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Posted Date: 03/9/2015

How to Prevent Your Haunt Business from Being D.O.A.

Matthew Flagler, Contributing Editor

Operating a haunted attraction is like running any other kind of business. Statistics in most developed nations suggest that three-quarters of all businesses starting today will not be operating five years from now. A Halloween business is no different.

So, the question becomes, how does one avoid becoming a statistic? Having a successful business has nothing to do with luck. Understandably, not many people want to talk about business planning, they just want to get in there and have some fun. Who wants to waste time worrying about local ordinances and tax laws, right? However, the odds of thriving while flying by the seat of your pants are infinitesimal compared to proper preparation. While following some kind of established formula doesn’t offer any guarantees in business, the odds of success improve immeasurably.

Identify Your Passion
Very few people just wake up one day and decide to operate a haunted attraction. It starts with a passion for all things spooky. It is fostered over many years. It involves becoming a student of what creates fear and why people get scared. Not everyone who is passionate about Halloween or loves horror will run a haunted house, but it starts there. Rarely does someone open a business just for the money. They do it because they love it first.  Passion may be the only thing that keeps a business going in those early years, because  there likely won’t be a ton of money there; so if you are only doing it for the money, you’ll close up shop and move on pretty early in the game. Most businesses do not see a profit for the first three to five years.

Know Your Codes
Haunted attractions, even ones operating for a charity or non-profit organizations, are subject to some guidelines that are unique to the industry. By its nature, a haunted attraction is designed to disorient customers, by putting groups of them together into dark confined unfamiliar spaces, along with a cast of frightening characters and props, then scaring them even more while they’re inside.   Considering this, it’s important to have rules in place. The local fire department, electrical authority, municipal council, and insurance providers, are all charged with ensuring that patrons of your event actually stay safe, even in an environment where it appears that they are in grave danger. These local, state, or national authorities have to be notified of the event, and grant access to it prior to opening, to ensure it is safe. The courts have mandated that operator ignorance is not a valid defense. The law is clear that a property owner and event organizer are liable for any damages, even if they were not aware of the rules.

Insurance: a Necessary Evil
You know what’s scarier than your rates going up? Having your insurance company deny a claim because you didn’t disclose a business activity on your property and having to pay for an accident completely out of pocket!


WORKING THE TRADE SHOW AND MAKING IT WORK FOR YOU

There are many great conventions and trade shows serving the haunted attraction industry. While incredibly valuable for both veteran and amateur haunt operators, the trade show floor can be overwhelming. Here are some valuable pieces of advice to get the most out of your investment in attending.

Education is key. Strategically select a few classes or workshops to attend. The goal is to lea all you can. The difference between a good haunted attraction and a great one is what the people operating it know.

Social opportunities. Network, network, network! Use those happy hours and organized events to network with your peers. Idea-sharing with those in the business is a great way to stay current and lea.

Budget before you go. Have your haunt fleshed out somewhat before attending. Know what you need to buy and how much you can afford to spend. There is a lot of eye candy on the trade show floor, and like anywhere else, impulse buying can happen. Sure, you’d love to have that item in your haunt; but do you need it?   

Plan wisely. Spend time on the convention website before heading to the show; pre-register for classes and events so that there is less to do once you get there; book your hotel room early, as the ones closest to the show fill up early; and have a plan of attack in place so that when you get to the show, you are able to fully experience it.


Matthew Flagler is the former operator of the Canadian Haunted Attractions Conference (CHAC; www.canadahaunts.ca). A seasoned veteran of the haunted attractions industry, he regularly speaks on a variety of business related topics and writes for trade publications. Matthew has a degree in Business Operations and also operates Fade To Black Haunt Consulting.

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