't want an outdoor attraction, and its about 1.4 hours away from my house, and almost 3 hours for some of my crew. So that is not an ideal situation at all.

    Thanks again, and best of luck!
     

  4. Default  
    #4
    Join Date
    Mar 2012
    Posts
    183
    I think I choose the easiest path for someone who's not rolling in wealth and doesn't have highly influential friends.

    I found a 30 acre farm (with house) less than 10 minutes from town, sold my suburb home, and moved my family to the farm. Yes. I bought the farm. I work on the haunt year round every day after an 8 hour work day. And weekends. I custom build everything myself. I ~try~ not to spend too much on the building. Outdoor forest trails are arguably the easiest and cheapest way to make a haunt. Startle scares are a bit more challenging due to the default openness of the woods. But it can be done with some black plastic, walls, crates, and creativity.

    No fire marshals. No building inspectors. No architects. No electricians. Some will say you have to make perfectly smooth and level trails. You don't.

    Electricity becomes a slight challenge. Easily defeated with portable generators and extension cords hung 15' up in the trees. 12v powered leds and items made to be waterproof are ideal.

    This will be my 5th year. I can't imagine starting any other way.

    Summary: Buy and move to a farm with a forest. Use generators for power. Focus on story and actors the first year.
     

  5. Default Interesting 
    #5
    Join Date
    Apr 2013
    Location
    Southeast Michigan
    Posts
    69
    MrFoos, that's funny because me and my wife had thought about this before. There are a few nice houses here on 5-10 acres for reasonable prices. Something to consider...but moving is such a pain.
     

  6. Default  
    #6
    Join Date
    Aug 2003
    Location
    Las Vegas
    Posts
    956
    Make sure the property is zoned correctly. Just because it's a farm doesn't mean you can run a different business out of the property.
    R&J Productions
    Las Vegas, NV
    www.LasVegasHaunts.com
     

  7. Default  
    #7
    Join Date
    Apr 2013
    Location
    Southeast Michigan
    Posts
    69
    Good advice. On the other locations we've been looking at I've learned all about special use permits, and zoning variances.
     

  8. Default  
    #8
    Join Date
    Jan 2015
    Location
    MO
    Posts
    212
    We have a mobile haunt. We lost our location after our first year (2016) due to the landlord finally finding a buyer for that property. It had been for sale technically for over 20 years.
    We have a major haunt near us, and a smaller haunt, both are outside city limits, and on what I believe is agri zoned property. No one bats an eye. No sprinklers, no regulations it seems, nothing. Now, we opened up our haunt, no permissions asked. No one said a thing. Even had the sheriff's out once or twice over a disturbance with drunk patrons. Not a peep from anyone.

    We found a house, just outside our city and county, a stone's throw into another county that has two SMALL towns in it, it's next city is 10 minutes drive away as well. There are paintball fields, crazy farm places etc all on my road. It's an old hwy that got moved a few years back so the traffic is much lower now. (But still very easy to get to location) This piece of property is just over 4 acres. Has an actual house on it, surrounded by farmland. Our closest neighbor is half a mile away. Our second closest neighbor is over 2 miles away. I believe we are going in the way of Mrfoos and gonna try to purchase this land (first time buyer's). It IS residential allegedly (according to the listing) but is completely surrounded by farms. The property used to be a truck patch (small farming, green houses etc) and so there's lots of gravel area for parking. Yes, we can outgrow this area in a few years, but hopefully we can purchase a new location at that point.

    The town that's 10 minutes away is 80k people and has one of the strictest, insane fire marshal's I've ever encountered. I think this is the best way to go. Even if all else fails, we would now have a bigger house to fit our family AND a place to park the trailers.
     

  9. Default  
    #9
    Join Date
    Aug 2003
    Location
    St. Louis, MO
    Posts
    10,486
    I would do a long term lease if you love the location and believe its going to work. Why wouldn't you?

    Whenever you put that much work into something you don't want to get it built up only to be forced to leave.

    Larry
     

  10. Default  
    #10
    Join Date
    Nov 2003
    Location
    Davison, Michigan
    Posts
    1,778
    I started my haunt by setting it up and tearing it down each year. Luckily, I was able to get the same building each time. After a few years of that I just rented a place year round. Personally, I would never do the set up tear down thing ever again. I would rather not do a haunt then do it that way, but that is just me. Why would you not want to run in a forest and what forest haunt were you thinking of buying?
    Jared Layman
     

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