Before we descend into the catacombs of particulars of owning a haunted attraction, I first want to make a point to stress that if your driving force for starting a haunted house is that you think it will be an easy way to make money, you will be setting yourself up for grave disappointment. I have witnessed several haunts come and go over the years that did not understand the many layers of details of this industry, nor the public who feed it. Just because you build it does not mean they will come and much like any starter business, (even if your project is a charity) it will most likely take some time for things to catch on and for you to make a profit. Since our business is primarily a seasonal one, some time could mean a few years. One of the most important things to consider when starting ANY business regardless of if it is a haunted house, funeral parlor, or chainsaw shop is location, location, location! This aspect itself is a layered one.
After my first “Pro Haunt” (a haunt that charges admission with the intent to profit) in 2003, which was an absolute debacle / learning experience that I will refer to often as comparison, I decided that I would not open another attraction where I had to tear down when the clock struck midnight. A lot of haunts operate this way. They lease an abandoned warehouse, or department store, and have to dig up the graves and move the bodies of their creativity when the season is finished. Personally, I found this to be draining on all levels and was left averse to doing something that I love. Another negative to operating this way is the possibility that you will not be able to open the next season at the same location.
An established location is certain to bring more business year after year. Not only will it be easier to nibble on peoples brains all year long from a constant advertisement at your haunt, but you will become a staple in people’s minds. Both local and out of town patrons will begin to say, “That haunt on M-50 in Jackson.” Being a constant also allows you the luxury of time to expand and enhance the content of the experience you offer, as well as the opportunity to focus on off season events and related creative pursuits.
Probably the first thing that comes to thought and one of the most important when you think location is the actual physical locale of your haunt. To a point, your location should dictate your theme or visa versa. If you want to do a backwoods themed haunt, the suspension of disbelief might be harder to pull off in an urban warehouse as opposed to an old barn in the country.
Wherever you decide to set up, try to make sure it is in an area with lots of traffic and natural exposure. I know of haunts who most people agree do not offer a quality product, yet they continue to do good business year after year because they are in a high profile area. On the other hand, I know of haunts that are way off the beaten path. Because of their physical location, it seems more difficult to maintain repeat business, spark spur of the moment visits and ultimately, cost more money in advertising to help people find their way.
Additionally, I have found that even though you need to check with your municipalities before operation, the local governments of the more rural areas tend to be a little more lax.
Another important detail to observe is how saturated is your area with other haunts and Halloween related events? The Corpse Barn operates in Michigan in Jackson County. The population of this area is approx. 160K people. There are, including us, 4 major haunts in an approx. 20 mile radius, no to mention several charity haunts, zombie walks, fall festivals, and other Halloween events through out the month of October. This is a bit of a doppelganger. On one hand, the number of haunts as opposed to people in the immediate area makes it harder to get consistent, nightly, local business. Flip the coin, and it is easier to pull out of town business. Now they are not traveling from hours away to visit one attraction. They can make a night, or a weekend out of haunted events.
These details will also impact your ability to find actors. The smaller the population of an area equals a less amount of people likely to have a desire to be haunt actors. Plus with our situation, they have multiple options to choose from on where to apply their talents.
Although, this is probably the least important LOCATION detail, I feel it is important to research and understand to help you make informed and the ever so important decisions regarding the monster you bring to life both creatively and in a business sense.
I hope you have enjoyed this edition. As always, I encourage you to comment on Corpsetagious at the bottom of this blog. Perhaps I have left a detail out, or you have a question you would like to ask.