Now in its 11th season, Fear Factory in Salt Lake City, Utah, spans 6 floors and nearly 90,000 square feet. If you’re worried about missing the show this year because it’s nearly Halloween, Fear Factory will open for blackout nights on November 4th...
Now in its 11th season, Fear Factory in Salt Lake City, Utah, spans 6 floors and nearly 90,000 square feet. If you’re worried about missing the show this year because it’s nearly Halloween, Fear Factory will open for blackout nights on November 4th and 5th. Today, we’ll speak with two owners (Rob Dunfield and Spencer Terry) about the show and get insight into what it takes to operate. Follow along to our Hauntathon: https://linktr.ee/hauntedattractionnetwork
Spencer Terry: Hi, my name is Spencer Terry, I'm the general manager and equity owner at Fear Factory Haunted House here in Salt Lake City, UT. For folks who haven't been here before is an amazing place. We're a downtown facility, it's an old industrial park, this is an old factory, six stories high, six buildings, we've got two underground passages underneath us, it's just a really, really huge facility. But it's also live actors, about 120 live actors every single night, and over 100 animatronics, just a lot of fun. It's almost 90,000 square feet of space. On average, customers are going to spend about 45 minutes on the property, plus or minus, at least through the main haunted house, up and down the stairs, go through everything
Spencer Terry: When customers walk on the property there's this really great long stretch of kind of like a midway space. We've got some vendors that are there, we have food trucks that are there, we have these really fun selfie stations where people can come and take pictures and use our hashtag, which is great marketing.
Spencer Terry: From there they come into where we actually have our graveyard, this is where we hold about 4,000 people. The graveyard some people call it the rave yard because it's a lot of fun, there are huge concert series speaker systems, there are a lot of actors, and just fun things that are happening here. They get their photos taken, which are free, something that we don't charge anything for, and they get to go through this really beautiful, amazing facility with all of our actors. Then on the exit side we have merchandise which we specifically and exclusively run, and they go home happy and hopefully they'll get on our website and buy something else.
Philip Hernandez: Talk to me about what you have planned for this year, what's exciting about year 11?
Spencer Terry: Our 10-year celebration, what happened is a lot of people came back who have not been here for four or five or six years. They said, "oh it's a 10-year anniversary, let's check it out and see how it went." We blew them away, and so we're already seeing this really great uptick in sales, which is fantastic because people are coming back. I think a lot of people have realized that we're very serious about the game that we play, the profession that we have, and how we welcome customers here. We want them to not only have a good experience, but we want to have such a great experience that they're going to go home, they're going to talk to people, and they're going to come back again, that's the goal.
Spencer Terry: There's a lot of new things that have happened this year, everything from water features that we've added to we're big fans of Gantom Lighting. I mean to see the sets and the lighting, it takes a lot of lighting to do that. We loved Gantom. So, we've really been able to add new lighting, add new features and really accentuate new gags, new scares in ways that people, and sometimes they're old scares, but we're able to light them in a new way that makes things a lot better. We're adding actor-matronics, we're adding obviously new costumes and characters, new scares, new areas, new zones, we have a very exciting area that we've kind of re-routed that's in an outdoor space, but it feels very indoor, and that entire area is layer upon layer. So, customers see other customers through a path four or five times, and that's something that people are just absolutely loving, and we're excited to be able to do more of those later on.
Spencer Terry: One of the cool parts about having such big space is that we're able to just pack in the scares. Folks have a lot of fun here, whether it's our main kind of midway area, we've got creatures up and down that space, it's very low lit on purpose. We want to maximize the scare, so a lot of people have fun even before they come into the haunted house. That's just on the outside.
Spencer Terry: We've added a new feature this year where we have a small tip area, that's been pretty cool for folks to see. They're really loving that our catwalk is something that's traditional because it's six stories high, there's no other facility where people can actually do that in real life. It can be done simulated, but it can't be done in real life, and so that's something that people really love. Certainly, we have a lot of gags, we've got a lot of scares, we've got moving floors, we've got some really great things. The final piece of the attraction is a compression chamber and it's designed specifically with fog and with a low-bass system to really accentuate people feeling like they're having an out of body experience. We use that to help them transition back into reality. So, there's a lot of different things people love, lots of components to it, and we're happy they love it.
Philip Hernandez: Next, I sat down with Rob to discuss the logistics and staffing of such a large production. Specifically, I was curious about staffing and training because the show is so large and uses so many people.
Robert Dunfield: Rob Dunfield, and I am a co-owner of Fear Factory Salt Lake City.
Philip Hernandez: What are you running this year?
Robert Dunfield: This year we have, I'd say, about 250 total, about 150 working each night in the show, whether they're front of house and back of house, customer service or actors, basically, so it's quite a production.
Philip Hernandez: Did you change any of your approach this year? Or how did you make it successful this year?
Robert Dunfield: We have about 50% returning actors, and then we do quite a bit of advertising and recruiting. We have incentives for our actors to invite friends and bring people to try and introduce him to haunting and get them excited about scaring. But we also did some pretty aggressive incentivizing by pay raises, as well as incentives and bonuses and things if they last throughout the whole season, and we think that's been successful for us.
Philip Hernandez: Can you give a percentage of the raise that you had to do?
Robert Dunfield: Someone of them will make about 50% of what their actual dollar pay rate is as a bonus on top per hour.
Philip Hernandez: How have the referrals worked? Has that been a good incentive program for you?
Robert Dunfield: It has, yeah. A lot of our actors are really enthusiastic and love what they do. So, they go out and tell their friends and a lot of them come and see how much fun it is, and pretty soon they want to be a part. That's a big draw. I think a lot of our new people are friends and family of people who have been here every year.
Philip Hernandez: Even if people are referring people, you're having to take someone who's maybe never scared before and turn them into a scare actor in a brief amount of time. Then you have a lot of throughput to get through, so what does that look like?
Robert Dunfield: We do some pretty intense training, right, preseason, a month before, a good amount of rehearsals. All the new people brought in are and trained on safety, on their scaring and character development, and all the fun stuff. They get fitted for their costumes and they get really excited. About two to three weeks ahead of the show time is when they're all getting their costumes, and everything set up. By that time, they're pretty engaged and excited for the season, so it's a fun process.
Philip Hernandez: You all have a year-round team as well that helps maintain all of the bookkeeping records and all that?
Robert Dunfield: We do. So, we have approximately 10 year-round staff members that are working throughout the offseason. Then one of the things that we have created here at Fear Factory is an in-house internship for our makeup and special effects team. There aren't a lot of professional makeup artists in town, and there weren't a lot of people that knew how to do that stuff, so we actually took it upon ourselves to create a team of people that can teach it. Now we have an excessive abundance of makeup artists on our team, and we actually have a lot of makeup artists that have done our internship that have gone out to other haunted houses in the valley or in the state and done other productions and plays and things like that. So, we think that it's really helping raise the bar of the whole haunt community and not just Fear Factory.
Philip Hernandez: Now let's cap back up with Spencer, where I asked for his insight on this haunt season.
Spencer Terry: Sales are up. We didn't really know with inflation if it was going to plateau. I feel pretty good about it. I think we're going to keep growing. I think across the board, from what I've heard so far, growth is up somewhere between 6% and 7%, which is fantastic. I think one thing that we really can think about more as an industry is how to do more add-on experiences. For example, we've got a GA, we have a VIP, and we have an instant entry, but we haven't had those for years. When we added them, not going to lie, we really questioned those decisions and whether they were good decisions, and they were good revenue generators.
As we look at things now, three or four years later, the first year we did an instant entry, it's an $80.00 ticket, it gets you straight into the door we sold 12 of them. Now, we're selling 800. So, I think just one thing I would tell the industry is to just remember that this is the long haul and stick with it. Stick with your guns, make some good decisions, and go from there.
Philip Hernandez: So, let's talk about the future of Fear Factory. Where are you going from here?
Spencer Terry: I think, in general, growing pains are hard, and for us as an attraction, it took a lot of work to be able to get to where we were in and out of COVID. We really try our best to lead the industry, and we really try to lead our local market as well. We know that we're one of the best. We've got some really great attractions that are here, and folks continuously tell us that they love us the most. Great, we're happy to do that, we want to continue doing things that are going to bring people back.
Spencer Terry: I think the future is going to include a lot of things. It's going to include growing, we do want to grow. We have extra buildings, we have extra space, we could put four more floors into this thing. So, as we look at capital components and how we're going to grow that, some of it's going to be bringing in new investors, some of it's probably going to be looking at locations. Maybe we end up doing a second, a 2.0 somewhere, I have no idea. But I think the cool part is how we're able to really do some great things in the community.
Spencer Terry is the General Manager of Fear Factory Haunted House in Salt Lake City, Utah and serves as a Haunted Attraction Association board member. He has been a consultant in the retail, human resources, business, hospitality and non-profit fields for over a decade. With several rides, 6 buildings of terror, over 65,000 attendees annually, and a combined cast/staff of nearly 250, he’s proud to call Fear Factory home. Prior to his role there, he spent nearly 20 years in the hospitality, non-profit, residential management, retail and corporate HR worlds, ranging from C-Suite, EVP of Retail Operations, Executive Director positions and more. Spencer founded Gateway of Chaos haunted attraction-a 100% non-profit haunt with 50 volunteers, and has been an avid haunter, and home haunter, since he was seven years old. As a private consultant and keynote speaker (see spencerterry.com) for several of the field’s he has worked in, a former city councilman, volunteer firefighter, and an educator/presenter at over 10 universities and 15 school districts, plus his education in business and human resources, he combines his experience and knowledge in a passionate way that has helped maximize the goals of Fear Factory Haunted House to continue to be a heavily awarded attraction, and one of the best attractions in their industry (recently awarded the Legendary Haunt Tour Award in 2018). Spencer is dedicated to making the haunt industry stronger and more collaborative. When he has time to breathe, he's an avid Utah mountains lover, gardener, family man, life coach, and volunteer.