When it comes to the haunted house & attractions industry, Leo Martin has seen it all. He came onto the scene in 1991 at the early age of 19 when he became a franchisee of The Original Haunted Hayride. He opened what is now one of the oldest longest-running haunted attractions in the country at his parents’ property in Malta, NY known as Double M Farms in Saratoga County.
That’s right; there was once a major franchise in the haunted attraction industry. In the early 90s, approximately 50 franchise locations of The Original Haunted Hayride were in operation. They even had a famous spokesperson, Vincent Price. The franchise would eventually dissolve in 1995, but this was just the beginning for Martin’s operation and his love of haunting.
The Original Haunted Hayride at Double M morphed into Double M’s Haunted Hayride, an independent haunted attraction where Martin had more opportunity to get as creative, as horrific, and as sinister as he always wanted. To tie into the western theme of the Double M property, which was established in 1966 by Ron and Kathy Martin and is home to a western store with cowboy boots and a full-fledged rodeo in the summer, Leo Martin developed the iconic dead cowboy character Scary Harry which continues to serve as the main branded icon character today. Every Halloween season, Martin creates a haunted environment that submerges guests in evils of the old west as they return to terrorize the undead.
As the business evolved from a 1-attraction haunted hayride to a full blown haunted screampark, so the operations evolved too. Fortunately, Leo’s wife Jennifer joined the team along the way and manages much of the logistics of the business. This allows Leo to focus on construction and scare tactics. Plus, the third generation has also entered the family business at Double M, with Leo and Jennifer’s son Max now helping with creative, set building, acting and management. Fast forward to 2019, and Double M’s Haunted Hayride is preparing for its 29th year of fear!
Just how much is there to manage you ask? How about a 40 minute haunted hayride, four haunted houses totaling 30 minutes, nine tractor-drawn wagons that each seat 50 people, 150 employees, and 25,000+ customers per season.
“It’s a massive operation,” said Martin. “We started with maybe 45 employees in year one and have grown bigger and bigger as we continuously strive to deliver a better experience each year for our customers. They expect us to top ourselves every year, and we take that challenge very seriously.”
A key management team of 10 horror junkies meet throughout the year to develop the upcoming season’s attractions. The process starts in November when the team convenes to dissect the season that has just passed: what worked best, what needs to go, what ideas do they have in mind already for next season? A major brainstorming meeting takes place in late Winter to early Spring where new ideas are fleshed out and a rough sketch of the upcoming season starts to take shape. The Martins then take this rough sketch to TransWorld’s Halloween & Attractions Show in late March as a guide for purchasing decisions for new costumes, horrific props, multi-motion animations, extreme CGI FX or anything else that fits their upcoming season’s themes. As soon as they return from the show, it’s build time.
“Everything we do is very calculated, almost scientific,” said Martin. “We’re not just throwing it together in September - October. The notion of a seasonal business does not exist in our world. We’re in it 365 days a year to provide the best, scariest haunted house events for our customers.”
But it’s not just the haunts that undergo careful planning. Double M’s Haunted Hayride takes the same approach to its marketing strategies. Marketing meetings begin in the Spring where messaging and mediums are analyzed, and out-of-the-box ideas are developed.
“We’re big on experiential marketing,” said Martin. “Our first big experience-based promotion was our zombie invasion of nearby Saratoga Springs dubbed #ZombieToga which made headlines all over our local news media. We followed that up with a zombie invasion at Clifton Park Center Mall’s Halloween event which was a huge hit. We also ran a competition to spend a night in a hearse on our property where the competitor would walk away with $1,000 if she survived everything we threw at her over the course of the night. She did survive, and we were really happy about that, because she was a single mom who planned on using that money for her kids. It was a great experience, and of course we documented the whole thing in a 30 minute YouTube special called Hell in a Hearse…Go watch it!”
When it comes to safety and security, the Martins take zero shortcuts. There are security and EMS personnel on-site each and every night. At the beginning of the season, employees attend an active shooter training by the local Sheriff’s department and sexual harassment prevention training.
“We’re a family, and as a family we care about the well-being of our employees and our customers,” said Jennifer Martin. “We take every measure we can to provide a safe environment to experience the fun of the Halloween season.”
Speaking of employees; recruiting, hiring, training and managing 150 employees is no easy feat. The process begins in the summer with a job fair and auditions. Those that make the cut are welcomed to the team and undergo training and rehearsals ahead of opening night. You might be wondering how many makeup artists Double M must employ for all of their actors…and the answer will probably shock you: ONE. Makeup artist PJ Duell works with speed and precision each night as he transforms ordinary (well, maybe not ordinary…we are in the haunt biz) humans into terrifying characters from every corner of the imagination and beyond.
Now that the haunts have been designed and built, the marketing machine is running, the team of employees is in place and trained, and the makeup is applied…it’s scream time!
The 2019 season at Double M’s Haunted Hayride will kick off with a fall Harvest Party featuring live music and the entire haunted experience. This year’s attractions include: the tractor-drawn haunted hayride through acres and acres of dark woods that are home to a freakish variety of beings; the tortuous family compound referred to by those who know of its crimes against humanity as Brutality; the place you’ll never sleep and maybe never escape known as The Last Inn; the pitch-black maze of cages Maximum Outage; and the all-new not-so-merry and bright Christmas themed attraction Jingle Hell. This year will also see the debut of Killshot Zombie Laser Tag. The 2019 haunt season will reach its grand finale on Extreme Night, an 18+ interactive experience where the lines are blurred and things get real.
Then, just like that, the 2019 haunted house season is over. The woods of Double M grow eerily quiet. The thrill-seeking customers from near and far turn their attention to happy thoughts of roasted turkeys, hot cocoa and Christmas trees. And the Martins begin plotting how to terrify them all over again in 2020.
Double M Haunted Hayrides / 678 NY-67, Ballston Spa, NY 12020 / doublemhauntedhayrides.com