I have encountered a multitude of people who approach the genesis of their creation with one hand in their wallet. I fell victim to this way of thinking in 2003 with my first “pro haunt”. I was so blinded with keeping up with industry trends, having flashy props, and lofty expectations, that I failed to focus on important details such as content, advertising, and sustainability. Failure encircled me like a hoard of green hued zombies who wore the faces of dead presidents. Those paper monsters and my lack of attention to the business side of things slit my throat.
I once said I am an artist and a business man therefore I hate myself. Truth be told, I would actually hate myself if I wasn’t both. I learned the hard way in 2003 that to be a successful artist in any medium, you have to wear your business skin every once in a while. Handling the initial operating budget of your undead, breathing work of art, is a crucial time to assess your long term vision both creatively and with business acumen.
Even if you have a large budget to start with, treat your creation as a glorified “home haunt”. There are several online communities such as Haunter’s Hangout where like minded people support each other, trading ideas and designs. Search out Allen Hopps and StillBeast Studios on You Tube for great tips on making different props. Instead of throwing large amounts of money into elaborate animatronics, and intricate set designs start with a smaller version of what you want to offer. Dumpster dive and search out free materials that you can repurpose. Not only will this invigorate your creativity, but it will also keep your overhead down. This will allow you to start with a lower admission price, which offers increased customer value and the opportunity to grow your price with your content over time. I like to call the process “Slow Burn”.
I know of several haunt owners who either live at their haunts or are in debt up to their eyeballs. I have seen many haunts dump dollar after dollar into props with no clear vision which turns into dismal business and ultimately a financial death. Eli Roth opened a 10 million dollar haunt that only lasted a year, and then filled for bankruptcy.
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The last thing you want is to bury your monster after the first season. By being conservative with your funds and projections, you should be able to establish yourself without the risk of bankrupting your finances or creative spirit.
A carefully calculated budget and “Slow Burn” strategy will leave you a viable business.
Everyone wants to see what the new thing in town is so your first year will almost always be a success. If it’s not, perhaps it’s time to look over your blueprint. Don’t let the success of that first year possess you. Brace your self financially and emotionally for a year or two of stale growth or even negative growth. A time line rule of thumb for business to take off is approx. 5 years. Keep yourself balanced and your imagination in check. Be vigilant with your budget and I can tell you from experience that the paper cuts of the first few years will heal with beautiful scar tissue.