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Oct. 27, 2022

Day 56: Reindeer Manor Halloween Park in Red Oak, TX

Day 56: Reindeer Manor Halloween Park in Red Oak, TX

Now in its 49th Season, Reindeer Manor in Red Oak, Texas, is preparing to move to a new location after this season. Today, we’ll speak with Co-Owner Alex Lohman to learn about this year’s show, the reasons for the move, and their approach to staffing....


Now in its 49th Season, Reindeer Manor in Red Oak, Texas, is preparing to move to a new location after this season. Today, we’ll speak with Co-Owner Alex Lohman to learn about this year’s show, the reasons for the move, and their approach to staffing. Follow along to our Hauntathon: https://linktr.ee/hauntedattractionnetwork

Transcript

Alex Lohmann: My name is Alex Lohmann I am the owner and creative director for Reindeer Manor Halloween Park down in Red Oak, TX. Reindeer Manor is one of the oldest haunted houses in the country, 2022 is going to be our 49th season. We started back in October of 1974. The original buildings are still there that we are haunting out of. The property was acquired from the state in 1867, it changed hands a few times, the Cole family owned it, that's when Bonnie and Clyde were there, and the Sharpe family owned it for quite some time. I guess it was about 1929 Matt Sharp killed his wife in the house and then hung himself in the barn where the morgue is now. Then it just turned into a random farm that was being leased out to sharecroppers until the early 70s, and then the haunters showed up and turned into a haunted house and it's just been a thing ever since. 

Alex Lohmann: It started off very humble, of course. It was just one building, a dollar or two to get in, they put a few hundred people through there, and that was it. It's just grown over the years. I moved my haunt out there in '05, I added my second haunt out there in addition to Reindeer in 2008, then my wife and I bought the place out in 2014, and we've been running it together ever since. 

Alex Lohmann: The original house, built in 1920, is where Reindeer Manor is and it's still there. Then the. Dungeon of Doom and The Bunker are both the more modern buildings. The 13th Street Morgue, on the opposite end of the property, is in one of the old brick barns out there. We've got a big midway in the center, we have stage shows every 15 minutes. We have a different show of some kind, magic shows, thriller dancers, photo OPS, roaming characters, and all of that. But it's a full night's worth of entertainment when people come out. 

Philip Hernandez: Let's walk through each of the attractions one by one.

Alex Lohmann: Bunker is our smallest show. It's a post-apocalyptic kind of theme. Dungeon of Doom is a little unusual. It is a blacklight 3D show, but it's all video game themed. So, the first room starts out with 3D pinball, you actually pass a real, moving, working Rock-afire Explosion from the famous pizza place, and you basically end up with Super Nintendo at the end of the 1980s, it starts in the early 80s and works its way through the late 80s. 

Alex Lohmann: The 13th Street Morgue is a Mortuary themed haunted house. It's two-story, it's our biggest attraction of all of them, probably our best detailed. That thing doesn't change a whole lot, we like our funerary theme over there. Then Reindeer Manor is our crown jewel, and the theme there changes every year. This year is what we're calling, "Ghosts!"

Philip Hernandez: Why did you decide to focus in on that this year? 

Alex Lohmann: Honestly, this is the first time they we're saying this publicly, this is our last year at this location. We're going to be moving after this season is over. 

Philip Hernandez: So, for your 50th year, you're going to move? 

Alex Lohmann: We're going to move to a new location setting up 50. 

Philip Hernandez: What on earth? 

Alex Lohmann: Yeah, the reality is the area that we are in used to be the middle of nowhere, and now we are completely surrounded by industry, new roads, and the taxes and the requirements to stay open have exceeded what we can safely do anymore. We've been staving this off now, honestly, it's 2022 now, we honestly felt if we made it to 2010, we had beat the gavel, and we managed to get well past 2010 and get all the way up to the end of our 49th year there. It's been a years-long problem that we've seen coming, but it did finally get to the point where it was either dig our heels in and go bankrupt, and we lose everything, or we preserve 5 decades worth of everybody’s love and effort and we pick things up and we move them all along.

Alex Lohmann: So, honestly, the reason why I picked ghosts this year, as time has gone by my role as owner, operator, show designer has changed, and I've gotten to be so much more involved in the running of the park and the art direction is generally handled by other people now. I've got people that I trust very much, they know what I want, they know what my customers expect, and they're really good about working within that. Because this is the last year here, we're going with the theme that I wanted, because I want to see it, and I wanted ghosts. 

Alex Lohmann: When I first got into haunting, to me, ghosts were the scariest because if there's a monster that comes after you there's normally some way to defeat it of some kind, there's a spell or a physical thing you can do. You can shoot a werewolf with silver, but if the ghost is after you got nothing, you were absolutely helpless, and I've always been just kind of fascinated by that aspect of it. So, that's what we're going to do for our final season where we're at. 

Alex Lohmann: By the way you're hearing this here first, we're just now to the point where we're far enough along in the process to make the announcement. This is going to be our last year at the current spot. As much as we're going to miss it, we're still excited that we get to keep doing it even beyond this. 

Philip Hernandez: You answered my follow-up questions was going to be about the challenges of being in this space for so long with buildings like that. 

Alex Lohmann: Oh my God. You forget how much stuff you even have, and yeah man. We're about half outdoors, half indoors and we're going to be moving all indoors, so our format is going to be changing, and our approach and kind of the way we have to even think about all of it changes. It also opens up different opportunities for us like, we can build something in February, and when we get there in September It's still there. We had to pick what was going to be the best for the long term on this. Because in addition to owning the show, it's obviously more than just me, I'm nothing without my staff and my crew, and I've got actors who've been there for... my oldest tenured actor who's worked for me directly, I think this is going to be her 25th season with us. We owe a lot to them. They kept the wheels on the bus, and it's important to us to make sure that we still have this bus so they can still keep the wheels on it.

Philip Hernandez: This has obviously been something you've been working on for quite a long time. I'm sure you've been thinking about your dream setup. What trends are you seeing now that the new location will allow you to meet? 

Alex Lohmann: One thing that we have noticed, just in general, across the board is that 20 years ago if it was cold and rainy, it didn't matter customers came anyway, they didn't care. They wanted to bundle up and come out there and run around in the mud and the slime. Customers aren't like that anymore, they want things faster and quicker and sleeker, and they don't want to be at the haunted house all night. They want it to be something they do in conjunction with the rest of their night. 

Alex Lohmann: So, one of the things that we're going to be able to do is we're going to be putting ourselves in a downtown area. So, they will be able to come visit us, and then go to plays, concerts, dinner, or different events. So, we can become a big part of the landscape of the area we're in, more so than necessarily being their destination. Our VIP lines and everything, we can make a lot slicker. 

Alex Lohmann: The big thing that we're doing, as far as the overall way approaching this is, we've always approached it with safety, access, and ease of getting in and out of the building first. Fire alarms and sprinkler systems and all of that are going to be installed and set up first, then we're about the customer flow on top of that, and then we'll start designing around the rest of that. 

Philip Hernandez: Yeah, it's like the ideal situation, like after you've been doing it for a while the way that you think of things is different. Yeah, because generally, haunters start the opposite by necessity and then you build on it. 

Alex Lohmann: Of course, when we built these shows, there was no such thing as fire alarms and all these were added later. Now, we're going to approach those first.

Philip Hernandez: So, it allows you to really go and examine your ideal infrastructure and plan for the infrastructure. 

Alex Lohmann: Because really, infrastructure really trumps design. 

Philip Hernandez: It's the foundation, right.

Alex Lohmann: We've even gotten to the point now where we've divided our shows up into chunks, and each of those chunks just has a zone number, zone one, zone two. Because the theming and everything will change over time, but the infrastructure is almost fine. It just kind of sees forever. The design part of it is really pretty easy, it's making the most use of our square footage that we possibly can.

Alex Lohmann: Of course, we try to design rooms partially because of the ease of being able to get from one place to another. We've always approached that there are 4 cardinal ways to approach a customer, there's one good way to exit a customer, and we try to make sure there's enough actor access to do those things. Because it gives the customers a better show, the experience is slightly different every time, and then our actors can work in little clusters of people too. So, if we have a new actor and they're kind of timid, you give the two veterans, and then all of a sudden, these two veterans have got this person just up and just kicking ass and taking names, and going. 

Alex Lohmann: We're going to definitely take all of those things and approach it like that and try to make it as slick for both the customers as we can, but also is efficient and easy for our staff. Because while our staff is paid and it is a job, it still needs to be fun. I don't ever want my staff to feel like this is just work, I want them to feel like they're part of a family, that they're enjoying what they're doing, and that they're making a difference. I feel like, not just haunts, but entertainment in general, we always view it as a reward for working and things like that, and rest and relaxation and getting away from stressful things is critical to good mental health. I like providing the things that people do in between their responsibilities and their obligations. I really like being their escape and their break from what they're doing, and I think my staff likes that too. They like being part of that 

Philip Hernandez: While you're mentioning staffing, talk to me about the staffing this year. That's a big hot-button topic, obviously, staffing for all everybody, including entertainment sectors. 

Alex Lohmann: Yeah, staffing has been... Man, that's been a tough one. We, knock on wood, seem to have been affected less than most other attractions were. Right now, we run a staff of about 110. Any given year maybe twenty of those people will be new, we maintained a little over 80% retention, like 80 to 83% retention. 

Philip Hernandez: Great, so you think that's helping you right now? 

Alex Lohmann: Oh, absolutely, absolutely, and when we're doing room assignments too. Now, when you've got people who've been doing this for so long, again, you can give them some newbies and help get them up to speed, and you get a little bit of confidence built. We've learned over the years, our audition process, and I learned this from John Lafromboise, his audition process he said, they didn't do anything scary. They put people up there in a group and they would say, "do something crazy, something hokey," or one of ours is, act like you're a candle being blown up by the wind, or you're the wacky waving arm guy at the car lot, whatever it is. If they're willing to just be foolish for the sake of being foolish, we're golden, it's just not an issue. After that, learning to scare is easy, you just got to get them broken loose just a little bit, it doesn't take much. Honestly, if they have a pulse and an ounce of enthusiasm, we'll normally give him a shot. 

Alex Lohmann: Honestly, the ones that come in and seem all gung ho, a lot of times they're the ones that will wash out. I can't tell you how many theater majors I've had wash out halfway through dress rehearsal, happens all the time. But then there's some quiet kid that you know doesn't do a whole lot, that all of a sudden becomes super badass with a little bit of guidance. A lot of that is just from having that experience, and making it as fun for the staff as you possibly can, within reason. There are those nights where you get busy and sometimes it's just drudgery and we just deal with it as best we can. 

Philip Hernandez: You mentioned that you let your team do a lot of the work now because you're moving up. So essentially, you're delegating. 

Alex Lohmann: Yes, much more. 

Philip Hernandez: That can be a journey in and of itself to go from, like you said, you started it in 2014, right? You were doing everything and now suddenly you're trusting your team to do... That's a big journey. 

Alex Lohmann: You have to grow as a person. 

Philip Hernandez: Yes, tell me about that. Tell me why that's important to delegate. 

Alex Lohmann: Letting go is tough. It's real tough, especially when it's your baby. My wife and I sold our house to open our first show, and we lost everything. Then we started over again the next year, and we just cashed our paychecks and didn't pay our bills to get open, because that's how bad we wanted it. So, that's our level of intensity for this. 

Alex Lohmann: When people talk about opening a haunted attraction. I'm like, you can talk about passion all you want. People use that word passion loosely. If you are not willing to die for it, there is no passion there. I'm sorry, I absolutely feel that way. If you were not willing to die for this, you were not passionate. Stop using that word hobbyist. Anyhow. 

Alex Lohmann: So, let go, I heard a quote, and it was something along the lines of if you're going to conduct the greatest orchestra in the world, you have to be the one to turn your back on the audience and they don't see your face. Trying to say this without crying like a crazy person. There are little things like, I remember once I'm walking by one of my shows and I heard them hollering codes to each other little counts, and they were doing these little routines. When you can give him a little bit of training and get them in position, and then they elevate it to another level on their own, that's when you're really doing this. But I had to decide. The show is either going to be about me, and be as big as I am, or it's going to be about itself and be bigger than me. 

Alex Lohmann: So, what's more important? Because a lot of people decide that they're the most important thing, and they don't want the show to survive without them. My show needs to survive without me. If I get killed. Tomorrow in some kind of freak Sharknado accident, I need to make sure that everyone has the infrastructure to keep doing what they're doing because my show isn't me. Because at the end of the day, and I think people lose sight of this, we don't own the industry, we don't own the holiday, we don't own Halloween, we don't own fear, we don't own scaring. 

Alex Lohmann: We are simply stewards of it, and only for a short chunk of time. We are riding the coattails of the people who did this before us, and we are setting the stage for those who were going to do this after us. That's all that there is. So, really, it's our obligation. You can either be remembered because you did something. I want to be remembered because I took the bar that was already high, and I set it higher than I got it and then I passed it on to the next person like that. I feel like that's how your work lives forever, when you help elevate and escalate, that's when you're really onto something. If you're going to try to nickel and dime your way through everything, you're never going to get ahead, and the trick is you got to find people around you that you can trust. 

Alex Lohmann: I see a lot of people who hire somebody and immediately give a bunch of control, and I don't do that. Most of my full-time employee, they're normally hanging around just helping out for a year or even two before there's any talk about off-season work, any pay, or anything like that, because I need to know, 100% that they are as invested into my vision and my work in my dream as I am. But when they are, number one, it's too much for one person to try to do on their own. But, number two, while I have a very clear idea of what. I want and what I expect to see, as far as how we get there, my ideas may not always be the best. If my crew comes up with a better idea than me, I always have the option to step in and be like, "hey, you got this into this. I'd really like to see him like this instead, and here's why." But for the most part they normally come up with ideas in their head, they know what my filters are. 

Alex Lohmann: There are three basic filters for design; you've got your budget, your calendar, and your workforce. If you have a good idea, and it'll pass through all three of those and it's still a good idea, then you're doing alright. They know that's how I want to do things. So, when they put together ideas on their own, they'll normally approach me toward the end when they've got it fleshed out, and they're like, "here's what we want to do, and here's why." 99% of the time I'm like, "great, go with it." Because sometimes their methodology is even slicker than mine is, sometimes I fall into a bad habit of I'll build something the way I would have built it 20 years ago. They're younger than me, they build stuff differently now, they think about things differently, and I like that. At the end of the day, I really just need results. I need my customers to feel like they got more out of the show than they paid for, and that it was a good value for them. 

Alex Lohmann

Owner of Reindeer Manor Haunted House