It all started with some Halloween decorations that went a little overboard one year. And the next year, it got bigger, and more elaborate.
Friends say, “you should do this professionally!”, or “you should open your own place!”.
Maybe you could finally quit that job you hate and work full-time on your passion. But are you ready? Running a professional haunt is another beast entirely. There are a lot of factors to consider.
Read on for our best advice on how to take your home haunt pro (and whether it’s the right decision for YOU).
A GOOD START
Let’s start with the positives. You’ve already set yourself up for success in many ways, and have some experience that will help you run a professional haunted attraction.
You have some experience in the operations
With your home haunt, you’ve likely worn a lot of different hats. You’ve designed rooms, built props, and created great scares. You know how to build an experience for your guests. You probably have a sense for how many people you can take through your home haunt in a night (or even by the hour), how to maintain order, and how to troubleshoot issues with electronics or props on the fly. These are all skills that will help you if and when you open a professional haunt.
You’ve already started building a brand
Being known as the best free attraction in the area isn’t the same as having a strong brand with paid customers. You’ll still need to do some branding work, but you’ve done a lot of the legwork already. You can build on that rather than starting from scratch.
You know what your audience wants
All haunted attractions are not created equal. They can range from spooky-but-family-friendly to full-contact-terror. Opening a super scary haunt in a market that desires family-friendly attractions might not be the best fit. Since you’ve already been running a home haunt, you’ve likely had a chance to get to know at least a portion of your local market and heard feedback on your scares. That gives you a leg up in designing a pro haunt.
You get to do what you love
Very few people get into the haunted attractions business purely to make money. For the most part, every haunter we’ve encountered truly loves what they do and has a passion for entertaining people with great scares. It’s hard work, but there is no other job like it in the world. Your passion will shine through in your work and will help attract customers to your haunt.
GET BIZZY WITH IT
It’s easy to get carried away planning all the creative aspects of your haunt right away: the room designs, the theme and story, the scares and effects. What you should really put your energy in early on, however, is the business end of your…well, business. It’s fine to have a general plan for the theme and tone of your haunt – in fact, it can help you articulate what will make you unique – but you should spend most of your energy working to set up the business. Then you can focus on details like lighting, characters, and costumes.
The first thing to consider is your market: where are you located and how saturated is it? Is there a large enough population base for your to draw from? Are there other haunted attractions in the area? Knowing your target audience and competition will be key to your success.
You’ll need a brick and mortar building or outdoor space to open your haunt. What kind of space do you need? How much space? What can you afford? (More on that below.) You may decide to purchase property, or simply lease it either for the whole year or just for the season.
Don’t forget about essentials like:
- Bathroom facilities
- Storage/prop building areas
It’s also important to check your local zoning ordinances before purchasing or leasing any property to be sure it’s properly zoned for your type of business.
Many businesses don’t turn a profit their first year, and it can take several years before the business makes enough money for you to draw a salary. Can you afford that?
Haunt owners often work full-time or part-time jobs in addition to operating their haunted attractions. If your employer is flexible, this might be an option for you, too.
The haunter community in incredibly supportive, and there’s plenty of business to go around. Instead of looking at other local attractions as the competition, think of them as partners. You can have a mutually beneficial relationship: they may be able to offer advice to help a new haunt like yours succeed, and you may be able to help bring them new business or boost the local haunt economy. Perhaps you can even create a bundled ticket package, where guests can purchase one ticket that gets them into both of your haunts.
CRUNCH THE NUMBERS
The next step is to figure out how much it will cost you to start up this pro haunt and how much revenue you expect to bring in. You may want to engage a local accountant for help with this if you don’t have any finance experience yourself.
Most of your revenue will likely come from ticket sales, although you can also bring in money through merchandise, concessions, and even sponsorships.
We’ve designed HauntPay to ease some of the cost burdens of running a new haunt by charging a small fee to each ticket purchaser rather than forcing the haunt to absorb those costs. The system is completely free for you to use! No monthly fees, no contracts, and the processing & service fees can be passed on to the ticket buyer.
Our best tip here is to set up your ticketing before the season begins. Then you can start bringing in revenue before you open your doors (with HauntPay, you get your money transferred within two business days of every single sale). Consider selling early bird passes at a discount if you want to encourage customers to buy early so you can get a pre-season revenue boost to help cover your costs.
Your ticket price point is important, too. You want it to be attractive to prospective customers, but you also need to cover your overall costs. Here are some key factors to consider:
- What do other haunts in the area charge? If the current market price is $25, you’ll have a tough time asking guests to pay $40.
- How many attractions do you have (indoor attraction, hayride, corn maze, zombie paintball, etc.)? Will you offer one bundled ticket or separate admission for each?
- Will you offer dynamic pricing, or pricing that changes depending on the date? Some haunts charge a premium on Friday and Saturday nights, while offering a lower price for traditionally slower days like Thursday and Sunday. You could also offer a lower rate early in the season, and raise them slightly as Halloween approaches.
The cost of running a haunt extends well beyond the price of your building and props. There will be ongoing utility bills, taxes, payroll, and other significant expenses throughout the year.
In addition to the up-front costs of building your haunt, a few of the expenses you may want to include in your calculations include:
- Water and sewer
- Trash services
- Federal, state and municipal taxes
- Property taxes
- Payroll taxes
- Unemployment insurance
- Scare supplies that need to be replenished, such as blood or fog
- Point of sale equipment for ticket booths or concessions/merch locations
- Up-front costs of producing merchandise or procuring concessions
- Insurance (more on this below)
- Repairs or maintenance
Now, take a look at your anticipated revenue (start with ticket price x estimated customers) and compare that with your expenses. How do they compare? Most businesses don’t turn a profit in their first year, so don’t worry if your numbers show a loss. Just make sure it’s a loss you can afford to absorb. Then, take a look at next year’s numbers, and one year after that. If your bottom line improves year over year, you’re headed in the right direction.
Depending on your location, you may or may not already have experience with municipal bureaucracy as a home haunter. This can make or break your business just as much as the quality of your scares. You don’t want to get shut down by the fire marshall on opening night.
Before you start construction on your pro haunt, you’ll need to file permits with your city or county. Don’t underestimate the amount of time involved in the inspection process and getting your building permits approved. There are Fire codes, ADA compliance, and other regulations to consider as well. It’s not uncommon to encounter delays, and one failed inspection in August can put you at risk of missing haunt season entirely.
Reach out to your local small business association for help navigating the permit process, and ask other haunt owners in the area about their experience.
Most businesses need insurance – to cover general liabilities like injuries that happen on-site or third party property damage. And a haunted attraction is no exception. In fact, you may find you need even more insurance than some other industries, depending on the intensity of your attractions. This is another instance where it’s a good idea to consult with fellow haunt owners. They can help offer advice on how much insurance you really need and what kind of surprises to look out for.
GET (THE WORD) OUT
How will customers learn about your haunt? If you’re like most new businesses, you’ll need to do some marketing and advertising to help drive sales. This can include everything from print and outdoor ads to radio, online, and social media marketing. If you’re new to the advertising realm, look to your local small business administration for resources or ask other haunt owners about their tips and best practices.
What should you plan to spend? Between $2-5 per customer is a good starting point. Be sure to factor this into your overall costs and consider it when setting your ticket prices. If your tickets cost $25 and you spend $3 of that on advertising to acquire that customer, you’re really bringing in $22 per ticket.
At HauntPay, we want to help you find more customers. We run tens of thousands of dollars in online ads every year, driving traffic to our platform where haunt fans can discover your attractions. Last season, 14.8% of the total ticket sales HauntPay clients completed came from traffic we helped send their way. That can make a big difference for new haunts that are just getting started. Get started with HauntPay yourself at HauntPay.com.
Would you like us to do a whole blog post about marketing and advertising strategies for haunted attractions? Let us know in the comments!