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Flying Rigs for Haunted Houses - The how to fly or not to fly
Wed, May 27, 2020
To Fly or Not to Fly - That Is the Question!

by Ben Armstrong

Flying rigs in Haunted Attractions can be very impressive and something to consider adding to your event. However, there are large risks when adding aerial stunts (or any time you have an employee raised above the ground).  Let’s discuss the various ways you accomplish such an effect.
  • Air Powered Lifters and Droppers - In most cases, these are considered the safest as they usually start on the ground and lift an actor into the air. This is good because the actor doesn’t need to strap into the device up high on a platform somewhere in the dark. Also, these usually move somewhat slowly which is also a bonus. There are a few companies that make these, but generally they are not cheap, as they require massive cylinders to safely lift a person’s weight and a large amount of steel to support the rig and the actor. The downside is that the faster they get the more dangerous they become, and the amount of energy required to lift a person can be problematic if an employee gets a costume or hand caught in the works. As always, the method used to safely secure the actor to the rig is critical. These rigs are prone to the same sort of wear and tear as normal animations, so it’s very important to have an inspection system in place when using these devices.
 
  • Bungees – These can be very effective ways to get fast scares. With this sort of stunt, it is essential to have professional equipment meant to take the weight of a person for both the bungee system and the harness. Also critical is the method of attaching the bungee to the overhead structure and the overhead structure itself. This is not recommended unless the equipment & rigging are supplied and installed by a professional. There are bungee systems that can be purchased as stand-alone units. These are very good. The downside is the potential for coming into contact with a patron is high. Careful positioning and training on this stunt are required to make it safe enough to use. Another issue is the athletic ability needed to perform this on a continuous basis. Bungees can be used all night by actors trained to use the bungee as the propulsion for the stunt, but even then, a high level of athleticism is required. Another factor is how the harness fits and the potential for rubbing or bruising.  This is a factor in any stunt when the weight of the actor is held by a harness.
 
  • Tracks – Tracks are stunts whereby an actor wearing a harness is secured to a trolley on a track and flies out over the patrons. This can be quite effective but has its own unique set of problems. As always, the appropriate rigging of the equipment and track installation is essential. A new factor to consider is how difficult it is for the actor to get into position to attach to the track. The factors of darkness, height and attaching the back of the harness to the rig are all very serious. A mistake along the way could lead to an accident. Another issue is the possibility of kicking a guest as you pass overhead or being grabbed or punched while being held in the harness. If the track is set at the appropriate height and the actor is carefully secured in place this can be a very safe & effective stunt, but an extraordinary amount of planning and safety considerations must always be in place. Downsides are the hazards in attaching to the effect, the proper wearing of the harness to prevent rubbing, and the potential for the guests grabbing at the actor.

 
  • Zip Lines – Most of the factors involved in a track stunt come into play with zip lines but in an even more expanded way. Zip lines are more for show than for a scare, as the actor is often seen during most of the flight. All of the same issues of harness safety, professional installation and successfully getting onto the platform exist as before, but with this stunt the platform is usually higher, and therefore the actor will have even greater inability to stop once they commit to the zip.  No chance of impact with guests or other objects should exist, but even more care should be taken when mounting this stunt. To purchase & install the correct cables and trolleys for this sort of flight is quite expensive, and this should be considered one of the most advanced stunts you might undertake despite its seeming simplicity.
 
As you can see flying stunts are not easy or cheap to do safely. Here is a checklist for what you should look at for every stunt you install in your attraction:
  • Anchor Points: The structure must be strongly secured, so I always recommend hiring a professional rigger.
  • Mounting: Ladders and platforms need good traction and handrails.  Rails and safety clip on cables to protect the actor before they are clipped in are also required.
  • Harnesses: Get professional harnesses recommended by the rigger you hire. Make sure they are correctly adjusted to prevent chaffing or bruising. In stunts like air powered lifters where only a belt is needed, make sure it is a belt designed to do what it is doing and one that is properly attached. Harnesses must be periodically replaced. They may only be usable on certain sizes of actors.
  • Bungees & Cables: They need to be rated for the use desired and properly installed. They must be replaced, sometimes every season or sooner if they get damaged.
  • Casting & Training: Your flying actors needs to be athletic, safety-conscious and smart. They must make sure everything is correct with the stunt to always take safety seriously. They must be very aware of their surroundings and what the guests are doing, especially if any possible contact could occur while performing the stunt. They need to be tough, but not oblivious to pain. If they pull a muscle or are dehydrating or are being hurt by the harness, they need to know when to stop.
  • Carabiners, Trolleys & Other Rigging Gear: Professionally recommended and installed gear that is often inspected and used for what it was designed for is the only way to go.
  • Cover the Mechanisms: Especially with air powered lifts, tracks and zip lines, make sure to design things in such a way as to keep your actors’ and guests’ hands off of the tracks and out of the linkages. A finger caught in a trolley will not make for a happy radio call.
  • General Safety & Care: Your stunt actors may need extra breaks, and they need to checked on by staff frequently. It is very easy to dehydrate on stunts and often hard to access water while attached. They need to be able to release themselves in the event of an emergency, for example if the haunt needs to be evacuated.
 

So, there you have it…Stunts can be amazing, extremely effective at scaring your guests, and have a huge WOW factor, but they require an unending dedication to safety, doing things the correct way, training, and a serious dollar investment. If you are mindful, willing & committed to these issues then flying rig stunts might be for you. Good luck!
  Posted by Larry 6.37 AM Read Comments ()
 
 
 
 
How to Carve and Create a Pumpkin Creature - Home Haunting 101
Tue, May 26, 2020
                                   Keepers of the Crop
                    Oversized Pumpkin Creatures, step by step.
 
At Haunted Overload we strive to give the patron a unique and original Halloween experience. To do so, we must constantly build new set pieces that surround the crowd with exciting and visually pleasing images of Halloween. In this article I will focus on how to construct oversized static pumpkin headed creatures. These figures are meant to be set up outdoors. They could be used at an outdoor event or even outside an indoor haunt to attract attention.  Last season we made 4 figures at once to be used throughout our expanded queue line section. People enjoy looking at them as they wait in line for the show. They also set the tone and provide the atmosphere that people have come to expect at our attraction.


 
When designing and constructing creatures like these, cost is always of the utmost concern. Strength is also a very important consideration because they will be battered by wind, rain and possibly snow. One of the figures was built on a hill and loomed over the crowd. We could not afford to have the thing toppling over on people so the design needed to bullet proof, using braces that blended into the scene and looked like small trees.
 
The heads and hands of the figures needed to have the most detail and look real. The goal was to make the heads and hands blend in with the organic material we covered the bodies with at the end. I was excited to try an all new technique for making the pumpkin heads last year. We secured the sponsorship of a spray foam insulation company. That was a huge help for the project because it kept costs to a minimum. The owner educated me about the two different kinds of foam that he used. I knew I would be able to use both in the production of the new heads.
The first step was to have the foam contractor spray 4 large piles of open cell urethane foam. This kind of foam is extremely soft, like a sponge and very easy to carve. You can almost carve it with your bare hands. I used a wood rasp to quickly round the shapes into spheres. Then I asked the contractor to coat the balls with closed cell urethane foam about 1.5 inches thick. This is a much harder foam with more strength. Once again I used a wood rasp and electric sander to shape the foam to appear like a pumpkin with ridges. Then the face could be carved just like a real jack o lantern. The soft foam was then pulled out by hand leaving a hollow shell. A hole was cut in the bottom to make a neck out of chicken wire and Great Stuff spray foam. The neck was used to mount the pumpkin to the body. At this point the shell could be hard coated. I prefer to run to the hardware store and get a bucket of Liquid Nails or any other brand of construction adhesive. Smearing it on with rubber gloves strengthens the pumpkin just fine and makes for a realistic looking skin by filling in some of the gaps and holes that may be left in the foam.


 
The stems were cut from pink foam, ridges made with a Dremel and hit with a heat gun. The heat gun made the ridges stand out more and hardened the foam nicely. We dunked the stems in black latex paint and let dry. Highlighting them with lighter colored paint brought out the details. I like to paint the entire pumpkin with thick black latex paint before a finish coat of pumpkin orange spray paint. The inside got a lighter yellow / orange color to make them look real. The nice thing about this technique is that all the imperfections in the pumpkin add to the detail and make it look more realistic than a perfectly shaped pumpkin made out of plastic.
 
The construction of the hands came next. The size of the pumpkin heads determined how big the hands would be. The hands were made to be roughly the same size as the heads. Once the proportions were determined, strips of plywood were cut for each bone of the fingers. They were then sandwiched between 2 strips of Romex electrical wire and screwed together. The wire held everything in place and allowed the fingers to bend at the knuckles. Two sections of electrical conduit were flattened with a hammer.  Holes were drilled to make way for screws into each side of the plywood palm. A section of 2x4 was then bolted between the conduit for an extremely strong connection at the wrist. These hands are rather heavy when finished so this joint needed to be very strong to last in the elements. I wanted to make sharp fingernails for the hands. These were made by sculpting the nail shape over small sections of the Romex wire. Magic Sculpt 2 part epoxy clay was used. The nails could then be screwed to the ends of the plywood fingers.


 
The hands at this point looked pretty boring. They needed a good amount of detail to look real and organic. For this we used Monster Mud and strips of cheese cloth. Directions for Monster Mud can be found all over the internet. The cheese cloth is light enough to sculpt veins and crazy looking texture over the plywood hands. The hands can be positioned before the mud is applied. If the joints are covered with it they will harden in that position. Once dry, Liquid Nails was smeared over the hands for more protection and detail. Finally black spray paint was applied. I intended to highlight the hands with lighter colored paint but totally ran out of time. The hands were black for this year but will get more detail using a dry brush technique for the upcoming season.
 
With the heads and hands done, it was time to build the bodies. Great care and planning took place to position each of the 4 figures for the best effect before actual construction. I had a local saw mill cut me four beams 4x4x14 feet long. These would be the backbone and main support for each monster. Post holes were excavated deep enough for the beams to stand solid and strong when tamped down. Each one leaned slightly forward for a more natural stance. The proportions were calculated by laying sections of 2x4’s on the ground in the shape of a large body. Using high quality outdoor decking screws, the bodies were screwed together to look like stick figures. Various positions helped make each one look unique and as dynamic as possible. Once the positions were decided upon, smaller sections of wood were added to brace every single joint and possible weak area. The legs were staked into the ground providing three points of contact with the ground. The figures with outstretched arms needed to have saplings staked in the ground and attached high on the arms for additional support. The hands were screwed into position on each of the figures. The heads were attached by sliding them down over stakes secured to the top of the main 4x4. Once the desired position was achieved, Great Stuff foam sprayed into the neck hole held the pumpkin heads in place.


 
Chicken wire was stapled to the wood to form the rib cage and flesh out each statue. Black construction fabric was used to cover the entire body of each one. Finally, burlap, erosion cloth, pumpkin vines, and hay were used to detail the bodies. Lighting of the finished figures was also important to their overall effectiveness.  By up lighting them, details of the burlap and pumpkin vines were accentuated for a more dramatic look. Battery operated flickering tea lights were used to illuminate the heads before each show. Lights that plug in are planned next year for convenience. The heads can be switched around from figure to figure for different looks as well. The Statues really gave our new queue line the eye candy it needed. Patrons were very enthusiastic about the oversized creatures and made many positive comments when viewing them.

  Posted by Larry 3.42 PM Read Comments ()
 
 
 
 
How a Haunted House Owner Survives the Next 10 Years
Tue, May 19, 2020
How a Haunted House Owner Survives the Next 10 Years
By Larry Kirchner

The haunted house industry is moving into an entire new decade, the ROARing twenties.  Who will scream the loudest in 2020?  What haunted attraction or vendor will make all the right moves to survive into the next decade.  If you haven't noticed things are drastically changing.  Can I make a prediction?  After seeing several haunts and suppliers call it quits in 2019, I'm predicting the industry as we know it is going to change once again.  My prediction is several more suppliers are going out of business or downsizing.  I believe we're going to see several middle to small haunts close their attractions, and haunt  vendors can't survive on the Netherworld's of the industry alone. 
Just as our country must have a middle class (otherwise we'll turn into the next Venezuela), so we must have small and medium sized haunts.  They make up 90% of every attraction that will open in 2020.  Most of these attractions do not make enough money to earn a living, yet they survive.  Why?  This is very much a passion-based business, and these people will borrow every cent they can find to re-open, because they love haunted houses.   Many small haunts run their attractions with volunteers and in many cases operate for the sole benefit of a charity.  I believe most of these haunts will survive on passion alone.  But what about the haunted houses that strive for the next level, every year spending more and more, hoping to break thru? 

These haunted house owners are quickly learning… there are other options to make more money with less hassle.  To operate a professional haunted house in 2020 you must understand digital marketing, social media, and be able to evolve to meet a new level of competition.  Haunted Houses are no longer just in competition with other haunts.  No, no, no.  Now you have all sorts of competitive social activities such as axe throwing, escape rooms, vintage arcade bars, botchy ball bars, Top Golf, plus wacky mini golf is about to invade the scene.   Many haunt owners have already taken their operation skills and their ability to build themed attractions and have opened escape rooms and axe throwing.  Some haunters opened escape rooms that are now grossing more revenue in 4 months than their haunted house.  Some axe throwing facilities are grossing more money than the highest gross haunted house in our industry.  You operate these attractions with a handful of employees, offering full time jobs, and gone are the hassles of dealing with 150 employees to operate one single haunted house.  Many haunt owners are getting older and wiser.  Let's think about this for a moment: less stress, easier to manage, and three times the money of a haunted house. 
The other problem haunted houses face is competition from amusement parks who've totally embraced Halloween.  Many theme parks advertise their events as FREE to season pass holders, while our haunted houses range from $20-$35 dollars.  Sure, when those customers get to their local amusement park, only then they realize their “free entry” doesn’t include the haunts which cost an additional $30+, but that is a minor detail.  Haunted House owners can't offer the type of concessions, rides, and infrastructure of an amusement park.

I believe this industry is headed for the cream of the crop mega haunts and the charity haunts with little to no middle-class haunts.   Many haunters have sold or closed their haunts and joined other companies/haunts.  The ranks are thinning and will most likely continue to thin big league. 



We use to own Halloween, but now the competition is fierce and coming from more than just other haunted houses.  One of the biggest killers of our industry stems from those who didn't further educate themselves to learn digital marketing or evolve their haunts into massive entertainment, rather than continue to only focus on the scares. 
Let's look at The Darkness for example .  My first mistake was building a side haunted house called The Hive behind my escape rooms.  I quickly realized this mistake after I built a very successful escape room business.  Now I want to sell that haunted house to free up space to build out my escape room facility to add more attractions that can be open year-round.  I want to offer axe throwing, a bar, vintage arcades, pinball, board games, and maybe bowling.  My up-charged haunted house makes about $65,000 a year, whereas my new bar might gross $500,000+ a year. 

In the last 5 years, we've added tons of photo ops, to the point no one can even go into the haunted house without getting their picture taken.  We want every customer to have a keepsake.  We never opened for special events, but now we open for both Krampus Christmas and Bloody Valentines giving out free candy & photos.  Never before did we focus on icon monsters not to scare anymore, but rather take pictures with guests so they can share on social media.  Now we actively recruit our customers via Fear Ticket to leave us a review.  Fear Ticket has a feature that allows me to send every single customer an automatic email 2-hours after their visit asking for a review.  This year we had the best reviews ever!  For 20 years, we told people no video, no photography.  Now we encourage it, hoping they live stream their screams!   For two decades once the customers left the last scary scene the haunted house was over. Now after the last SCREAM we have a massive entertainment room that features horror video games, horror pinball games, an electric chair ride, a 5-minute escape, gift store, snacks and tons of photo ops. 

At Creepyworld, we built a really fun outdoor que line with photo ops, and a midway at the exit with zombie paintball, free horror movies, game booths, an escape room, a free pumpkin display and (again) tons of photo ops.  Now, the most important actors are the ones in the midway who don't scare anymore but just take photos with guests.  Imagine that!  My focus isn't how many guests but the average amount each guest spends between the ticket, additional activities, food, drink, and gift shopping.  Customers don't want to be scared as much as they want to have fun. They want an experience with friends that they can document on social media.  With our marketing, we use lines like 'GRAB YOUR FRIENDS AND SCREAM TOGETHER'.  Today everyone does things as a group and if one person in that group doesn't like to get scared the entire sale could be nixed, so you must learn to ENTERTAIN your guests.  You need to make sure your guests are sharing their experience and showing their friends who didn't attend just how much fun they missed! 



Here is the bottom line: The small charity haunts with volunteer staff will survive, but professional haunts will not survive on that passion alone; you must adapt to 2020 customer demands or you will not make it.  As for vendors, we don’t need more dead bodies.  We need innovation that meets these new 2020 demands like innovative photo ops, things that promote our business, maybe an arcade machine that triggers animations inside the haunt, something a person pays to play. Or wouldn't it be cool if a vendor came up with a system that videotaped a guest’s experience thru the haunted house?  Now that is something we could up sell!  As for VR (virtual reality), we don't need 30-minute games; we need 5-minute intense experiences to increase revenue, small short experiences that can readily be up sold.  How about cool photo booths, apps for our website that involve turning guests into zombies then wrapping the photo with our logos?  It really is time for all vendors to start thinking about the future. Are you a vendor?  Can you create a product to help us either sell a ticket, entertain guests, dominate social media, or make us more money?  If so that is what we want and need to buy! 
 
How does one know what haunts want to buy?  How do you figure what is working or isn't working?  How do you honestly get the help you need?  We had that in the Hauntworld Fright Forum where people learned more than they ever did thru any other medium, but then we fell into the Facebook trap.   Now our industry has hundreds of useless Facebook groups where the conversations are dominated by enthusiasts or seasonal haunt actors referring to themselves as haunters.  Even if someone asked a legit question or post a great tip, most of us never see it, because other useless posts are made, washing it away the useful posts 10 miles deep.   Most big industries have private message boards, where people go for information.  The Hauntworld Fright Forum does still exist for your use if/when needed, but I'm not saying the Hauntworld Fright Forum is your answer.  I’m simply saying haunted house owners need a forum for professional discussion.  It’s really that simple because we're all scattered in our own worlds across the social media universe.  Time is money, yet people can spend hours looking around social media and still learn nothing and share nothing. 

In closing, Hauntworld Magazine under my direction has always focused on articles to help your business first.  The seminar topics I choose to speak on at Transworld are always about business first.  I am well known for having one of the most detailed haunted houses in the World. If I were to do a design & detail seminar, I’m sure it would sell out quickly.  Yet, I choose to focus on helping haunt owners with the information that I know will help their business the most. I’ve learned the hard way that buying the best new walls or 3 more animations or 10 more masks, don't buy you another customer.  Yes, as haunters, this is what we enjoy, but your haunt needs information and most importantly it needs to adapt for this current generation of customers.  With everything being said as haunt owners we still want cool masks, costumes, animations and gadgets to make people scream, but at what point do you already have enough?  Your new first focus should be on growing entertainment options for your guests, start with a zombie paintball side attraction.  Big money maker and guests find it fun!  Secondly stop stressing about how many guests, but rather entertain the ones who come, and give them options to spend more money with you! 
  Posted by Larry 3.07 PM Read Comments ()
 
 
 
 
Building a 5 Minute Escape Room
Tue, May 19, 2020
THE MANGLER’S FEAR MACHINE!
Building an Automated 3 Minute Escape Game
Ben Armstrong - NETHERWORLD Haunted House - www.Fearworld.com
 
  Escape games!  A year ago everyone was talking about them, and if they weren’t opening them they were thinking about it.  Not us. Long, long ago we tried all sorts of wacky haunt related activities until we made a simple decision – focus on the core!  We did and it worked out for us very well and allowed the haunt to become successful. But EVERYONE was just diving into these escape games and it seemed to be the main thing haunters wanted to talk about. Did we want a new full time job? No thanks… the haunt kept us busy enough. Did we have room for it? Nope, we were using every inch and didn’t want to pull back on show space. But then I heard Kelly Collins speak about 3 minute escape games and it got me thinking…Only open when the haunt is… Only takes up a tiny footprint… Something new and fun to try…. So we figured why not and jumped in!
Right out of the gate Max (my son) and I were most concerned with throughput, and we wanted to build a game that was completely automated with zero reset time.  The space would be small - 8x8 feet with a small tech room on the side, just big enough to squeeze into a corner of the gift shop. Since we had a bunch of steel grating and were cranking out FR tech panels with our new vacuform machine, we wrote up an industrial concept and called it THE MANGLER’S FEAR MACHINE after one of our more well-known icon characters.  A five step clue stream was decided upon, with each discovery revealing the next.



The room is run by a cascading series of Fright Ideas Flexs controlling multiple videos shown on two different monitors using Bright Signs for playback. When the guests first enter the room, a video of the Mangler explains the game, and the countdown begins on a second monitor. There are several “scare” effects that players can trigger including a saw blade that drops into the set, strobes and crackers, etc. but they do not affect the actual clue stream. If the players do not trigger the first sequence effect soon, the Mangler appears every 30 seconds or so with an increasingly clear set of clues. When they move to the second puzzle he resets and moves to the first clue for the second puzzle, etc.  so clues are automatically given throughout the game. Since it is only 3 minutes long the operator watching the guests from a monitor will also give audio prompts if they get too far behind.

The game is basically “stick your hand in a disgusting place” to find the hidden button, and needless to say they really appreciate the hand sanitizer we supply as they leave the machine!  We beta tested the game at a summer event we did at the haunt and after a few tweaks to make the game easier including adding subtitles for the Mangler, and a few lighting changes to make the clues more obvious we were ready for the season.
The game would have run about $5000 with parts and labor to make from scratch, but we had a lot of the materials available so it didn’t really cost that much out of pocket.  A day for the walls, a few days for vacuform production and finishing, a few days for steel and wood fabrication for the puzzles and scares, a day or so for paint and set dressing and props went pretty fast. The most time was spent on tech, audio/video and also in wiring up all of the effects, pneumatics and controllers in a way to make it very resettable and still very safe – it was a big concern to us that boxes would not shut on people’s hands for example, if there was a power drop.

Ultimately it was a success. Around 5000 people paid an extra 5 bucks to play with about 3000 winning the game. With only one staff person to run it and very happy customers we were glad we did it. Not exactly haunt numbers but still lots of fun and not a bad profit center as well. Now full sized escape games… THAT will be a story for another day!

  Posted by Larry 2.56 PM Read Comments ()
 
 
 
 
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 

  Posted by Larry 11.12 PM Read Comments ()
 
 
 
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