How to Save Haunted House Vendors and The Haunt Industry?

Fri, May 15, 2020

How to Save Vendors and What Should Haunt Owners Do? 

Even before this pandemic, several vendors had already gone out of business.  Now with the virus situation, Transworld cancellation, and haunt owners not placing orders out of fear of not opening, will more ill fate plunder our vendor community? What options do vendors have?  (The majority of this article was written prior to the cancellation of Transworld show and mostly applies to how vendors should price their products in the future.) Even before all this, vendors were struggling. Some had already cancelled their booths and filed bankruptcy.  I can't speak for these companies, but I can tell you this…Overall, haunted house vendors do not charge enough.  I’ve talked to someone who builds escape room attractions charging only $50,000.  I’ve talked to someone else who builds haunted houses who jumped at the chance to build one for an amusement park for only $75,000.  I'm like WHAT?  You can't make any money, especially after you build, ship, and install. Anytime I get a call, my first question is budget.  If it’s $100,000 or less, my answer is SORRY.  Why?  On every project, the buyer expects you to ship and install.  Some companies don't have  the kind of experience of installing attractions like our company, but let me forewarn.  You can get tied up on site for a couple weeks on an install, paying people every day, hotels, food, travel costs, and more.  Simply put, you can't do it for $50,000.  Just because someone offers you a job, doesn't mean you should take it.  Sometimes doing nothing is better than doing something that will tie up your company’s time and prevent you from doing something else that actually makes money.
 
Same thing goes to vendors who sell animations, costumes, masks, and more.  The industry started almost like a hobby, and some never left that mentality.  Haunted house owners charge $25-$35 to enter their attractions not $8-$10 like in 1999.  Vendors:  Success is about how much you make, not how many you sell.  As a haunt owner, I learned long ago that customers don't choose which haunted house to visit based on price; it’s about the quality of the haunt.  If your a vendor with the best product, then trust your price with a built-in margin, so you can take care of your employees and your family.


 
Too many new vendors come into the game thinking they must keep the price as low as possible.  When Transworld started this show in St Louis,  the site was chosen in part because it was the cheapest convention center. Why?  The idea was if you make the booth prices super low more vendors would buy booths and the show could launch more successfully.  I encouraged Transworld to charge admission fee to maintain those lower booth costs  Initially Jen thought NO WAY, but if people can't pay $100+ to support the show and the vendors, then they don't need to walk in the door.  The cost of the show needs to be shared by vendors and buyers alike.  I recently talked to a big retailer, and still he thinks of the Transworld show as a convention not a tradeshow.  Why did he say that?  Clearly too many actors and enthusiasts show up, plus some haunt owners bring up to 30 of their staff.  Some people run around in costume.  Some people are there just to have fun.  I can understand his perception, but I argued back that Transworld is a tradeshow, because it’s a show for a billion dollar industry.  (You could argue that Escape Rooms worldwide might be a billion dollar industry now too.)  Transworld could charge $200 for entry to weed out the non-buyers and not worry about losing a single valid buyer.   Vendors: you would spend more time on the show floor talking to qualified buyers, not people who roam the floor without any ability to buy a $5000 prop.  Haunt owners: you should NOT bring 20-30 of your staff to waste vendors time.  This must be a tradeshow not a convention.  Midwest Haunters Convention is a convention, so take them there.  Transworld should be a place to do business. 
 
Vendors shouldn't be worried about losing one sale due to raised prices.  You're entitled to make a profit.  If a haunt owner cries about the price, ask them if they're lowering their admission price?  You'll hear crickets!  If we're going to maintain a strong & healthy vendor community, companies might need to raise prices and not be afraid to make a profit.  For an escape room attraction, I charge minimum $100,000 while so many others sell them for $50,000, but many companies are going out of business, and I'm still standing.  Ghost Ride is still standing , now in it's 21st year.  Creative Visions is still humming along after 27 years.  If I make more money from 1 sale than you make from selling 3, well that is a problem for YOU, not me I want to focus on doing a GREAT JOB offering the BEST product and service.  It’s not about how many I can sell.  You learn from experience and experience teaches you quantity doesn't equal profit.  Learn the motto: Work smarter not harder and deliver a better product both on-time & ahead of schedule.   That is how you do it!

But how do vendors survive an entire year of virtually no orders?  Vendors: It won't be easy, but you can survive.  For starters I hope you got approved for a PPP loan from the government and are using it to hire your staff to build inventory.  Yes, build up inventory, because you need to bet on yourself.  Ten years ago haunts typically bought products in late July and early August, using credit cards to finance upgrades.  This could be the case again. Haunts want to know what conditions will be in 6 to 8 weeks from today.  The economy is going to re-open; it has to re-open, because having a depression, poverty, and high crime would destroy more lives than this virus ever could.  Right now states can't pay their bills. Cities and townships are laying people off and cutting budgets, because they have no revenue.  Cities and States have no other option but to open and once they do there won't be any turning back.  This will become very clear by July, and once that happens haunts might start calling asking 'WHAT DO YOU HAVE'.  Use government PPP loans to build inventory, because there will be haunts calling in late July, and when they do you'll have product.  Re-read what was written above, stop the discounts and make a profit!  If a haunt owner wants to wait until July or August...FINE, but charge appropriately because you have a business to save. No matter what happens, Transworld should strongly consider moving the Tradeshow to January or February to help vendors, at least for 2021, if the convention has open dates.  Either way the show is currently booked for March 4th 2021, the earliest ever, so that helps!  

What should haunt owners do this 2020 season?  I've heard a lot of really wacky concepts like hayrides and haunts doing drive thru... dumbest idea I've ever heard.  I'm not risking any of my actors getting hit by cars.  Overall, haunt owners have different ideas on what they should do, but honestly why consider doing anything outside the realm of what you normally do?  Yes..."buyer confidence" is low right now, and haunt owners are fearful of lower attendance, so skim costs to offset that possibility.  For example, you can switch ticketing to Fearticket.com, offering the lowest fees with the best system and fastest scanning PLUS remarketing! Fearticket offers regular tickets, timed ticketing, dynamic pricing, group scanning, and everything in between. And, FearTicket doesn't keep your online convenience fees, so technically many of you could actually MAKE MONEY by switching. (Shameless plug, I know...Sorry.  Still, you should switch. )  

Speaking of timed ticketing...Is that the saving grace we all should incorporate for 2020?  Good question but NOPE!  Is timed ticketing going to prevent actors from being within 6 feet of customers or customers stopping in the haunt and backing up the groups? Is that going to prevent a screaming, fleeing customer from running into other people? No. So how would timed ticketing solve that problem?  

Thinking positively, haunts might actually thrive in this environment.  After all, we tend to all do well when people opt for "stay-cations" rather than "vacations".  What you should do right now is PLAN TO OPEN!  Get your websites updated, get your social media content created, repair your haunt, interview possible staff members, plan your marketing. What else would you do...wait around until the last minute?  Yes you're going to spend some money, but this is your only option.  Just make sure if you sign marketing deals, add a clause you can cancel with 24 hour notice.  If for some reason you can't open, well you can still cancel all the marketing, you don't hire the staff, and you simply cancel everything. (I believe you will open though.)  

Things you could consider to give the public trust in your attraction: (1) Post Warning Signs everywhere including your website.  Visit www.Hauntworld.com Fright Forum where you can get FREE warning signs to use.  Your warning signs should warn people against entering if they're sick, suggesting everyone wear masks, wash their hands, etc. (2)Put washing stations at the entrance. (3)Take touchless temperature of every staff member and maybe every guest too. (4)Spray-sanitize everyone's hands as they enter. (5)Purchase affordable masks for every possible customer and require them to wear them while in the attraction

Other thing to do:

(1) Reduce spending overall. 

(2) You could remove sections of your haunt to reduce staffing, while adding midway attractions which make money.  Haunts need to add more scareboxes / scarezones so actors can stay busy hitting multiple sides of the attraction from one area.  REDUCE STAFF!  

3)  Marketing:  Don't throw a wide net, focus on marketing to the CORE audience.  Cut out all TV and almost all radio and focus on Google, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, mass email and maybe Youtube with a few billboards. Oh and Hauntworld.com!  All haunts should seek better deals from marketing companies or skip them. I also would not launch early marketing programs; I would start marketing no more than 10 days before opening date to save money.

4)  Public Relations:  This is the year to SKIP ALL PR efforts.  Why?  The media could be your worst enemy this year, asking specific questions about safety.  I would avoid the media in 2020 and keep a very low profile. Open your haunt, do your best, and make it thru. 

5)  Reduce operating Days:  This is not the year to open in early September or stay open deep into November.  This October has 5 weekends so maybe you skip September all together. Maybe instead of opening every night in October just open weekends.  Do what you need to do to cut costs, and focus on the meat and potatoes. If you open later, you'll save labor costs and marketing costs. We've already decided one of our haunts (LEMP) will only open TEN DAYS just Friday and Saturdays in October.  We have cut some days from Darkness and Creepyworld too. 

6)  Add Revenue Generating Upgrades:  Instead of building new scenes, create new revenue generating attractions like a small zombie paintball arena, a 5-minute escape room, gift stores, photo ops, horror arcade, pumpkin smashing, anything that is FUN that generates additional revenue.  You can do this simply by removing the last 2000 square feet of your haunt.  This is a smart move!

7)   Buy the new How to Get Rich DVD on hauntedhousesupplies.com:  (I know... another shameless plug.  Sorry.)  I might have titled the DVD wrong, because some mistakenly think this is about how to start a successful haunt, but it's more for haunted house owners who currently own a haunt. The DVD shows you how to reduce staff, how to open a gift store, how to build scareboxes to maximize actors, how to market your haunt more effectively, how to create 5 minute escape rooms, and so much more.  You can get this DVD at www.HauntedHouseSupplies.com with that being said, this DVD will help you RIGHT NOW!  It is by far the best DVD I've ever made; sadly we didn't get to promote the DVD at Trasnworld.  All the same, snag this DVD, because it will help your business. 

And FINALLY, become a member of the Hauntworld Fright Forum. You can't learn anything on Facebook.  Come to the Fright Forum, where we can talk, share, learn, exchange, trade, etc.  I'm posting important information every week on the forums and the blog, and tune into Hauntworld.com to listen to our new podcast which will start soon!

Happy Haunting,
Larry Kirchner

PS:  I never thought in a million years we'd get to issue 50 but it was a goal and we made it!  Always set goals and achieve them.  It makes everything between worthwhile.  Congrats to Hauntworld Magazine!  Get your subscription now at www.HauntedhouseMagazine.com 

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