In Episode 56 of A Scott in the Dark, Scott Swenson shared his experiences at Transworld Halloween & Attractions Show, Christmas Show, and Escape Room Conference. After over a year of only Zoom meetings and virtual get togethers, he was excited to see his peers and friends in-person. Below are excerpts from his observations.
This episode includes interviews with Scott’s friends: Matt Scott from Von Grimm Productions, Phil Raybourn with Raybourn Creative, and Brian Foreman with Scareit Badges (and, of course, HaunTopic Radio).
A Return to an In-Person Event
Hello and welcome to the dark. This is Scott Swenson, and I am so excited because I’m finally able to do another show from a trade show. That’s right, I am, coming to you from the Transworld Show or Transworld Shows in St. Louis. And the reason I say shows is because there are three co-located shows, the Halloween show, the Christmas show, and the Escape Room show.
It’s so good to see all of these people that I’ve seen in sort of a digital patchwork on Zoom for the last year and a half. My whole focus of this particular trip is touching base with friends. I didn’t necessarily set out to make new contacts or meet new potential clients, although that has happened already, which is great. I haven’t seen these people in a very, very, very long time, so I wanted to explore the opportunities of reconnecting with friends.
A COVID-Safe Experience
For those of you who are concerned about health issues, I want to say right up front that Transworld and the city of St. Louis have done an incredible job at maintaining masks & maintaining distance. The trade show is set up a little bit different this year. The aisles are wider so we can physically distance a bit more. It is significantly more spread out, because they’ve taken the whole Christmas side and moved that over into the actual stadium, which is right next to the convention center. It’s just so exciting to see real people and real fog, and hear real music and real animations, and see costumes in 3d versus just 2d. So, it’s pretty neat.
A Chat with Matt Scott from Von Grimm Productions
Scott: This show is all about checking in with old friends and making new ones. I was looking through one of the booths here on the show floor, as I am want to do – that’s kind of why I’m here. I walked by Von Grim Productions, who have some really cool masks, and Matt who was working at the booth, turned to me and said, ‘yeah, I know you. I’ve listened to a podcast.’ So, I was like, see, here’s a friend that I didn’t know I had, which is even cooler.
So, how many years has Von Grim been here at the show?
Matt: This is my second year at the show. I’ve been coming to Transworld since 2014, but this is my second year of vending. We started in 2019, were planning to be here in 2020, but the world shut down. So, we decided to just pool our resources and come back stronger in 2021.
Scott: So, what is it about the Von Grim product that differentiates it from some of the others? You guys were telling me a little bit about how it was based with the actor in mind. Can you talk a little bit about that so that people who are not familiar with you can go, ‘Ooh, that sounds interesting. Let me look it up’?
Matt: We designed the masks for comfort for the actor and durability for the haunt owner, so that you’re not having to replace the masks year after year if they get damaged. We do masks that are designed for longevity of wear, longevity of life of the mask. So, they’re tools for your show, they’re not meant to be replaced every year. They’re latex infused burlap, so they keep the look and the shape of the burlap. I can do creative designs that way without having to worry about it collapsing later, but we also line them with cotton. We reinforce all of the normal weak points so that the masks are durable and comfortable and easy to use. We also back to that with a lifetime warranty.
Scott: Oh, whoa, wait a minute. Lifetime warranty for a haunt product? That doesn’t exist.
Matt: It does at Von Grim Productions. If something happens, if a weak point is found, or something like that, and it’s repairable, ship it to us, we’ll repair it for free and ship it back to you.
Scott: Wow. So those of us who have been in the industry for a while know that standing behind your product like that is not something that every single vendor that you’re going to see at this show or any other show does. So, that’s great. What’s new this year? What’s hot this year from your standpoint. Now, again, we had that sort of hiccup year. So, I guess I’m asking what was hot last year that we didn’t get to use, and now we get to see this year for the first time.
Matt: In addition to our burlaps, we’ve also got several half masks that I’ve sculpted recently, several Christmas theme designs. I’ve got some evil elves, some undead, frozen Santas. I’ve got some new burlap designs which integrated latex masks into the burlap as well, so you kind of get a little hybrid of a burlap and latex mask. We’re constantly coming up with new stuff. We do some stuff that’s kind of like fan tribute stuff, certain characters you’ll recognize from films and pop culture, but then we also have a wide line of very original, specific designs. And we do custom work, so if there’s a character you want designed for your show, we can absolutely do that. I love working with shows and doing custom work because when you get two creative minds together, you’re kind of unstoppable.
Scott: One plus one equals three, usually. So that’s pretty cool. It’s so funny that you mentioned the characters you might recognize. As I look around, it’s sort of like the most demonic fans decide they’re going to replicate some of the faces that you might recognize, which is super cool. If people want to know more and see what your product looks like, what is the best way to find Von Grim Production?
Matt: VonGrimProduction.com, Facebook and Instagram at Von Grim Productions, look us up. I’m also on Facebook as Matt Scott, if you to find me directly. So just look us up on there. We’re always posting new stuff. We love doing interactions. We do live videos as best we can – when we’re not building for Transworld.
Scott: Which is the majority of the time.
Matt: Right. But we’re usually doing videos of us building for Transworld, and we love to interact and answer questions and just get to know everybody. So look us up online.
Scott: Excellent. Well, thank you so much for talking to me, great product here, and thanks for listening to the show. I really appreciate it.
Matt: Absolutely, thank you.
Catching Up with Phil Raybourn of Raybourn Creative
Scott: So, in the realm of friendship, I am now sitting very comfortably with a friend of mine for many, many years; and notice, I didn’t say an old friend.
Phil: Well, I am old.
Scott: No, you’re not. No, all things are relative, my friend. But a friend I’ve known for a while, back from our theme park days, same company, different park. That’s fair to say that. I’m here with Phil Raybourn with Raybourn Creative. Okay, first I’m going to sing his praises and then we’ll talk to him. If you’re a regular listener, you probably will remember that Phil and his lovely wife were on for the New Orleans HAuNTCon show.
Like I said, it’s all about reconnecting with friends. The weird thing is Phil and I kind of do the same stuff. He’s got a much broader spectrum of what he and his wife can offer, but we do very similar things. So, people would think that we would be at each other’s throats and arm wrestling all the time. Truth of the matter is, we keep trying to find ways that we can work together just because we enjoy each other. Well, I enjoy his company, I’m not going to speak for him. I enjoy his company, and I think that working together would make us both better.
Phil: Absolutely. And I think that’s the interesting thing about the whole thing. But finding the project, that’s like our Finding Nemo, right? What will it be? One of these days we’re going to find it.
Scott: And it’s going to be brilliant!
Phil: It’ll be brilliant. Thanks for taking the time and sitting down. It’s fantastic.
Scott: So, first of all, I love your booth. I love the fact that it’s set up this way. It’s very similar to something I did a couple of years ago. Not saying you copied, but I’m just glad that we’re both on the same page.
Phil: Well, yes, you are Scott in the Dark, so it was completely dark, as you can see we’re a little brighter here.
Scott: He’s got better graphics than I do. He’s got better graphics than I’ve ever had. But basically you’ve set it up like a talk show.
Phil: Yeah. We want to give a little flavor of some of the concepts and ideas that we did, but basically give a kind of an environment where people can come in and sit down and talk. Whether it’s about what we can do for you, or just issues that you’re having in the industry right now that we can just talk about and figure out. We’ve been offering 20-minute consultations for free for people to come by – just what’s your issue? And maybe I have a solution or maybe I don’t, or I can point you in the right direction of somebody that can. So, it’s really about giving back and trying to pay it forward a little bit. Then, hopefully new clients will come out of this and we’ll meet some new people and reconnect with old friends, and that’s kind of what it is.
Scott: Yeah, it’s so funny because for us, this show is not about, are we going to sell 15 or 20 widgets off of our display? It’s about, are we going to develop and create those relationships that eventually turn into, to be honest, profit for us. Because, we don’t deal in hard goods nearly as much as we deal in ideas. I know that when I’ve done the booth here, or when I’ve talked to other people like us, that it is really hard to communicate what you do. Now this is your first time exhibiting at the show, right?
Phil: Yes. First time exhibiting. I’ve been to the show multiple times, even way back when it was in Chicago, Las Vegas, all those things. So, I’ve been here multiple times, but first time as a company exhibiting.
Scott: This is day two, what’s your impression? How do you think people are responding to what you do and your booth and your setup? How well a fit is it for Raybourn creative to be here?
Phil: I think the ones that are responding are the ones that I want to respond, if that makes sense. I think there are some general inquisitive people out there that are like, ‘well, what do you do?’ And then, ‘okay, well maybe I could use that.’ So we’ve had a number of those, and then there’s those that don’t understand it completely. Don’t get it. ‘Why do I need a story?’ We can do a whole other podcast on that.
Scott: We could do a whole series on that.
Phil: A whole series of podcasts on why you do need one. So, I think the ones that are receptive and open, they are the ones that are going, ‘okay, cool, we’ll come back.’ And it’s been a broad range. I’ve had everything from a logo development to some animation stuff that I’m talking with people about, all the way to haunts and creating experiences with escape rooms and all sorts of stuff. We’re also doing some Christmas aspects as well. So, it’s been a great show. People are here and they’re looking, they’re hungry for stuff. Obviously it’s May, it’s a little late, but I’m surprised at the amount of people that are still trying to get stuff done right now. So that’s good for us.
Scott: It’s very good for us. And actually, it’s interesting you say that, because I’ve had several folks talk about the fact that they are still trying to get stuff together because the bean counters, the people who sign the checks, haven’t actually approved budgets yet in some areas. So, everybody’s kind of rushing at the last minute, which I think is going to benefit people like us a great deal.
Phil: I think so, and that’s the hope. I think we’re actually expecting that. We’re kind of pre-planning on that respect. So if somebody calls up and says, ‘Hey, I need a haunt idea and I need it priced out and we’ve got two days, and then we want to go to bid, and we’ve got to go to the buy, and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.’ We’ve got some stuff in our pockets concept-wise that we can turn around and say, ‘okay, we got this package, this package, this package,’ and then go from there.
Scott: See, you’re so much smarter than I am. That’s brilliant when it comes to business.
Phil: I’ve got a bit more time right now then you do Scott, let’s be honest.
Scott: Yeah, but that’s not going to last long. So, since you’ve been an attendee for many, many years, now that you know that the aisles are wider and things are a bit more spread out, do you notice a difference in the vibe? Is it calmer? Or is there no difference at all?
Phil: I think there’s a slight difference. I will say that I’ve seen more things go off the shelf in these first two days than I’ve ever seen at an event before. So, people are buying, which is really great if you’re trying to sell product. I think the wider aisles give a more calm vibe. It’s not as shoulder to shoulder, with the noises and everything that we normally see, which I think works to the advantage of the vendors, because people are able to see. When the aisles were crowded and we couldn’t see anything with people running up and down, it was kind of like, who’s got the spectacle to draw the eye? Because a lot of stuff you would miss. I think now if you walk up and down the aisles, you’re going to catch most stuff, and that benefits the vendors that are here. For those of you that aren’t here, we are large. The Halloween show has taken up the whole side, then we’ve got escape room, then all the way over in the Dome, we’ve got Christmas. That has really allowed everybody to branch out. I think it works.
Scott: I agree a hundred percent. I’m so glad that you said people can see what’s happening because that’s the thing I’ve noticed. With every booth where you are actually selling hard goods, the goal is to put as much stuff in that 10 by 10 space as we possibly can. So it goes high and it’s all packed in, but if you’re too close, you don’t get an overall view of what it looks like, and you have to get a little distance before you can see that. I think the wider aisles are actually helping, and I’m glad to hear you say that you’re seeing more people buy stuff and take it off the shelf to take it home. I’ve noticed it too.
Phil: Yeah. Yesterday was nuts. It was just the amount of stuff is like sold out, sold out, sold out. So, it’s a good driver. I don’t know if it will continue year over year, but people are desperate to buy stuff and get their haunts rolling. So, these first two days have been really, really interesting.
Scott: That’s very cool. Well, before I go, I have to do the same thing that I do with all of my guests. And that is if they want to know more about you, if they want to learn more about Raven Creative, which is a much more multi-faceted company than what I offer. Which is again, full disclosure. What’s the best way for them to find you?
Phil: We are raybourncreative.com, and you can email us from there as well. Now, again, we’re a generalized creation site. So, don’t go looking for all of the Halloween stuff on there, as far as pages. That’s things that I will send you off of that. At first glance you’re going to go, ‘he’s not really Halloween’, it’s because we do other things as well. So, that’s the easiest way to reach us, and, give us a call if you have anything interesting.
Scott: Awesome. Well, to recommend my competition, he comes with my highest recommendation, having worked with him back in the Busch Gardens days, I know what he is capable of doing. I know how his mind works, and it’s brilliant, it’s amazing. So, Phil, again, thanks. It’s great to catch up with you as always, and thanks for taking time to be on the show.
Checking in with Brian Foreman of Scareit Badges (and HaunTopic Radio)
Scott: Now it’s time to check in with a friend that you’ll recognize, he’s more used to doing podcasts and appearing on pretty much everything that I am. I’m here with Brian Foreman and you are here, this time, representing something that I know is very near and dear to your heart because you’ve been doing it for years and that is Scareit Badges. You’ve got your booth set up. Now, this is your first time having a booth at a Transworld show. Is that right?
Brian: Yes. I’m also with HaunTopic radio, so I’ve always been floating the floor here. This is my 11th Transworld, but I’ve never been on the vendor side. So Scareit Badges is my new baby. You know, me and Daryl Plunky. This is our thing. We’re doing it as merit badges for haunters; think Boys Scouts and a little bit of military thrown in there. It’s a reward system for your staff and your employees.
Scott: I’ve mentioned Scareit Badges before and how much I think they are super cool. I’ve been trying to get this interview since Thursday and every time I’ve walked by your booth, you’ve been writing up a sale. This seems like this is really popular. Why is it so attractive? Is it because it’s something new? Is it because retention is so important? What do you think?
Brian: I think a little combination of everything. You know, last year was kind of hard on everybody. You got people questioning whether they even want to work in a haunted attraction anymore, so the market is tight. We’ve been using these on our actors for the last three years, and our actors really dig them. We have unique skill badges for different things – like Monster Mouth, Crowd Favorite, Scariest Character, Creepiest Character. We have Haunt Widow and Haunt Couple badges. A lot of these things are coming into buttons too, just little wearable buttons for like a buck a piece. Our badge is like $5. We’re having package deals at the haunt.
But I think the reason people are really starting to get into this is because we’re in our infancy still. It’s our third year/fourth year, just being there. So, this is our first Transworld show. We’re getting a lot of these major buyers that have 300, 400 different staff. That’s their crew. So when they come over and their actor manager asked to walk their owner over here to say, ‘Hey, this is what we need. We need to retain our people. We need them coming back year to year.’ So this gives a little fun way to incorporate into your haunt a little friendly competition, and our actors are loving them.
Scott: Well, you’ve heard me talk about the importance of staffing and how important it is to maintain and recruit a good staff and get them to return year after year after year. We’ve also talked about it this year, specifically, on Green Tagged Theme Park in 30 as well. So, for a relatively low investment, you’ve got an incentive program that is specifically targeted to haunters. As a haunter yourself, you know what people like to be rewarded for. You’ve heard me sing the praises of Scareit Badges for as long as they’ve been around. So, if people are not at the show and they want to find out more about Scareit Badges, what is the best way for them to find out what the product line is and, how can they order them for their haunts?
Brian: You can find us at ScareitBadges.com. of course. Right now we have show specials. If you guys hear this on this podcast, we will honor that show special for 30 days. So, just go to our website, we have package deals. The more you order, the cheaper they get. I’m Brian Foreman everywhere. Look me up on Facebook, go to our Facebook page.
Final Thoughts & Observations
The show floor in general this year, although more spread out, seemed just as active, and every vendor I talked to said people were buying like crazy, which is great. It means that people are eager. It suggests exactly what we’ve been saying on not only this show, but also on Green Tagged Theme Park in 30 my other podcast with Philip Hernandez, and that is that people are ready and eager to get back to a world where we can do haunted attractions, where we can do seasonal events, where we can do theme parks, and cool stuff where we actually see people in person and not just a little squares on a screen. So, I think that’s great news.
One other observation that I think is interesting is there was a lot of discussion during the show about getting people staffed for haunted attractions. With this enthusiasm to return I hope that we are all able to keep our attractions fully staffed, whether they are just Halloween or seasonal. If you are a haunt actor and you do not have a gig for this fall, I’m going to tell you right now, it’s your fault, because the haunts are looking for people and they’re looking for good quality people.
Another thing that we talked about a lot was, how quickly can we get back to normal? And the challenge with that was not necessarily, do we need to rush this? But, when can we start spending money? We’re already halfway to Halloween, and there’s a lot of haunts, that are being tentative about holding their money back. So, I’m hoping that they recognize you have to start investing now, you can’t just keep waiting and start spending your money in August or September. I always say that if you’re not fully planned, from a creative standpoint, by the end of July, you’re running behind. So, it’s May now and people are still sort of holding off; But I’m hoping that the trend of the buyers at the show mean that it’s that shifting. So that would be really cool.
It has been a great show and I’ve been able to accomplish exactly what I set out to do, and that was to see what the new products were, but more importantly, to connect with some folks that I haven’t seen in a while, to reconnect with friends that I’ve worked with before, and to hopefully make new friends with people that I can work with in the future. I did exactly that, it was great.