Today, we’re playing the FULL 2023 State of the Industry Presentation from the Haunted Attraction Association. This was recorded live Friday, February 3rd, at 9 AM during Transworld’s Halloween and Attractions Show. The video version is available...
Today, we’re playing the FULL 2023 State of the Industry Presentation from the Haunted Attraction Association. This was recorded live Friday, February 3rd, at 9 AM during Transworld’s Halloween and Attractions Show. The video version is available here.
Spencer Terry: As part of our meeting, the first thing we need to do, actually, before we even get into numbers, is we need to do our Treasurer's Report and called the meeting to order. So, Terry, do you mind? Do you want to do the basic numbers and anything that you want us the Members to know?
Terri Bernstein: Sure, we have about $70,000 in our bank account right now. Maybe a little more. We are doing really well, we are holding strong, we're keeping our expenses down, we're spending money in the right places, and we're doing well.
Spencer Terry: Awesome, thanks. The hardest part of all is that where we were, even 3, 4, 5 years ago, we made a decision as part of our three-year strategic plan that one of the things that we wanted to make sure that we could do was figure out how to run so that in case something like COVID happened again, for those of you may remember during COVID we did free memberships, we did discounted membership for most of the industry. So, we want to be ready for that to happen again, so we're saving a little bit of money and keeping that in reserve in case we need to do that. But as we also get ready to end this three-year strategic plan, we're rolling out another strategic plan, which we're going to need all of your help as Members to be able to help us guide in that direction.
You were instrumental in the last three years in telling us what we should look at, what we should not look at, where we should be spending your money, and we're going to do the exact same thing, and we'll roll that questionnaire out later this year. So, Treasurer's Report is pretty good. Obviously, there's a lot of events happening at Transworld, all that money is coming out of that pot, so it's not as big as we all think it is. But at the end of the day, it's nice to be able to have them, and of course, costs have gone up dramatically.
How many, how many of you are coming to Oscares on Saturday night? If you're not, you should be. It's like the party of the year where we get we get to award our best of the best in the industry. That cost alone went up almost 40%, to be able to feed and have a carving station. So, everything costs more money. So, we're making sure that we can at least offer that. But then we're going to reach out to the members to figure out how we can better spend money. Because at the end of the day, we need it to run as an association and to support you and to build new programs and new sustainability measures. We're working on that.
Really quick goals, things that we want to cover. So, I'm not going to cover this too much in detail. For those of you that have been watching The State of the Industry for the last few years, you know that we've essentially been moving these numbers each year. You can see in 2021 where we started. In 2021 we asked, essentially, all of our Members, the entire industry, whether you're a member or not, just overall, how you felt we were supporting the industry. Obviously, the red reflected that we were in the low and in twos and some threes a little bit of four. We've moved most of that all now to threes and fours, some really high numbers, which has been really great. We'll see, and we'll continue doing what we can. This is all about listening to you, and we want to make sure that we are reflecting what the industry wants. That's ultimately it.
Same thing on the other goal, which was how pleased were you in what you get as an HAA Member? So, what's your return on investment? So, you can see in 2021 the greens are essentially what we're aiming for, right? Like the Greens are what we want. In 2021 they were good but not great. We've now moved to 2023. In 2023 things are looking a lot better. You're getting the membership that you want. You're getting the return on investment that you want. We're currently about a $9,000 level, which is really great. So, we'll keep doing what we can.
Give a round of applause to the board. They have kicked butt this year, like really working hard. It is an industry association, it is a very large ship to turn and move in a different direction. We know we're going to make some waves, and that's OK. We're doing that, you're happy with it, we're happy with it, and we're going to keep going in that direction.
So, you'll also notice some new marketing that's happening. We're working on just streamlining our message so that you know what we're doing more, that we're marketing ourselves better, and you know what events are happening. So, you're going to see that consistently more often as well.
We also just did a last questionnaire survey of where you want to see us and where you want us to be spending your money as we look at representation at other conferences as well. So, the data is pretty significant. Good news, we're all at Transworld. But we also have other shows that are pretty much streamlined, we've got Midsummer Scream, we've got MHC, and as we keep working we're going to look at how we can have representation in areas that you're telling us to do so that we can be there for you if you have questions, and we can also look for new members as well and help support new members too.
We already talked about our board. They've done a really great job this year. As I said, it's been a really hard year of trying to consistently... you know we have we're kind of on the end of COVID, we're moving things through, but we're looking really good. I think as we continue with the strategic plan, now and in the future, it's going to look really great. So, we're really happy with where we're going.
There is some new news, if you haven't heard yet, Brent Wilson from Doom is our new Vice President, that was just recently a vote that happened. So, Brent, condolences ahead of time. I'm actually really happy about it because we're only about 3 or 4 hours away, so worst case scenario, we'll get some work done in between.
We also want to do special recognition for Brett Molitor. Brett's right here, so I know, you don't know this is coming. So, if you have ever called the HAA, if you've emailed the HAA, if you have followed up, or if you've done social media, there are a lot of things that are happening behind the scenes. If you need a new membership, if you need CHAOS information, all of that is happening behind the scenes, and really about 95% of that is one person. So, Brett, thanks for your help because I think we can't do that. We essentially can't run an association without having someone, and Brett's volunteering his time. I mean, he's been putting in 40 hours for, I don't know, months at this point. So, thank you.
Tonight, we have our auction. So, Krista and Brett are both of our auction chairs, so if you're not going to be in room 231, it's the front of the Convention Center, upstairs, you're going to miss out. It's the biggest room that we have that's here, it will always be full, it's packed. This is the biggest auction we've ever had in the history of this association. So, our Members, especially our vendors, have really just stepped up in a massive way. We're doing more things so that we can support our vendors, and in doing so, they're passing that on to you all, you get to make a really great decision and buy something that supports the other members, and it's just a cyclical conversation. So, we're really excited about that.
Also, for Oscares, it'll be Saturday night. John is your production, and he's the Co-Chair. John's been working on really just fine-tuning that entire production and it's really shiny. And it's an amazing thing, so we'll look forward to having everyone Saturday at 5:00 o'clock in the room, across the hall at 241.
Vendors, most of the vendors are probably not going to be in here, because they're prepping and getting ready on the show floor. This is getting recorded, thanks Haunted Attraction Network, by the way, for helping make sure that can happen, so the world gets to be part of state of the industry, even if you're here or not. The reality is that our vendors have had a great year, but they've had a rough year. There's been a lot of things happening. We had to prepare earlier, but it's been really good. So, in the end, they have stepped up in a lot of ways because their goal is to support this industry. They're creating new products, they're finding new ways to tell the story that we need to tell in our event, whether it's a hayride or it's an attraction, whatever that is, they're working on, creating new products, and they've done really great at it. So, vendors, thank you.
All right, really quick. We're going to talk about our plan. I am not going to spend very much time on this because, at this point, you can go back and listen to the last two state of the industries, also produced by Haunted Attraction Network, then that way you can see what we've been talking about. We've covered goals, we had, essentially, 30-plus goals of what we wanted to do, and kind of moved the thermometer, if you will, to take a better pulse of the industry. It all comes down to our mission: promoting, protecting and educating. That's what we're supposed to be doing as an association, so we're promoting not only the industry, we're promoting haunted houses, we're promoting top haunts, we're promoting safety. On the protecting side, that's where CHAOS comes in. That's where our CHAOS class is all about protection. We also work on media, to make sure that if there is a crisis, we support our Members in doing that. Is Jeremy here by the way? Jeremy Kartchner, he's our crisis guy. If not you can see him at the booth, free consult whether you're a member or not. Check our social media and you can stop by. Same thing with our legal team. We have legal team that's rotating every day at the booth, it's 2023, and you can stop in and ask them some questions as well. The hours are on our social media.
Then last, educate, because we want to educate. The more we all learn, the more we're able to run great attractions. So, that's why we're offering these free experts. That's why, as the Board of Directors, we worked really hard to make sure that we are giving as much advice as we can, and that we're diversifying our skill set as well, to be able to do that. So, like I said, I'm not going to cover this really in detail. What you can see are those green things. All of those green items are goals that we have now accomplished. We have pink items, the pink items are ones that are not currently done, but we're in progress of doing them. Some of these are research, some of them are implementation that will happen at the end of 2023, and you'll see these for each item; for the promote, for the protect, and for the educate. Most of those greens are again accomplished and we've got some pink ones that are later. Again, we'll cover these, if you want, come to the booth, you can talk to us more about them. They're all in motion at this point.
The key to think about is how we move forward from here. We're kind of at the end of the strategic plan, so it's a space where we're able to say, "Hooray, we've done some really great things. Now, what? What do we do next? How are we going to move forward?" There's been a lot of great brainstorming. You all have been instrumental in helping give us some ideas about everything, from regional trainings, to meetings, to just content that we can be doing more, more trainings, video online, there's a lot, so we're going to be working hard on it.
Membership-wise, we're currently at about a $9,000 value. Not going to go over all these details as well. You can stop by the booth and see them, you can see them on our social media, they're all over the place. The one big thing that we were asked to talk about this year is a new benefit that we brought on, HalloweenBackgroundChecks.com. Members, essentially, instead of paying a $30 or $35 background check, you pay about $12 bucks, it's like $12.50. So, that's something that Members have been asking for a few years. We've been looking and researching national firms that can allow us to do that, and give us the most comprehensive research in doing those background checks, for the states that can do background checks, there are some that cannot. But if that's something you're interested in, that's another good benefit that we're giving to our members.
I'm going to put this QR code up later at the end as well, but if you're interested in volunteering, this is the best part about having a member-owned association, is that we're all volunteers. Nobody gets paid, and we also do the same thing with our boards and our committees. So, if you're interested in being on a committee, if you want to volunteer, if you want to help out at the booth, you name it, there's some really great opportunities to do that as well, and we'll put this up later.
That said, that is at least what we have to cover meeting wise. So, short and sweet, that's the goal. Then we're going to move into Q&A.
So, one of the things that we did is, we reached out earlier and asked you all for any feedback, or questions that you might have, to help get us ready for the Q&A today. So, we have those questions. Like I said, we're going to also answer some questions from you all live as well. We're going to cover these questions. As board members we're going to try and hopefully cover... we'll cover the question to make sure it's covered, how's that? At the end, you're here for information, that's kind of the idea is that we can give as much information as possible and share what we have, what resources. There might be things that we don't know, we're pretty honest about it. We've built a really diversified skill set, but there's still areas that we're looking for. So, if you're interested in being a board member, there are obviously certain requirements as part of our bylaws, but we're always looking for new skill sets. That's why we've also built the Legal Advisory Board, and we're working on building a Home Haunt Advisory Board, and a Vendor Advisory Board, because those are all things that are important to all of us.
What are we doing actively to increase membership, which will increase our revenue, and will increase our effectiveness in HAA overall as Members?
Spencer Terry: There's a lot that's happening, obviously from our three-year strategic plan, but there's also a lot that's happening. Jim has been hosting some mixers that are online for members, so that's one of the things that we've been doing. You all asked for other ways to kind of network with each other, and so we've offered that online, and a lot of people will do it live, but a lot of us are busy. Let's be honest, some of us have 2-3 jobs. So, part of that goal is, record it, watch it at a later time, so we're doing that. Do you all as the board, is there anything else that you want to speak to as far as the things that we're doing, things that we've talked about, things that folks can also be thinking about other ways of how we're growing the Association and growing numbers and resources?
Brett Molitor: One of the things that we've been asked for is if CHAOSE is online. Well, we've been able to set it up, and it's going to be going live right after the convention here, and then we'll set it up automatically to be the recertification of CHAOSE, which, as of March 2020, all CHAOS certificates were good for three years. So, you took it prior to that, it expires this month. The recertification process will all be online. You'll sign up, go through the four to five hours course, fill out the form, basically kind of a test, make sure that you did view the material, and then you'll be recertified. So, recertification is all online.
Spencer Terry: Good idea. Captain CHAOS everyone.
Brett Molitor: I even had the shirt on yesterday. CHAOS is called the Certified Haunted Attraction Operator Safety course. It's 8 hours. Of course, material starts with a four-hour fire safety course, which we did yesterday in this room, and we've come to call that course: the scared straight of the haunted industry. The younger ones don't know what the hell that means, but the older ones do. It can't possibly be done online. I mean, we've talked to a lot of people. You have to be here in the room in order to get the effectiveness of that four-hour course. Then the other four hours, one of the hours is here tonight, today. So, at the end of the session, there'll be a QR code at the top. Anybody doing the CHAOS this weekend, scan that and you get credit. This year I automated it. Pretty much, you scan the code, register, and then at the end of each class, you scan the code. I checked the file last night and everybody's in there, it's working like a dream. So, once you get the 8 hours stop by the booth and we'll have your certificate ready for you. Last year we came up with a pin, and so this year we have more pins, so you get a pin and a certificate, and we are working towards actually issuing a card that will have for anything else, whether it's first aid or any other course. So, you'll be able to actually have a card for your wallet.
Spencer Terry: There's a lot of national programs that are out there that have, you know, national accreditation. This is specific to the National Fire Protection Agency code, safety code. But also, we've added some new things to CHAOS. So, we've added building code safety specifically. That's something that Brett's been covering through his profession that he's doing. Jim Warner is also EMS, nationally certified, and so he's been teaching all over the nation for EMS, but we're bringing EMS now into our CHAOS class as well. The idea is to cover safety really, really well, and then also give you additional resources that you can use throughout the year. So, it's a great program, it's evolving, and it's been really great. So, anything else that anyone wants to talk about on specifically about how we're growing, more than the strategic plan.
Allen Hopps: How many people in here are members of the Association? Raise your hand, please. Everyone who did not raise your hand, please join the Association. Just talking about the Association, those of you who are in it and have seen a benefit at functions like this, talk to other people about it and mention why it is. The 16 of us up here can work our butts off, but if it's only us 16, it doesn't make a difference. We can do much bigger things when we have a lot more Members. Those bigger things, do you think that we're going to be able to negotiate insurance discounts with just the sixteen of us? No. But if we had 8,000 to 10,000, absolutely, then we could. So, the more members that we have, the more it shows.
I've struggled my whole life to have my business, what I do for a living, be recognized as an actual industry, you know? This is going to sound really weird, I'm sorry. But what I have seen happen with tattoo shops in the last 20 years, where were tattoo shops 20 years ago? In the worst parts of town, and you didn't let people go there. Now the tattoo industry has done amazing things for itself. That's what we're trying to do for the haunted attraction industry. We're a little bit of one of those fringe industries and we are fighting some of the misconceptions and perceptions that have happened in the 70s and 80s with some of the haunted houses, and just how it was run because they didn't have an association, they didn't have a network to talk to each other and to learn and to share like we do here in the Association, like we do here at Transworld. So, that's one thing.
We also, this last year, maybe it was two years ago, we started the Facebook group. That is a much easier way for most of us to communicate. Because a lot of times, if you joined the Association 8 to 10 years ago, then you didn't hear from the Association until you went to the next Transworld. Now we have much better communication with Members. So, just being able to communicate with you guys throughout the year is another way that we are continuing to grow the Association.
One more thing that I really want to do in order to grow the Association is, let's get something on that Facebook group. What big shows do you guys go to, like Horrifying Weekend or Horror Hound, all of the big horror conventions? As we get more Members, as we get that budget up, we're able to get boosts there, and then we're appealing to 6, 7, 8 thousand haunted house and horror fans at a time to join the Association, even at that enthusiast level. But all the haunted houses are there too, and some of them don't make it to Transworld. Maybe half the haunted houses in the country, I think less actually, come to this show. So, we have to work to reach out to those people, and I think those local shows are the way to do it.
How can we as an industry, increase credibility as a viable business so that the lenders, employees...
Spencer Terry: No really, that's question number two. So, I do want to give a chance though, because let's be honest, as all of us as operators, there's been some point in time where we've had someone who doesn't want us to open. That may be really general, but you know they're stereotypes, there's concerns, whatever they might be. I think we are really growing in what we're doing and how we're doing it, but as a board, what things do you have or what have you done, what success stories have worked really well for you? Some of you are going to be talking, some of you are not. Hopefully, you'll get to hear from some good folks because we have hayrides, we have indoor attractions, we have small, medium, large, they're all on the board. So, we all want to talk about that. Just what are you doing as far as, how do you educate your community? How do you educate landlords? How do you educate anyone, specifically, about what you're doing, how you're doing it, how it's bettering your community, how you're giving back? All of those things.
Brent Wilson: I can start. So, my other business, when I'm not busy managing the haunt, I negotiate leases and building acquisitions for retailers and restaurants, so I deal with landlords and lenders every day. The important thing with those guys is to hit them with data. You know that that lender has a loan committee. And he needs to put together a loan package all about your business that he presents to a group. So, it's a lot easier if you're an established haunt with a proven track record. You can come in with your profit and loss statements for the past few years, you can come in with a balance sheet. But if you're a start-up haunt, what you need to do is present a business plan to this group, whether it's the landlord or the lender.
Your business plan needs to have pro forma financial projections. What are your expected expenses? What are your expected revenues? You need to project those out at least three years, if not five. Most businesses are not profitable in their first year, so you need to show the bank or the landlord that you have operating capital in the event you're not profitable the first year, you can weather the storm financially. You need to include demographic data about your market, who is your target customer? How many of them live in your market? Also, what is the market penetration going to be? Who are your competitors? Which other haunts are in the market competing with you?
So, think about it, if you're a lender and you're going to issue a loan, or you're a landlord and you're going to negotiate a lease, it's a measurement of risk they're going to assess. I mean, if you're a landlord and you have to evict a tenant, it's a $20,000 expense in Idaho. If you're a lender and you have someone default on a loan, that's also very costly. So, it's risk and reward. The more information you can provide to that lender, or that landlord, and make yourself seem stronger as a business operator, the better loan terms you're going to get. It's in your own best interest. Hit them with as much data as you can. Let them know you've really thought this through, and you're taking this decision very seriously.
Eddi McLaurin: Well, Woods of Terror, we opened up 31 years ago, very rural community with nothing but farms out there, and now every farm has been bought except for mine. So, I've always tried to give back to the community for years, we took care of the road, picked up trash, and I've talked to the stores and all the local communities and everything. When I'm open everything goes up 33%. So, we've just tried to embrace the community. We also have farm events, which have really helped with the families coming in, and as I grow my families, they get to be teenagers and, of course, they come to the haunted house. Over the years, it's been the last 10 years really, the communities embraced us.
One of the things that I did, Nextdoor App is probably worse than Facebook, it's the most drama-filled place I've ever seen in my life. So, during COVID you know there were 4000 comments about what a money whore I was, and stuff like that. So, I just let them fuss, and then at the end, I replied to all of it and probably had hundreds of people see me in public and say, "you know, I didn't want to get involved on Nextdoor App, but we really liked your reply." But I just took them head on, so now a lot of times I'll get on the Nextdoor App and say, "we're opening for another season and be prepared, there's going to be traffic." I've tried to take a proactive to it, get out in front of it, I think that's been a way better approach than reacting.
Something that Allen said in going to the haunted house industry, 31 years we went for a $250,000 loan, it's like the most agonizing thing to do after 31 years. I think that's something that if we got 9, 9, 10,000 people involved, they'd be like, "hey, this is a serious industry, and we can go out and get capital to work with." But that is a very hard thing to do.
Allen Hopps: So, sometimes I like to say things that make work for other people, and I'm going to do that now, because this isn't my forte. I honestly think that we need, and I'm staring at the people who I think can help me, a one splash page website that is haunted house stats, 2022, 2023. Not for us, but the point of this question was how do we legitimize our industry? If there was a haunted attraction Association splash page, not the Member page with all the info in the files, but a splash page where you could say, "bank, here's the industry that I'm getting into. Haunted houses there are roughly this many haunted attractions in the country. They bring in roughly this many dollars. It is this percentage of the entertainment market. The horror survival game video game market is this big. Those people are crossing over. Talk about the industries that touch ours." So, we can say, "what I do for a living is real. Look at it." In one quick splash page, I think it could be easy to do once we compile that data and would be very useful to anyone wanting to start, or having to prove their business's legitimacy. So, maybe someone else can do that.
Spencer Terry: Thank you for volunteering to share that committee, Allen. It's a good point, and the more that you're reaching out there, the more we can sell what we're doing and how we're doing. It is good too, so. John, go for it.
John Schwarz Jr.: It, yeah, actually what Allen said is, what you said about that is real. I mean, for me, at Scare USA, we tried 12 years ago, it took two years to get our place up and running, and I don't even think our own crew knows that. But, we had to almost prove to the city that this is real, even though I've been doing it for, since I was a kid, 25 years, that's a long time. It didn't matter because we still had to prove that, "hey, we're not just some schmuck haunt that's not here to goof off. We're real." But one of the things that I wanted to make sure with our crew is, we're called Scare USA, and embedded within the word Scare is care. Part of what I do, you got to showcase your heart, and that's one of the biggest things that I represent in our whole entire team. We're mainly volunteer, it is possible if you don't have money to give back to a staff, it is actually possible, you just have to understand how to do it, you need to take care of your team first. Then we give back to the community. So, that's what we do, we make sure we take care of our crew first.
The third week of October, every single year, is our Care Give Back Weekend. That's when we will go out, we'll take care of our group first. This past season we had Amanda, she's part of our box office, but her mother had cancer, so we donated, and we did a match program with a bar and other businesses. See, we got the community involved, and they matched whatever we made. So, we gave back $2.00 from every ticket that we sold that weekend, and it was like $3,500 that we raised, and we gave it to somebody else. So, that's a way to get the community involved and say, "Hey, we're not just here to scare people." I mean obviously, that's our goal, that's what we like to have fun doing, but it is possible.
So, if your community is giving you some grief, or a hard time, just think a little bit outside of the box. In fact, do not even have a box, just think, get involved. There are parades, there are other programs, schools, there are functions that could use your help. So, if you have any questions about that you can ask them, but that's really all I have. It is always possible.
Spencer Terry: That's great.
Entertainment Weekly's coverage about youth safety and haunted houses, what can we do as operators to ensure that our staff are safe from concerns while ensuring customers of their safety as well?
Spencer Terry: So, if you haven't heard that news yet, we are rolling out a youth safety protection program. That program is going to be pretty well-detailed. I asked Jim if he doesn't mind speaking just specifically on this, because he is not only the person who's certified to teach, has trained it already, but is building one specifically for the Haunted Attraction Association similar to our sexual harassment training. You all will be able to have that, you can literally sit your team down, press play, everybody can watch it, and you can look for warning signs, all those things.
Jim Werner: So, right now some of us in the industry are aware, but there's been a lot of major media attention drawn to our industry in a very negative way. Some events have occurred where youth or people have been mistreated, misaligned, and taken advantage of. Real quick, just in the room here, how many people employ people under the age of 18 or have volunteers under the age of 18? That is a lot of hands in this room. I'm sure, in this room, we are all invested in their success and their safety. I'm sure of it, that's why you're here, but we need to make sure that when these young people are coming out that we are protecting them at a higher level.
One of the biggest misconceptions is that an actor, is an actor, is an actor, is an actor, and that's not true when you're dealing with youth. Youths have to be treated differently. They're a different category of employee per your state, per your Department of Labor, they are in need of protection. For those of us who aren't doing our background checks or that sort of stuff, if we're putting youth in an environment with a predator inadvertently--I know no one would do it on purpose--that is going to come back on the owners and operators as a major liability. It's a huge red flag. It's a huge black eye to your haunt, and to the industry as well, as we've allowed a young person to be taken advantage of. We can't, we just can't allow it. It's not a matter of won't. It's a matter of can't.
So, one of the things we're really excited about in the HAA is developing what is known as a Youth Protection Program. A Youth Protection Program is a set of standards and training that you will be able to take from the HAA to your haunts, to your actors, to your staff to make sure that they are aware of these types of issues and how to protect against them. So, that way your whole staff is working towards that goal of a safe and productive haunt environment for all of your staff, and it will pay dividends, I promise. Then the parents are happy with you, and the kids are successful, because God knows no one runs a jumper rig better than the kid. You need them, they're useful, but we want to make sure they're safe. This year we're very excited to roll that out.
How many women are now represented on the board?
Spencer Terry: So as an industry, this is dominated specifically by men, but let's be honest, the women are kicking ass, and they're doing a great job. So, we have three that are on our board, and as we talk more about how we continue building this industry and have representation of the industry on our board, this is something that we've really been specific about. I've mentioned already, our skillsets that we're building, and there's a lot of different perspectives that we bring. I don't know if any of you want to talk specifically about it, but please do.
Krista Brower-Wood: So, actually for the first time we have three of us on the board. There's always usually been maybe one, this is the first year two of us are on the Executive Board. We need women to get involved up here with our board. It's always been a male-dominated industry. I am a female owner of my haunt, I'm the only one in my area. So, I mean, if you don't think you can do it, I never thought I could be on the board. I didn't at first, and it's just an application to get in. These guys are great to work with.
Brent Wilson: These gals are the glue that is holding us together, they're doing a phenomenal job.
How do we grow the board?
Spencer Terry: Essentially, as Krista just mentioned, it's an application process. There are key as part of our bylaws, you have to be an operator of an attraction for at least five years. It does not specifically say you need to be an owner, it's an owner or an operator. One of the things that we really look for are folks who bring the skill set that our Members need, that is the key component to that. So, there are obviously some other checkpoints that are part of it, it's a pretty long list of about 10 different criteria, but you can apply as a board member.
There is a very large vetting process as part of that, as far as references. When we put the QR up later on, if you would like to just to even volunteer or get on a committee, let us learn more about you and the skill sets that you have. We bring in a lot of different folks. We have a marketing team that's helping us, we have a bunch of things, and it's pretty cool.
It's the little guys that need help. Will there be benefits directed toward small businesses?
Spencer Terry: Yes, there already are. Please come talk to the booth because we've already mentioned this several times, as new business owners are coming in, the more that everyone is able to start off on the right foot, that you are able to financially succeed, you do have the information that you need to be able to get moving and to move quickly, that helps all of us. It allows us to really see things better and how we can sell the industry as well. It's a long conversation, but there are a lot of resources. There are budget templates, there are marketing templates, there is the HR staff manual, it's 40 pages, that's all on there. There are so many different resources that are available for you as you're starting your business.
Of course, you have the board. You can reach out to the board, I think Allen mentioned the Facebook group, we have a Members only Facebook group. It's pretty cool to see how people will chime in and say, "hey, you know I've got this happening. I don't know what to do." Then there are 5, 6, 7, or 8 people that will chime in and say, "oh that happened to me. Here are some suggestions that I have." Or "I don't really know, but here's something to try." It's really great to see members supporting each other, and I think at the end of the day, that's what this is about, how do we support each other?
As we move from hundreds to thousands, to tens of thousands, at the end of the day the idea is, how do we support each other and use that to our advantage and leverage that? That will be good for small businesses that will be good for businesses that have been around for 31 years.
Now that the three-year strategic plan is coming to an end, will there be another plan to help moving forward?
Spencer Terry: Yep, we already talked about that a little bit, but for those of you that are members, and if not you can stop by our booth, you'll specifically be able to talk to us, talk to the legal team, talk to the advisory team, the marketing team, everyone is there, board members are there. We staff the booth so that you can just come up and ask those questions. The other option, too, is if you'd like, we have our diversity skill set on the Facebook groups. So, you're able to say, "OK, I'm a hayride and I need some ADA questions answered," and you'll be able to just use that grid and be like, "alright. I got five people I need to call." You can private message us right there in the group, you can reach out to us, there are a lot of different ways to do that, but we try to be as accessible as we can.
What is the best advice you have as a board for those of us just entering the industry?
Spencer Terry: So, I think we've covered a couple of those topics already, but is there anything specific that anyone has not covered that you think would be great to add to that conversation about what people can do if they're getting into the industry?
Ben Gagne: So, I started about six years ago in the industry, volunteered at a haunt, and previously worked at one. The biggest thing I would say that helped me is to find a mentor, find someone that's willing to help. There are people on this board that are willing to help. There are people sitting in this room that are willing to help. Get different opinions, get different input from different people, but find someone that's willing to show you the ropes, right? There's a lot of tribal knowledge in this industry, and learning that, attending the seminars as part of it, but there are things that you can't teach, you have to go see, you to go do.
The matrix that Spencer talked about is super helpful in figuring out, OK, how long have you been in the industry? Are you very familiar with what it takes to start a haunt after the year 2005? Or have you been in the industry a while and you have a different experience when you started? There's different things that we need to do today when you start versus a haunt that's been around longer, but they're facing different challenges. So, if you're a haunt that's larger and been around a while, you might find someone that has more experience in that space. So, just understanding and finding someone that's willing to help. Like I said, I think most people on this board have, or are willing to, put some time in to help someone that's just getting started and figuring out how to launch on?
Allen Hopps: Just one thing that I want to say is, advice for someone starting out, there is a little bit of a mindset of, "as my show gets bigger I will make it safer." That is inappropriate. You have to start with your show being super safe right off the get-go, because the news doesn't care how small the haunted house was when it catches fire, the news doesn't care how small the haunted house was, or where it was, if a predator is caught there, the news doesn't care. So, from the beginning, from the get-go, don't use inferior materials, don't be not fire-safe, have safety at the forefront in all of those aspects. That's what I beg.
Robert Garcia: Well, I just want to say, about 12 years ago I started my haunt in Puerto Rico. There were no haunts, zero haunts, now there's like 15. But when I started I did get involved with the HAA, cause I wanted to learn from other people who have been doing it, I wanted to get there faster. I mean, we did productions before other productions, but not about the haunt industry. What I was saying is, my learning curve would have been five years to know what I know now, but I got there in two years because I was talking to these people, I was learning from them. So, what I'm saying is, don't wait to be a member. I'm always learning. I've been here 12 years, I don't know at all. I know a little bit, but I'm learning from these guys who have been there for 32 years, 20 years, or whatever.
Get involved is what I'm saying. Ask questions, just don't be a member, and just say, "hey OK I paid for it and I got this or whatever." No, no, get involved because maybe you have stuff that. I don't know and I want to learn from you. You know what I'm saying? Your situations are different than mine, but get involved in the process, and maybe you say, "hey, this happened to me with this actor," or, "I did this for whatever," and I'm saying, "oh it didn't happen to me and I didn't know." So, I'm learning from you now. You know what I'm saying? Be part of it, because it helped me, and I'm sure there are a lot of people that even though you've been here for 10, 12, 15, twenty years, you're still learning. I mean, "hey, you did this way. This is cool, because I do it this way, but I like the way you're doing it." It's part of being part of that networking community.
A lot of people say no, I don't want to be a part. Whenever Spencer came in and said, "hey, let's do the 2.0," it's like, hey we want to refresh this, and we want to make it bigger and better for you guys. I think that they've been doing an excellent job in doing that and steering that ship slowly, and I really just want a round of applause for these people. They really, really put a lot into this man.
Spencer Terry: It's definitely a team effort for sure. Jim, did you want to add anything to that question?
Jim Werner: So one of the most important things is, we as an industry, we look at our own little microcosm, it's our show, it's our show. It's our show. I advise you to get away from that. I run two different large-scale haunted attractions in two different States, and I don't view myself as competing with anybody. I want my neighbor haunt to do good. I want the little haunt down the street to do good. I want Horror Nights to do good, they're going to be fine, trust me. But I want them to do good, and that nature has allowed me to work with people that I might never have been able to work with, because I'm not out to end your show. I want your show to do good cause then my show does good.
So, celebrate the industry. Celebrate the idea that we're all here because we love what we're doing first, and now we're building this incredible product. By supporting each other, we raised that tide man, that tide rises quick if we're all supporting each other. So, that's my big thing. Don't look at that guy down the street, he's not my enemy, he's just not. I'm here, he's here, and we're going to do some awesome stuff. So, that's my only thought I'll throw in.
John Schwarz Jr.: I'll be quick. The one thing that I learned is that I am skilled, so I try to stay within my wheelhouse. I'm not afraid to ask questions for people that know better with ticketing, marketing, or whatever. So, don't be afraid to ask those that know. You don't know everything. This is a business, you need to treat it like a business, but you also need to understand this is what I'm good at doing. So, just stick with what you're good at doing and grow from there, and you can work on your weaknesses along the way. Does that make sense? That's all I really have. I just want to make sure you keep it in mind that this is still business, and just keep practicing what you're already good at doing.
Spencer Terry: Build a good team. I mean, this is a good example of that. Like we have skill sets in specific areas. I mean, we have a haunted house on a ship. Anyone else floating their haunted house? So, there are specific skill sets that we have on the board, and that's kind of the idea. So yeah, build your own team, we'll work on building ours.
Alright, so those are the questions you all asked us as we reached out to you earlier. So, we're going to do some live.
John: So, my question is, from all your experience of doing escape rooms, I've seen that some have more minimal theming and really hard puzzles, and some are going all out and more like Hollywood quality, like lots of animatronics. From your experience with your customers, are they enjoying more of that theatrics with easier puzzles? Are they complaining about being too easy? Or do they like the more minimal theming and hard puzzles?
Spencer Terry: Good question, thanks. There's a few of us that have escape rooms, so anyone that wants to speak to that.
Jim Werner: So, at Eloise, we have some very, very theatrical escape rooms. They are very highly detailed, equal to our attractions theming, and what we have found is that we didn't dumb down our puzzles for that. We have extremely skill-oriented and teamwork-oriented puzzles that force them to work together. So, it's not one person leading the room, that one person has to direct. That is the focus that's really been winning for us with the escape rooms, forcing situations where the group is working together, they have to work together. That's what's been selling us and getting great reviews. It's not just one smart person who knows escape rooms goes in with their four buddies and they win, those four buddies got to work, like they have got to help figure it out. So, our balance is great puzzles, great theming, people want an experience, and make them work together, because then it's a group activity and everyone had fun. So, that's what I think. I think it's a balance.
What would your advice be for home haunts? So, we have a small home haunt, we have some neighbors who love it, some neighbors who detest it, and then also working with the city. So, we've had to work for several years with our city to modify what we've been doing.
Spencer Terry: That's a good question. We get asked the question a lot as far as, are there any home haunts represented on the board. So, how many of you on this board have started as a home haunt and you're moved to another? And how many of you in the room are started as a home haunt and you've grown into something bigger? This is the breeding ground, this is where it all happens. So yeah, there's a lot happening in home haunts. Some neighbors love it, some neighbors don't, but is there anything specific that we want to cover as far as things that we're doing?
I'll let you all think about it. Really quickly, for me, and I start as a home haunter for 20 years, I still do it, and I love it. I think that at the end of the day, it's about how you do what you do. You're giving back somehow to your community, right? At the end of the day that's what it's about. I think being able to set something where people understand what you're doing, that it's for a good reason.
I have a neighbor that doesn't like what I do, and that's OK, there's always going to be haters. But I think as you're doing your own haunted house, and your own home haunt, I'm going to bring it back to safety, we talked about that earlier. If there are things I would have known then that I know now, I would have done it completely different. But I do think that that's where we all start, we get our passion, and I bet a majority of folks in the room probably had a home haunt that they went to when they were a kid and it inspired them to be in this room today. That's the key. So, keep doing home haunting and keep enjoying that, because not only is it fun, but it's also growing the industry as well.
Brent Wilson: I would add, I went from home haunter to pro haunter seven years ago, and I can tell you that making the jump from home haunt to a 32,000-square-foot pro haunt is about so much more than just scaling up. There are so many more complexities with staffing, licensing codes, that sort of thing. My advice would be, when you're ready to make the jump, give it at least two years of preparation before you plan on opening the pro haunt. You're going to need to identify the right building, you're going to make that building code compliant, you'll need to hire people, and you're going to build the haunt. Lastly, I would say, it takes years to build a really good pro-hunt, especially if you're on a limited budget, it's a marathon, it's not a sprint.
Allen Hopps: OK, so, in your question, to my ear, you did not mention anything about going pro. That's an important distinction. I've never been a home haunter. I worked at someone else's pro haunt, and then I moved from pro haunt to pro haunt to pro haunt. To me, home haunting, and I don't mean this in a negative way, but it's like playing poker with no money. It's a different game, it just means it's a very different game. That's all that it means.
What Spencer said is 100% on point. A haunted house, in my brain, is always a business. So, if you are running a business in a neighborhood, not for money, that is a disturbance, it is an issue for people around you, so you have to make it about the community. So, you have to lead with, "this is the food bank drive event, and it happens to be a haunted house." I think that doing a haunted house for your own joy at your home, boy, that's so much work, good on you. I wouldn't do that.
Doing it in your home, in your neighborhood, inconveniencing neighbors around you, whether they love it or not, it is a little bit inconvenient, make sure that you're doing something for the community so they're seeing a huge community. Those home haunts that give a big community benefit that makes the neighbors, "you know what? Yeah, it a weekend, it's whatever, and it is a little bit of inconvenience for me, but it helps hundreds of people in our local community." The work that those home haunts do that are actually a huge blessing for the haunted house industry. So, thank you very much for doing all of that work. But no mention was made of pro haunt, some people are very happy home haunting, and I love that.
Spencer Terry: Sometimes I wish I could go back to home haunting. Alright, we are out of time.
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.
A Show director at Dark Hour Haunted House, Allen also enjoys building and designing products for haunted attractions. He also runs a YouTube channel showing how to DIY for haunted houses called Stiltbest Studios
Owner of The Thirteenth Hour
Since starting out haunting at the age of 13, Ben was inspired to create the original Thirteenth Hour, a home haunt, that raised thousands of dollars for charity. Today, he has turned a passion into profit and remastered his home haunt into a fully professional haunted house. He brings an expertise in budgeting and communication from his full time career as a Sr. Regional Manager for Amazon and is excited to bring his history and knowledge to the board.
Here are some great episodes to start with.