Every year, haunters from across the globe travel to the National Tradeshow and Conference in hopes of upping their scare game. This year, haunt enthusiasts will venture to Birmingham, Alabama from January 28th through February 1st, to get a head start on planning for the 2016 haunt season. Getting ahead of the haunt industry standards is no simple task, however, there’s one haunter that manages to not only keep the rest of us on our toes, but also goes above and beyond our frightful expectations. 35-year haunt veteran and event coordinator, Leonard Pickel, is truly the only man for the job. Leonard’s passion for scaring is second to none, and there is no place that he showcases his energy and enthusiasm better than at HAuNTcon.
As title sponsor of this year’s expo, the HauntPay team would like to show our gratitude and support for this incredible tradeshow by digging deeper into the inner workings of HAuNtcon 2016. Enjoy this interview with Leonard Pickel!
What can we expect for HAuNTcon 2016?Bigger show floor, bigger Pre-Show tour, GREAT haunt tours, networking with like-minded crazy Haunt people.
Sidenote: For more info about this year’s event, visit the HAuNTcon website where you’ll find the latest announcements, schedules, classes, and tours. You can even become an active part of the haunted happenings by signing up to volunteer!
What is it like to host a tradeshow/conference like this?Interestingly, it is kind of like opening a haunted house. You spend 11 months putting together the content, the various aspects of the event, promote it as best you can, work on every detail right up until opening night. And then, hope people enjoy what you have put together for them and that enough people attend the show so you can afford to do it again.
How do you engage the haunt community year round?
We get exposure though the website and social media. People love our show and are always wanting more information and details of what we are working on. So, it is more about us trying to keep ahead of them.
How do you market an event like this?We use our email database, boost posts on Facebook, and do some local paid advertising. HAuNTcon is a B to B conference, but we are open to haunters of all levels and ages. Our mission is to grow the industry, which is why we go to the trouble and expense of moving to a new city each year.
How has HAuNTcon grown over the years?Because we are in a new location every year, our attendance has been like a roller coaster ride. The program has changed over time; we experiment with different schedules and formats, add things in, and leave things out. We listen to what people want and try our best to offer what they ask for.
We have seen so many people who met at HAuNTcon become partners in business and in life. People who would have never met otherwise, are now great friends, spouses, and business partners because we thought it would be fun to start a Haunt Convention.
What was the first HAuNTcon like?
Scary! HAuNTcon was the first of its kind, and no one knew if it would work… but it did. We have several imitators, but no one is really doing what we do. Our prices for booths and education are cheaper than anyone else offers, we create new vendors, give new speakers a chance to hone their abilities, and provide a platform for unheard of haunts the chance to get noticed. We do all of this to help the industry expand. The biggest problem we have is that we have educated the industry to a point that they want more and more advanced education. That is a high mark to hit every year, but our education is the best (and least expensive) in the industry. We are really proud of what we pull off every year.
What do you think makes the haunt community unique?The people. Haunters are the best people on earth. Maybe it is because we get our frustrations out by scaring the crap out of the unsuspecting public. I have met so many great people, and made so many great friends in the industry. There are always some bad apples, but for the most part, haunters are creative, generous, and simply great people. It makes what I do so fulfilling.
As far as the haunt industry as a whole, what’s new and where do you think this industry is heading?
Escape Rooms are the big buzz right now (we will have two Escape Room classes at HAuNTcon), but my clients are already looking for the next thing. What’s beyond Escape Rooms? In haunting, the “contact” aspect is on everyone’s mind. Do you allow your actors to touch patrons, or not. If not, how do you compete with the haunt down the road that sounds scarier because they are touching people. The old haunt guards are railing against the new trend, hoping it is a fad. The new younger haunters are embracing what they think is cutting edge. The jury is still out, and it will be interesting to see where it goes. Every time I think I have this haunting thing figured out, something changes my mind.
Grab tickets to this year’s HAuNTcon HERE!