As promised, here is the inclusive article written by Leonard Pickel himself. The article is a truthful and insightful look into the world of Haunted Attractions. The article is not meant to discourage a dreamer, not by a long shot, nor is it going to apply to everyone. Mr. Pickel provides some insight into the endeavor and wants you, the Haunter, to be aware of what you’re getting yourself into. Remember, a backyard Haunt is different from a professional attraction. Once you go pro, many doors open that you may have been oblivious to, or may encounter at a later time.
Thanks Leonard for giving HauntOffThePress permission to print your article, as always, we wish you yourself the very best.
Pete Henderson (founder) HauntOffThePress.com
Posted in The Business of Haunting on December 30th, 2006 by Leonard
First Published in Haunted Attraction Magazine
I frequently get phone calls from people interested in starting a Haunted House. Sometimes they are Home Haunters who have been told by their friends and neighbors that “Their Haunt is 10 times better than the professional ones in their town.” Some of them are kids, (as I near 50 years of age, anyone under say 25 is a kid to me), with great enthusiasm, brimming over with ideas on how to scare people, but no clue how to raise money to get their mega-haunt into production.
Or in some cases I think they are business people who happened to drive past their local Haunted Attraction at 9pm on the Saturday before Halloween, estimated the number of people in line, multiplied that by the ticket price and the number of days in October and get the brilliant idea that “Haunted Houses are a gold mine!” And may of each of these kinds of people have the notion that they could make a good living scaring people and only have to work one month a year. “It’s only a Haunted House… how hard could it be?”
Unfortunately, each of these people is on a dangerous path to financial ruin, and in too many of these cases end up doing damage the Haunting industry. They will mortgage their lives to “get rich” in the Haunted House business, and when they fail, (as a majority of all new business do), they fail hard, leaving actors, rent, prop and advertising bills unpaid, and making it even harder for other Haunters to get landlords or radio stations to even talk to them. These people who call me did do one thing right that I hope will keep them from letting Haunting lose their Home, their spouse and their life savings. The called a consultant! If you are planning to open a Haunted Attraction, then please hire a consultant! Even a poor consultant will save you many times over what his fees are. (Yes, in the pretence of full disclosure I am a consultant, but you don’t have to hire me. Practically everyone in this industry is an expert. Just ask them!) So, when these people call me, I attempt let them down softly and bring them back to reality. Let me hit some of the highlights for you:
- A Haunted House is not a get rich quick scheme. It is a year round business that takes enormous hours of time and effort compared to what you get out of it financially.
- A Haunted House is a business like any other, and 60 percent of all businesses fail in the first 2 years. If you do not treat your Haunt like a business, it will fail!
- If Haunting was a get rich quick scheme, or it was an easy way to make a living, don’t you think everyone would be doing it?
- A surprising percentage of Haunts in the country, do not “really” make a profit. If the owners paid themselves for their time, paid for their volunteer actors and labor, they would realize they Haunt because they love it, not because it is profitable.
- Most Haunt owners have non Haunt related day jobs to support them the rest of the year. Sometimes the jobs support their Haunted Houses as well.
Is it possible to make a living with a Haunted Attraction? Yes!
There are people who are doing just that, and for the last 30 years (or more) I have been doing everything in my power to help those who are not making any money, to get to the profitable stage:
- Through the articles I select for Haunted Attraction Magazine.
- Through the Haunt Ed Seminars I select for HAuNTcon.
- Through the 3 hour plus “How To Get Started” seminar that I offer at every gathering I can talk them into letting me speak at.
- Through consulting services, and brokering used attractions that I offer to the industry.
I am not sure how much of this is sinking in though. Too often I see people skip an important business seminar offered at a convention and hurry to the standing room only seminar on “Cheap Scares.” There is even a mentality out there on some lists, that making money with your Haunt or your Haunted business is somehow, not in the spirit of the season! These Haunters look down on others who “just pump people though their Haunt, so they can make a buck!”
Please allow me to fill in those of you who think that profit is bad thing, (If you have been to one of my seminars, then I hope you have this statement engraved in your brain already!) …
“If You Do Not Make a Profit With Your Haunt, Then You Don’t Get To Play Any More!”
Now please understand, I am not advocating ripping off the paying public! That hurts the industry as a whole, but October is only 5 weekends long, and if your attraction cannot give people a show and move them along quickly while you are doing so, then you “Will not get to play anymore!”
So after I have said all this, you still want to do a Haunt?
The first thing you do, (after a web site) if you are thinking about doing a haunt is to write a business plan. Here is all you need to know about a business plan:
TICKET PRICE X ATTENDANCE = TOTAL INCOME
TOTAL INCOME – TOTAL COST = PROFIT
(NOTE: Profit must be greater than or equal to zero. If it is not greater than or equal to zero, then don’t do the project!”)
So how do we do that?
Now this is going to upset several of you, and for that I apologize! Please understand. “It is my personal belief that there is no right or wrong way to Haunt, and that the following recommendations are just that, recommendations. However, they are Haunting principles that I find will make Haunts successful!” Your particular situation could be quite different, (but I doubt it!)
Disclaimer out of the way, here is what I preach to anyone who will listen:
- It will cost you between $15 and $25 per square foot to build an attraction, or a little bit cheaper if you decide not to hire a consultant. (NOTE: If you decide not to hire a consultant, then please also decide not to open a Haunted House!)
- You should spend between $2 and $3 per person in advertising for every person you are trying to get to buy a ticket, and spend it wisely. (Top Forty radio is king in most markets. Target attendance is 20,000 people)
- Attendance in most markets is exponential, it almost doubles each weekend!! To be able to do $20,000 people in 5 weekends (75 hours) your hourly capacity needs to be at least 700 people per hour on the last weekends. To design a Haunt that can take 700 people an hour and still give them a quality experience, you need to hire a Haunt designer! It is what they do!!
- In my personal opinion, Haunts are over priced, which is why I push people to go Multi Element! (Whatever you are charging now for your single haunt, if you divided it in two, you could charge more! So why do you still have a single Haunt?) My approach is at least two elements, but preferably 4 elements to get a $20 “combo” ticket price. (And please, if your building will let you, put the Haunts side by side. When you put them nose to tail, it is still just one big haunt, with queue lines inside!)
- Today, I try not design any attractions over 2,000 square feet per element. So a 4 element event, (which, now that you have 4 Haunts actually is an event!) is only 8,000 square feet of plywood actors and props. Each element is differently themed and a completely different style of attraction, not just more of the same thing! This provides a much greater perceived value than what a single 8,000 square foot Haunt, and that you would have a tough time getting $20 for!
- Don’t do a Haunted House in your home town, just because you live there! Go to the big city!! You will only be there a month or two and there are many more people there for you to draw from!! (Seems simple enough, but I can count on one hand how many clients have said to me, “I want to open a Haunt where should I put it?”
- Don’t do a Haunted House inside of an interior Mall, and if you already are, consider moving it. Haunting is a date thing. Malls are a shopping thing. A guy who is trying to impress his date, is not going to take her to the mall! For this and perhaps other reasons, it is more difficult to drive large numbers, 20,000 plus, people to an event in a mall. It is my experience that the same attraction would do much better in out the parking lot of the same mall, than it does inside.
- Panelize you wall system so you can easily change, rearrange, or move your attraction to a new building. And do not let the local building officials make you build your Haunt out of sheet rock. It does not say that you have to in any code book, people will punch holes in it and it is hard to move! Treated lumber will get you the required flame spread rating for these “temporary panels.”
So! You take these numbers and plug them into the formulas above to figure out if your business plan will make a profit, (Note: It takes 3 to five years for most start up businesses to turn a profit! So put that in your business plan calculations.) If the numbers don’t work to show a profit, then change the parameters, until they do work. Increase you advertising budget, decrease the number of actors required, add an additional element to increase the ticket price, or decrease your construction costs! But do something to make the math work before you drive a single screw.
Because! (Read it out loud with me!!)
“If You Don’t Make a Profit With Your Haunt, Then You Don’t Get To Play Any More!”
Leonard Pickel is owner of DOA Design and Consulting Group, editor of Haunted Attraction Magazine, owner of the brokerage firm Hauntrepreneurs(R) International, and creater of the Haunted Attraction National Tradeshow and Convention, (HAuNTcon).
Leonard is available for consulting, Haunt design, attraction drawings and lectures, (like the one above). He can be contacted him at 972-951-5100 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.