Spencer Terry, General Manager of Fear Factory Salt Lake City and President of the Haunted Attraction Association, joined Philip Hernandez of the Haunted Attraction Network to discuss Fear Factory Salt Lake City’s 10th anniversary. Beyond remodeling they have many exciting announcements for the upcoming season, including a season pass ticket option and partnership with Don’t Be a Monster. Fear Factory Salt Lake City was the first haunted house to reopen after the start of the pandemic and they’ve helped countless haunts around the world with their reopening plans.
- Increasing actor pay by $2 an hour has helped Fear Factory SLC to attract high quality scareactors and team members.
- Be sure to be aware of local COVID ordinances and guidance from your local health department and government. These will inform your event’s health & safety policies for both staff and customers.
- Create a backup plan in advance in case COVID restrictions increase over the course of the season. Make sure that your key staff are aware of the plan so it can be quickly implemented as local guidance changes.
- Adding additional higher-tier ticketing options allows for opportunities to increase loyalty and branding and give customers an exclusive experience they don’t already have. “If you don’t have the option, you can’t sell the option”. Only a small percentage of your audience may purchase these higher-tier tickets, but that is exactly the group you are targeting.
A 10th Anniversary Celebration
Spencer: “This is our 10-year anniversary, so we’re really excited about blowing things out of the water. We spent over a hundred grand just alone in one specific area and just dedicated this massive space to rebuilding it and remaking it very immersive; you’re ducking through corridors and there’s this battle that’s happened between good and evil in our vampire manor.”
Partnership with Don’t Be a Monster
Spencer: “[Don’t Be a Monster is] a really cool program. It’s a nationwide anti-bullying program. We’re the ones locally to get to teach it here in Utah.
I think the world’s really good about telling us that we don’t belong, we don’t fit in, or we look different, we talk different – whatever it is. Don’t Be A Monster is a Halloween haunted house way to talk about anti-bullying. We actually go into the schools. We have a very fun kid friendly monster named Frank who helps us talk to fourth graders all the way up to seventh graders about anti-bullying techniques and procedures, and how to be a bystander.
To my knowledge, I think we’re the only ones that actually have a sponsor. We’ve partnered with a local retailer here, it’s Nate Wade Subaru – they’re Subaru’s oldest American retailer, the first dealership – and so it’s been really cool to work with them. Then we work with a facilitating company that helps us facilitate the assemblies, because we have way too much on our plates right now and they’re fantastic about it. It’s just a win-win- win for everybody. We love that we get to do something really fun for kids and hopefully kids will feel good about it, and years down the road they’ll remember that and they’ll come back to the property.”
Philip: “It engages with your local Community and also, is thematically linked to the haunted attraction.”
Spencer: “I think a lot of times sponsors, and nonprofits in general, they want that ‘touchy feely’ – and haunted houses, let’s be honest, are not always touchy feely. It’s quite the opposite, it’s about scary and big and monsters. And so the touchy feely side allows us to really play a new music line in our music book about how we can still do great things for the community.”
Staffing and Pay Increases
Spencer: “Back in February, March, April, we had a hunch that things were going to look a little bit different and there was really going to be a fight for employment. I kid you not, everywhere I go everywhere I look, as with most states, everyone is hiring right now. So we made an executive decision this year to not only increase bonuses, but to increase our actual pay. So we increased it $2 an hour – certainly way above minimum wage. But it allows us to hopefully have some real leverage in our local market to get the right people.
I used to run hotels and casinos and, you know. We used to call it “Aces in our places”, and I think it’s really about having monsters in the right space. We know that paying more is going to give us a better talent pool, and so that’s kind of the goal. Financially we took a hit last year in COVID, and we’re still able to do this because we know it’s going to pay off. It’s going to hurt, I think, a little bit upfront. But I really do think, from the numbers and the data we’re seeing so far of our ticket sales, this is going to be a hell of a year. It’s going to be a great year.”
Philip: “So you did increase the bonuses and the pay per hour, and has that had the desired effect? You’ve already had several audition days already. Have you gotten a lot of people interested and are they starting? Are you starting to see the fruits of that?”
Spencer: “We’ve currently had three casting calls, and I think we have three or four more to go. We’re seeing about the same number of people showing up for the casting calls. However, the quality and the skill set of the people who are showing is drastically higher than any other year.
I think financially, having this extra money available, and certainly we know there’s talent out there who’s unemployed right now that just wants something fun to do. So, I think those two scenarios are really working out in our benefit this year, and then adding this extra bonus on top of it just kind of makes everything even better.”
Philip: “And that’s for the 2019 or 2020 levels?”
Spencer: “2020. This will be our third year that we’re giving our staff a salary increase.”
Philip: “Since you have the same amount of people showing up, that sounds like it’s a really good, because what we’ve been hearing from other people is that they have less people even showing up to audition, so if you have equal amounts auditioning, it sounds like it’s working.”
Spencer: “It’s been really interesting to watch nationwide. There are some states where they’re having 3, 4, 5 times even the amount of people showing up for casting calls, and then there’s other states that are literally 50% less. So, it’s been really interesting to watch it. And I think, certainly marketing is part of that, because there’s so much hiring noise. That’s the hard part – how do you break through that?”
Navigating COVID Precautions
Spencer: “We’re doing the same thing we’ve been doing now for a year and a half, which is that we’re looking at our local guidance, and we’re figuring out how do we make what we need to have work within that local guidance? I think it’s in everyone’s best interest to listen to the locals about what’s happening, because every state is different. Some are worse or better than others. Our local guidance has been that masks are suggested, but not required, yet. So we’re just following that exact thing. We’re letting people know that they can show up with or without – it’s up to them, it’s their option. Same thing with vaccines. If you have a vaccine, great. If you don’t have a vaccine, great. But until more direction comes out, we’re going to stick with whatever we can to support our local.”
Philip: “Are you asking your staff at all or not even treading there?”
Spencer: “What we’ve done here is we’ve just said, ‘you know, it’s up to you’. At the end of the day, we want to protect our family and our haunt family, and you do what’s best for you. You’re welcome to wear a mask if you want to, and we kind of figure out the details from there.”
Philip: “How do you recommend that other haunts navigate these questions, and this whole situation?”
Spencer: “If you haven’t already, befriend your local ordinance guidance, health department, government folks, etc. – you don’t have to be buddies with them, but at least know that you’re on an email list so that you’re the first one to get an update.
You have to remember that not only are we talking about vaccines and masks for staff, but certainly for customers, and there are going to be staff who don’t want to show up to work and there are going to be customers who don’t want to show up, and vice versa. It’s going to go both ways. If you can find that middle ground and follow what your local guidance is, that’s going to be your biggest first step. Certainly, you can make personal policy from there. If you want to that’s specific to the attraction, but for us, we have found that just in general, working with local guidance is overall going to be best for our market.”
Developing A COVID Preparedness Plan
Philip: “Are you developing an emergency plan like you did last year if restrictions get tighter than they are?”
Spencer: “At the end of the day, the same conversation is true last year as it is right now, which is: if you don’t have a plan you’re behind the game. Some of this stuff changed within a matter of weeks, and so have the plan ready to go. Make sure that your team – at least your core leadership – knows that there’s a backup plan and what some of those variable options are, so that if you need to pull the trigger, you can do that pretty fast. We have that plan in place. We’ll go back to where we were in 2020. We’ve even asked all of our staff to make sure that they’re at least keeping a three-foot distance, just for preventative measures now, because why not?
We have rolled over everything when we thought we were going to roll over. So, hand sanitizer is available on this property for staff and for customers in plenty of amounts. We’re going through probably two, three gallons a night, so the people are using it. I think that’s great. We have decided to keep on our cleaning team. So, usually we have just one person spot checking and cleaning bathrooms.
Now we actually have two dedicated people, one just for bathrooms only, because we have 12 Porta Potties on our property. The other one is literally cleaning handrails and doorknobs. That’s it, that’s their job. Those high impact touch points can really make or break you. We recognize that that was probably what helped us not have a plague last year in our haunt crew, and I think that that’s going to be the case this year as well.”
Philip: “Are you going to keep that cleaning in your marketing like you did last year, or you don’t think there’s a need for it this year?”
Spencer: “We haven’t marketed it at all. Quite frankly, I really didn’t want to market it because I want it to be a normal. I want people to know that when you come to Fear Factory in Salt Lake City, Utah, that you’re not only coming to one of the best attractions that’s out there for the entertainment industry, but you also were coming to a clean and safe environment and that’s something you should expect is just normal.”
Adding 3 New Ticket Types
Spencer: “We added three new tickets to our portfolio. We typically have a general admission, a VIP, and an instant entry. The incident entry is $70, and we now have added three additional ones that are higher than that.
We have a season pass option, it pretty much lets you come back every night of the season as a VIP and it’s $140. So, pretty much within four times of use it’s now a free ticket. We’re pretty excited about that. It comes with some really cool gear. We’re the first haunted house in Utah to offer a season pass. I really hope that’s going to catch on.
We also started a Behind the Sets and Screams Tour. So this is a $180 ticket and lasts two and a half hours. We do a lot of behind the scenes stuff – a lot of our rooms, our makeup, our shop, our tech crew – but we also show them how some of our pneumatics work and the manifolds, the air pressure. Also, we talk about, what do you do when you’re six buildings big? It’s a little bit trickier than most places. Then of course we also do some really exclusive photos inside the attraction. So the people who do get to come on the tour, everyone else in the world is like, ‘whoa, where did you get that photo?’ And they’re like, ‘oh, I went on the behind the scenes tour,’ and there’s some marketing there as well for us.
Then the third ticket option, which is a $250 ticket. I know I’m crazy, but this $250 ticket, we call it our ‘Rockstar’ or ‘Influencer Pass’. This is designed for the folks who have over 800,000 followers that are influencers, they’re actual rock stars, they’re here for a concert, but they want to come through the attraction. This is pretty much their VIP space. They get an instant entry, they have a security detail, they can have a hoodie when they walk out the door, they get to meet with us as owners and just kind of do a quick meet and greet. It’s a fun way to really incentivize and leverage marketing from an Instagram perspective, or from an influencer perspective. A lot of times we have people that call us, ‘hey, I’m an influencer, can I come through?’ And you know, now I can leverage it and say, well, ‘Yeah, sure. We’re going to give you this much in value. What are you going to give us in that same value?’ So why not?
So those are the three things that we’ve added on. Now we have six tickets total in our portfolio – really excited about it. So far we’ve already sold five season passes, which at that price point is just really crazy to think about, but I’m really excited to see it go up.”
Philip: “How have the sales been going in general? And then on any of these new options?”
Spencer: “The season pass has been great. We sold out of our first Behind the Sets and Screams already – that was actually back in May, our first one. And we were only offering these at very, very limited dates, so it really creates a supply and demand. But I’m really happy with it so far.”
Philip: “So you’ve seen demand be very strong, basically.”
Spencer: “Easily, probably 20% more, 20 to 30%.”
Philip: “The behind the scenes tour, is that a non-event day, or just a daytime during event day?”
Spencer: “That’s a brilliant question. It is specifically to a non-event day because we recognized that people want to see more and we can’t necessarily show that when we’re in operations. It just really messes everything up, and so this allows us to have a very laissez-faire conversation. We get to move around at our own speed, people can ask questions, and it’s usually two hours, but we do a two and a half just to give some extra space. People seem to have really enjoyed it; it was a hundred percent successful. Everyone said, ‘wow, this is really cool, I wish more people could do it.’
So we’re excited to see how that pans out in the future.”
Philip: “What factors made you think about having a season pass?”
Spencer: “We were talking about how do we, during a year of COVID increase our sales once people are on property? And one of those things was how do we also offer new experiences that people don’t always know about or what they want, but we don’t currently offer?
I remember a couple of nights last year, we had a group of kids that were the first ones in line, the first ones to enter the attraction on a specific night, and they had all had $70 instant entry tickets. I was like, ‘you guys, why are you the first ones here? You could have waited, you could have come two and a half, three hours ago, or into the night, and then still had an instant entry.’ It just stuck with me what they said, but every single group said, ‘well, it’s just what our parents bought us. They wanted us to have the best experience possible to show off to our friends.’ So, that tells me that if you don’t have the option, you can’t sell the option. Right? And so in this case, it was let’s make that option.
If the price point is high, that’s okay. If I only sell five of them, I’m okay with that because I sold five that I wouldn’t have sold already. It gives us a chance to build loyalty and branding, and it gives people a chance to get something that they don’t already have, that they get to brag about and be really proud of. So it’s a win-win for all of us, and it certainly helps our marketing as well.
We’ve been talking about this for two years. I won’t lie. Every year we would sit in our owners meeting. We’d be like, ‘ah, $150 for a ticket, come on. I don’t think our market’s going to…’ And honestly, I still don’t think our market is going to do it, but there is a small percentage of our market that will, and that is exactly what this is targeted for.”
Philip: “Yeah, because they just want to go hang out multiple nights because your run is so long. I mean, that’s the thing. You’re not only open six nights – it’s a long run. They can hang out across multiple months.”
Spencer: “Yeah. They get to do a lot of fun stuff when they’re here. And you know, we’ve really tried hard to make it an entertainment venue space that’s not just a haunted house. There’s a midway, there’s games, there’s food trucks, there’s concessions, there’s lots of other things, so people can come and have a good time.”
Philip: “On the influencer pass, just to recap, it includes security as well as the hoodie. So basically it’s just a full VIP experience. You can market it to people who are like self-styled influencers, or truly somebody who needs a security detail for security reasons, right? So it’s like an extra special experience even for like a ‘non -influencer’ person who just wants to do it.”
Spencer: “Absolutely. We have some groups that probably won’t want the security detail, but if that’s the case, instead of putting X number of seconds between each group, I’ll put X number of minutes behind and in front, in each group, so they really get to have their own experience. Those are all things that I think are valuable, people are willing to pay for it.”