How To Expand Business, Engage Fans, & Scare The Sh*t Out Of People

At the age of 24, Cody Bailey has not only mastered, but continues to push the limits of what the Haunted House Industry has to offer. After founding Hush Haunted Attractions in Westland, MI, with Scott Gunaca in 2013, he has grown the business to the point of expansion in just two years. Cody attributes Hush’s success to his incredible team, the tremendous volunteer and support effort from the community, and the strong, core values of the company that emphasize attention to detail and fun.

Although Hush has had its fair share of success, it’s not all rainbows and butterflies (actually, it’s more like zombies and monsters) in the world of haunted attractions. There’s year round planning, long nights building sets and rehearsing, and lots of marketing that goes into each event. I got together with Cody to get a sneak peak of what this year’s haunted experience would be like, and how he manages and delegates the many components of his haunted masterpiece. Here’s what he had to say…

What sets you apart from other haunted attractions?

Our storyline. We didn’t save anything from the first year; we rebuilt it all from scratch and expanded. It took a lot of work, but that attention to detail is what keeps people coming back year after year. They want to know what’s going to happen next. People think this is a 5 month industry, but as soon as the season ends, we start reworking our story and get ready for our off-season events. Looking back on past season’s plot, we work to expand and elaborate on what will happen next with our characters. This past February, we did a Valentine’s Day event that was a huge success. Just because it’s not the night of October 31st, doesn’t mean people aren’t looking for a fresh, fun scare.

Online ticketing saves a lot of time. On a busy Saturday night, we’ve typically got a two hour wait. In addition, there’s about a one hour ticket line. Cutting that time down with online sales has saved my staff from stress overload and our customers from having to wait so long. Sometimes if the wait in unavoidable, we’ll send actors out to interact with guests or throw free t-shirts from the roof.

Partnering with charities is our way of giving back to the community. Last fall, we hosted Scream for Big Life, which helps to preserve African Wildlife. This year, we’re excited to be partnering with Don’t Be A Monster, an anti-bullying campaign, for our Scream Into Summer Event. Working with these types of organizations is not only fun for us, but it resonates with our guests. It’s exciting to know that our efforts and resources are helping to a worthy cause.

How do you engage your audience?

We try to do things that other have never done. We’ve been making 3-4 minute promo videos. We’ve partnered with 9.55’s Mojo in the Morning for radio ads and even got a couple of their DJs to come through Hush! We’re the first haunted house in Michigan to ever put TV ads up during American Horror Story and Walking Dead. We go to conventions that give us access to 60,000 people in a span of three days and reach out to people online throughout the year. It’s not just about interacting with people during the six weeks that we’re open; it’s about building a year round community that feels like a family.

As a bonus, at last year’s Comic Con, a few celebrities stopped at our booth, took photos, and wore our t-shirts. Forming relationships with them was huge for us and we’ve made it a goal to bring those celebs to our haunted house this year!

Katie Cassidy from Arrow poses with the guys from Hush

Katie Cassidy from Arrow poses with the guys from Hush

How do you encourage volunteers and staff members to go above and beyond?

Haunted house actors face the unique challenge of developing a complex and memorable character that can read and engage a guest in 10-15 seconds and then, repeat that process for hours at a time. We spend a lot of time with our actors and actresses and try to give them control of what they want their character to be like. I’ll give them a generic background, then give them creative freedom and trust that they’ll make something sick and scary. We also give out awards like Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Character, Most Improved, and MVP. The MVP is reserved for someone who not only does a stellar job acting, but also arrives early and stays late to help set-up and clean. We have hand-sculpted and custom Hush trophies that we take pretty seriously. It’s a big deal if you get one!

What’s your philosophy for success in such a competitive industry?

Find that thing that makes you stand out. Don’t focus on conforming to what everyone else is doing or what others say you should do.
For us, it’s our attention to detail with our story and characters that sets us apart. More importantly, have fun. We realize Hush is a business, but we also understand that if we’re not having fun, we’re not going to succeed. This philosophy makes pulling an all-nighter before opening weekend much easier to get through! If you’re having fun with your friends and people you think of as family, everyone’s much more inclined to not only stay late, but also produce awesome work.

What exciting events can we expect from the new Hush location?

We’re going to replicate some things from Walking Dead, recreate an old school freak show (similar to American Horror Story), as well as build an above ground New Orleans style cemetery. I’m most excited about launching an overnight zombie apocalypse survival experience. Participants will be stripped of all valuables – phone, food etc. and given alternative ways of defending themselves in hopes for survival. It will be an immersive experience and great for businesses that want to do team building.

Cody’s story and philosophy is motivating to say the least. Although his advice comes from a background of creating thrilling and scary adventures for guests to embark upon, most of his advice can translate over to almost any event- build a community, pay attention to detail, promote like a crazy person, and have fun. Be sure to check out Scream into Summer and the many other scares that Hush has to offer!

If you enjoyed this post, take a look at Passage’s blog for more event planning tips and tricks!