Nightmare on Edgewood in Indianapolis, Indiana, is a large indoor facility with three haunted attractions. They were awarded both the Highest Rated Haunt in Indiana & Scariest Haunt in Indiana this year by The Scare Factor. Despite all that, they...
Nightmare on Edgewood in Indianapolis, Indiana, is a large indoor facility with three haunted attractions. They were awarded both the Highest Rated Haunt in Indiana & Scariest Haunt in Indiana this year by The Scare Factor. Despite all that, they faced a few challenges this year which we will explore in today’s show with Kevin Cook. If you’re bummed about not catching the show this year, Nightmare on Edgewood will open Dec 10th and 17th for their Holliday show. Subscribe: https://linktr.ee/hauntedattractionnetwork
Kevin Cook: My name is Kevin Cook, I own and operate Nightmare on Edgewood Haunted Attraction, this will be my 15th season owning it, and this is our 45th season of being in business. We're three different themed attractions, this year we have a school, a house and a barn. One thing we pride ourselves on is we are a full-contact haunted attraction. You will be touched, and picked up, as you'll see in the video. One thing we like to do is, we change 60 to 70% of the haunt every season. Our building itself is about 40,000 square feet, the three haunts themselves take up about 35,000 square feet of that. Part of the barn, Conley Manor, we did go upstairs, something new we tried this year with the multi-level. Hopefully, next year, there'll be more of that now that we've kind of played with it a little bit. So, we just try to take up all the space we can take up.
Philip Hernandez: The multi-level cabin was new this year?
Kevin Cook: That was new, so we've had the Conley Farm, this would be the second season, so to change it up a little bit we added the second story with the meat conveyor. We really wanted guests to see other guests being tormented, and laughing at them, and then they ended up becoming the guests that were being tormented while someone else was laughing at them.
Philip Hernandez: Tell me a little bit about the full contact nature of it. We saw Tyler and Nora get kind of pulled out of scenes, and kind of tortured, and especially that scene was very intense because you've got the cleaver coming down in the wood and it's very loud; you can hear it, you can see everything. Why do you include that, and how do you decide what's going to be a good moment in those scenes?
Kevin Cook: So, as long as Nightmare on Edgewood itself has been around, it's always been a touch haunt. Before I owned it, it was a touch haunt. Before anyone in Indiana touched we're always doing that currently. So, we wanted to capitalize on that and keep it going. A lot of our customers during COVID year, when we had to back up the touch, weren't going to come through the attraction. So, our customers have come to want the touch part, but not where we'll harm them. We only have a certain amount of staff that are actually allowed to physically pick you up. Our veteran staff are the ones that allowed to physically pick you up. So, like when you went through our haunt, the three stages to Conley Manor, that was the climax. So, we kind of planned it that way too, that everyone was kind of touching you, but by the time you get to Conley Manor, now you don't really know if this is reality.
Philip Hernandez: The big touch scenes, the actors were able to pull them all into a scene area so the line could continue, the group behind the group was being touched can keep walking. Is that normal? Is that to kind of keep your throughput going? Or does the whole thing stop when the touch is happening?
Kevin Cook: So, you get some groups that run and some groups that walk.
Philip Hernandez: Yeah, yeah.
Kevin Cook: Any haunt owner has an issue with people catching up, a conga line. So, when that time comes on those rooms that take a little longer, some of the other groups will be bypassed, they're going through and you're on the table and they're just going to keep going like they think you're part of the scene.
Philip Hernandez: OK, OK.
Kevin Cook: No, we don't do that with every group. He tries to put every group on the table, but if we start getting busy as the night goes, you got a group that took off sprinting and this group sitting in the corner are eventually going to catch up. So, the slow group gets put on the table because they won't leave while the fast group keeps moving.
Philip Hernandez: So, it really does make for a unique experience for each group then, because they'll get different moments with the different actors, yeah?
Kevin Cook: Yeah, and that's what we try to do, is spread it throughout.
Philip Hernandez: Looking at this season, how did the season go for you all?
Kevin Cook: So, we were down on numbers overall. COVID kind of climaxed, a lot of haunts opened when the bars and stuff couldn't. In the following year it was a little bit higher, then this year went down. So, I think everything just catching up. There's more to do, before you there wasn't as many football games, bars, and all this other stuff, now everyone can go do everything. That and the economy, so stuff was down a little bit.
Philip Hernandez: Did you adjust your ticket prices at all this year?
Kevin Cook: We did go up. We went up five dollars. We learned it really wasn't that that scared them away, no one really barked at $5 more. Obviously, with everything being so expensive, we just didn't have a choice. Staffing is getting harder, and you got to pay more to get more people. We hadn't raised our price in eight or ten years. I can't remember my last price hike, it's been a while. We all have full-time jobs, a lot of haunters do. We try to sink as much into the haunt as we can. So, we try to put the customer first.
Philip Hernandez: What are you thinking about next year?
Kevin Cook: To be honest, I'm not sure. This year I quit guessing when our numbers weren't lining up with the year before. We're going to try to build more of our own props. A lot of props you saw we did manufacture in-house. We buy a lot too, but this year I think we're to manufacture more to try to save some of that money so we can have more stuff for less money is what we're going to try.
Philip Hernandez: There's only so many directions you can go with the haunt at this size.
Kevin Cook: Correct.
Philip Hernandez: You're already kind of at the max size, I would say, for a standalone attraction. So, it's kind of either you add velvet ropes or you add a midway, or you add like extraneous things, and your path is relatively locked. So, what are you thinking about in terms of like long-term plans?
Kevin Cook: Long-term plan is to buy the building we're in. The building we're in is close to 160,000 square feet, we only take out 40 of it, so that's triple the size of what we have. Right now we can't do the midways and stuff because of parking issues, so we're kind of trying to lock in more parking, and stuff like that too. The house and the school are coming out, so two or three will be demolished, so I'm sure my staff will be happy when they hear that. So, Conley Manor will come back, the barn has been a crowd favorite the last two years, and it will get some overhauls, but not a gut.
Philip Hernandez: What do you think will be the largest challenge for you next year?
Kevin Cook: Staffing.
Philip Hernandez: Staffing? Really, still?
Kevin Cook: Staffing has been the hardest thing we've had. A lot of people don't understand what it takes to be a haunter. You always lose four or five great guys that get families, move, get better jobs, and they just can't commit anymore. Then you backfilled with one or two that you gained from the year, so you were always trying to get those better guys. Everybody comes in, I mean we had over 200 actors sign up, and then we struggled to get 60 to 65 inside the haunt. Because they just come in, they work a week. and they're like, "well, that's work," and they don't come back. They think you're going to come in, you're going to jump out of a dark corner, go "Boo!" and get back in the corner. It's quite the opposite, it's hard work.
Philip Hernandez: Well, it's tough when you have such a competitive labor market too. They can go out and they can get a job at a Starbucks or Target and get a lot of high pay and then regular hours, and we can't guarantee they'll have work all year. Then, you know, it's very physically demanding no matter what position you're in, and then people are crazy. I feel like this year, especially, there's been a lot of drama with guests this year.
Kevin Cook: Yeah, the crowd this year was different. There were nights you just walk through that you're not hearing much, and you walk in and the staff are like, "we're getting it all and they're just looking at us." So, the crowds that we're getting are a little different.
Philip Hernandez: Are you going to try anything different for the staffing?
Kevin Cook: To be honest, you've got to find that individual and give them to stay with you. You get some people to stick it out, just 'cause they just stick it out. To get those really good guys, you just try to take care of them. We try feeding every Saturday night on top of the pay. We don't do just pizza anymore, we have an actually in-house chef, Danny, who makes a home-cooked meal every Saturday before we open. He smokes pulled pork for six hours. He goes above and beyond to make sure they get good food. I really don't know what the answer is to staffing. We've talked about, well you raised the rate and you're going to pay more for the same stuff you get. We get 35 of our actors, like double the pay and get rid of everybody else so we can just be done with this, but then everybody can't commit to every single night. So, now you have to have extras to backfill. We're going to try to do more with the animatronics, more ups and downs, more moving things that can't go in-depth with to kind of take place of an actor scare, and more interactive animatronics, so to say, I don't want to reveal too much.
Philip Hernandez: Well, it's just tough. You're in a unique position, because when you're adding the touch to it and you're adding those scenes like that.
Kevin Cook: So the guys that actually physically pick you up, they're stuck.
Philip Hernandez: They're stuck?
Kevin Cook: We have 16 leads, like a lot of haunts, that bounce around and you'll see multiple times, but they're not set to that scene to make that scene work, whereas our butcher is. He is stuck, so that does make it hard that one guy can't do four different jobs.
Philip Hernandez: Yes, yeah.
Kevin Cook: We do have a couple of those who run through drop windows where one person's hitting a couple of them. We might have to add more of that, you know? But we don't want to take away from what our customers are used to either so, who knows, maybe I'll just dress up and work next year too.
Philip Hernandez: Yes, good plan, good plan. Staffing challenge solved. We did it. We did it guys.
Kevin Cook: Yeah, make all the build team go work.
Philip Hernandez: And during Christmas coming up.
Kevin Cook: We, are December 10th and 17th, we are going to do Christmas. We take the whole haunt, like everybody else, and kind of just decorate everything up. We do take all the old-school characters and bring them back, Freddy, Michael, Jason, Pennywise, and they all have ugly sweaters on. It's more of a fun event. The people that usually come to that are more the haunt enthusiasts. All of our staff always looks forward to it, they're tired and worn out from the season, the Christmas is just more fun. Everybody's happier.
Philip Hernandez: Why the 17th?
Kevin Cook: We notice our Saturdays are double to a third more than a Friday, so we decided this year to try two Saturdays. We pushed the 10th and 17th because of Monster Bash, we wanted to have a little extra time, an extra week to get everything together. It takes a good two to three weeks to decorate for Christmas. 30 minutes to take it all down, but two to three weeks to put all the lights up. So, that's kind of why we're shooting for the two Saturdays. This is kind of our last gung-ho for the holiday event. If this is not any better than the last couple of years we're going to scrap that so we can concentrate on the main show itself.