This episode is from HauntTopic Radio and is a replay of the November monthly mastermind class for Haunt Master members. Haunters Toolbox hosts these masterminds monthly. This master class features Philip and Alex from HauntPay discussing research and haunt industry trends to the 2021 and 2022 seasons.
What is HauntPay?
Brian: So you are the creator of HauntPay right? The legend?
Alex: Yeah, I started it back in 2014, yeah.
Brian: And so for people that haven’t heard of HauntPay, tell us a little bit about what HauntPay is.
Alex: Sure, so HauntPay provides scary-simple ticketing and payments for haunted attractions all over the world really, but mostly in the US; we have a couple outside the US, some up in Canada, some over in Australia, but mostly in the US right now. So yeah, that’s online and at the door ticketing and payments to help reach more fans and sell more tickets.
Brian: You guys created a report this year?
Alex: We did so. We have an opportunity to survey, not only our clients, we work with about 1000 haunted attractions every year, I think it hit 1024 or something this year, so it’s just a little bit over that. But we also brought in outsiders. I would say mostly they were our own clients, but there were some that weren’t our clients that were still friendly and wanted to fill this out. So we did. We put together a fund report and had an opportunity to release this. Unfortunately, we wanted to get it out before the season because we did do this survey before the haunt season here. As it was, we got it out like the last week of the haunt season, like October 29th or something like that, so it was a little late for being a preseason report. It still had some really interesting info, and it’s kind of interesting after the fact to see how some of those numbers actually compare with what was actually done for people here.
Brian: So, kind of what was in the report and where can we find it?
Alex: Yeah, so definitely go to HauntPay.com and you can find it there, there’s a link right on the front page, there’s something that says like HauntPay report, there will probably be a pop up too, it’s going to be hard to miss. But, you can find it there, you can download it for free, it’s easy to get a hold of, but we went over some interesting stuff.
HauntPay Haunted Industry Trend Findings
Alex: So, I can definitely hit some of the top points here. One thing that I thought was interesting right off the bat was that more haunts than ever before are actually, and I don’t have the comparison in here, we just have the numbers but, more haunts than ever before are doing indoor haunted attractions. So, less and less people are doing outdoor and more or moving indoor, it’s not substantial numbers, but it’s more than it was ever in the past. In fact, this is the first year that we have seen more indoors than outdoors. So of the surveys, and the survey kind of followed this up, the surveys 45% reported doing indoor only, about 38% reported doing outdoor only, and about 19% said that they were going to be split equally. That was kind of interesting.
Alex: I think that’s going to be more futureproof, too, you know. So I think that’s what a lot of people are looking at as we get hit by more and more crazy weather, it just makes sense to have some of this stuff moved more indoors, though it’s always more expensive too. So, I think that also means that there’s more money coming in that’s able to put together these indoor attractions, because those do cost a lot of money at times. Of course, that varies depending on what sort of setups you have and that sort of thing, but in general, I’d say they’re more expensive.
Alex: This is kind of a no-brainer, but 93% of people said that their primary revenue driver was ticket sales. This actually surprised me as being kind of low, right? Don’t you expect that it’s going to be 100% for haunted houses? But we had several that were saying that sponsorships, that merchandise sales topped those, and I think what that what we’re seeing here is more and more nonprofits coming in. A lot of these nonprofits are coming in, they’re not able to sell tickets because whatever their nonprofit set up is, I don’t know exactly how those setups all work, but some don’t think that they’re able to sell tickets. They get sponsorships, they sell merchandise, they have donations, or pay what you can instead of that primary a ticket sale driver there, so that was kind of interesting.
Alex: One big thing you know that I think stuck out on our survey here we saw 51% of people saying that they were going to do time ticketing this year. The result actually was much higher for what we actually saw. We actually saw 76% of our clients use doing some sort of time ticketing this year. I don’t know if we convinced a few between when the report happened and when they got online, or just a lot of the people that weren’t using us weren’t doing timed ticketing, but we saw 76% doing some sort of time ticketing. It’s not saying everybody is like down to the 10-minute interval or something like that, but you know, at least breaking it down by nights or hourly, and a lot of people are doing much finer ones. We saw several doing 5-minute intervals, which is crazy to me. I think that must be chaos actually try to organize that. That’s not very many of them, but if you have very strict kind of show-like setups and they know exactly what time it takes, they like the five-minute interval thing.
Alex: I think that was actually down just a bit from last year, but it’s way up from 2019. 2019 the numbers were incredibly low, it was something like 30% or less that we’re actually doing time ticketing on our platform. So those numbers have just flipped, it’s reversed, now it’s over 75%-76% are doing time ticketing. I think what a lot of people did last year had to do that because of whatever regulations they were seeing, you know with the pandemic, and the capacity issues and things like that. Now they said, “Hey, that actually worked out well. We had shorter lines at any given time. We had didn’t have as many people ticked off that they couldn’t figure out what time they’re coming through the door.” You know, they knew when to expect things to happen and so they decided to keep it around. I think it’s also a revenue driver, so a lot of people are seeing, “hey, we can charge more if we make let people decide the exact time that they’re going to show up or something like that. Or maybe if everybody else has to choose and they just want to come whenever have a front of the line pass whenever. That’s where we can charge more for.” But it leads to additional revenue opportunities there.
Darryl: So are you going to be doing this report again next year, Alex.
Alex: Yeah we are, in fact we’re going to speed it up here. So what we’re going to do is we’re going to actually start surveying this well before next season so we can get a reaction take on last season and what you expect going into next season. So, our next one won’t be next fall, but we’re bringing it out, it’ll be prior to that, you know, which will be nice, we’ll have some data going into it. I think that’ll be helpful to people to kind of know what to expect, what did last year look like versus the coming year here and some of these trends? Another crazy one that I think is here is, virtual queues just barely entered the market last year and they’re already at 15 plus percent saturation of people that we surveyed. 15% said they were using them, and that’s actually pretty close. We actually saw you know, right around there 15 to 20% of our clients were using our virtual queue set up there. So, that’s a significant number coming through there on the virtual queue side, and new technology, right? Like it’s stuff that people aren’t used to, and then it’s getting adopted right away.
Benefits of Online Ticket Sales and the Virtual Queue
Alex: You should see way back when, how long it just took us to start getting some people to move from cash only at the door to actually selling tickets online, and now all of a sudden in one year’s time 15% are moving to virtual queues. I think the haunters are speeding up in how they’re adopting new technology, which is encouraging to see.
Brian: So the virtual queue is that where you get notifications, like if you want to wander around the park or get in your car, then you get a text message?
Alex: Yeah exactly, yeah. Yep, that’s exactly it. We have a remote check-in thing so you can even sit in your car when you get there, geofenced you can stay on here, and it’ll text you and it’ll say, “Hey, feel free to wander around, you’ve got about a 45-minute wait,” or whatever the wait time is. It’ll try to calculate it based on your numbers and, “feel free to wander around. Hang out in your car, whatever, and we’ll text you when it’s time to pop up.” They give a little leeway time, you know, usually 10 minutes. You’ll want to give them leeway time there. But the cool thing here is, one, it lets people be comfortable and waiting wherever they want to wait, doesn’t have to be in a crowd, necessarily.
Alex: But, two, if you’ve got other opportunities to grab their dollars this is it. People aren’t usually spending money when they’re waiting in line, right? Like that’s a problem. You’ve got these people there, and they’re only spending money for a small amount of the time that they’re actually at your establishment, your attraction there. So the virtual queue system lets them roam around, hit your midway, hit your concession stands, hit your merch stands, hit your electrocute the dude you know for a buck, midway games, or whatever you have going on, and spend more money while they’re there, and enjoy themselves more. You know you’re going to see positive reviews and additional revenues, so it’s kind of a win-win, yeah.
Hauntpay and Transworld
Brian: That’s awesome, you guys have been moving up. I remember your first year in Transworld, how long you been at HauntPay?
Alex: Oh man, so you know, here’s a weird thing, HauntPay as the ticketing platform started in 2014, but we were doing like credit card sales before there was a Square where you could, you know, take a cellular card sale thing. So, we were actually at Transworld even before that, maybe 2012 was our first one, but I’ve been coming forever. I grew up a haunter, my dad’s birthday was on Halloween, instead of cake and ice cream we would build a haunted yard every year, so I was a home haunter, then I was a professional haunter, worked with some professional haunts going up, and always been around the business. I think I was at the first Midwest Haunters Convention too. So yeah, I love this stuff, always have loved this stuff.
Brian: Yeah, you’ve been on a few of our interviews before, our Transworld specials.
Alex: Yeah, thank you guys very much. It’s always a pleasure meeting up with you guys. I still gotta get you to use on pay Brian, but one of these days we’ll convince you to switch over here.
Brian: We’re working on that. Now, so putting all these trends and stuff together, I know like you said, you’ve been in the industry for that long. What kind of adoptions and stuff that you’ve seen? I know you say you know it’s hard to get people to just switch from cash to charge, and now there’s still some haunts that are all cash only because I see them around. So what kind of trends have you seen over the past? You see it going more toward this digital revolution?
Taking Your Haunt Online
Alex: Yeah, I mean, I think a lot of this, Philip and I were just talking about this at IAPPA actually, we had a nice chat about a lot of these details here, and one of the things that we kind of both agreed on is, when you’re grabbing people’s attention, they’re searching on their phones now, right? And they’re searching online, and if they can’t book it right now, immediately, they’re not going to take a chance to see if they can get in when they get there, they are going to whatever the first thing is that they can hit buy now on. So that’s one of the most important things for people out there, I think a lot of haunters, it was hard originally. They were so used to doing cash on-site, and a lot of people still are, and if that works for you, go for it, that’s awesome, keep running with it. If you’re hitting your max volume and that’s what you want to do, like run with it.
Alex: But if you could use more people through the door, make sure you’re online, make sure you are visible where people are searching, and make sure that they can buy your tickets. There’s so many benefits that, you’re getting their money now instead of when they want to come to your event. So that might be two or three weeks in advance of them actually coming, and you’ve got that money, you can work with it, you can use it to pay your cast members, that sort of thing. Number two, you’ve got their money, even if they don’t come. So, they’ve made their decision to give you their money and you’ve already got that cash when they’re making that decision up front there, and you’re just capturing that attention to people that otherwise you know aren’t interested, especially in this time and age with the pandemic worries and things like that. People aren’t interested in standing in a long line, or waiting to see if they can get in and figure stuff out, they want to know in advance they’ve got a ticket and they’re ready to go. So, I think there are a lot of opportunities there.
Alex: There’s also the upsell opportunities you can offer them, if they buy a general admission you can then offer them the front-of-the-line pass or a T-shirt that they can pick up at the event, or all this other stuff, parking pass, whatever it is, concessions, credit, all these different things that you can upsell them on in order to get there. It’s also a marketing opportunity. The more people buy online, you can offer them discounts and things to actually share your establishment with other people. The things we do is say, “Hey you can have a social discount button where people can get a dollar off for clicking share on Facebook, or share on Twitter when they’re on checkout.” It works. It actually drives more people to your establishment there, so all of those things are positives, and I think it also makes it much easier to manage your ticketing getting in general. You can have the time ticketing and manage your crowd flows, know how many people are coming in a given night, which can affect how you hire, how you set your haunt up for the night, all those different things there. So just a handful of things.
Alex: I think a lot of people are coming online. Early on when we started seeing that, it was a minority of haunts, now it’s the majority by far of haunts that are doing online ticketing. I couldn’t give you an exact number because we don’t work with all of them, but it’s a lot. Even more, they’re moving from just online ticketing to managing those crowds through time ticketing, that’s over 50% of the people surveyed, and like I said, it was closer to 75-76% of the people that actually used us this year. I think a lot of them are now going to be going to those new technologies that are out there, virtual queues being one that’s out there.
Alex: We’ve seen some start offering up virtual access, so that’s where you can pay for the ability to enter an event online via live stream. What does that mean for a haunter? I think a lot of haunters are still trying to figure that out. We do with concerts and stuff all the time, and that’s through a different name, usually we use Passage for our non-haunted stuff, even though we’re we were HauntPay first. But, through that, I think haunters can do makeup lessons, they can do behind-the-scenes tours, how many haunters live on the West Coast and really wish that they could see some of those East Coast haunts? See that back end? Because they’re haunt advocates, they love this stuff, enthusiasts like us, and they want to see what this stuff looks like. That’s been one of my opinions. I can’t get out, like you guys can’t get out I’m sure, and go to other haunted attractions. But what if you could do a daytime behind-the-scenes tour that’s a live stream access or something like? That I think those are more and more opportunities that are popping up too.
Alex: Then, the other big trend that I’m seeing are holiday openings. So, more and more haunts are staying open for, you know, a Christmas event, a Valentine’s event, a Bloody Valentine’s, or that sort of thing. We even had a couple that opened for Saint Patty’s day this last year, which cracked me up. I love it, I love seeing that stuff. Every Friday the 13th that pops up, I love seeing all those guys that do that, the halfway to Halloween, all that different stuff coming up. So I think that’s a big one that’s growing a little bit more and more every year and will continue to grow into the future.
Darryl: We’ve got a question from chat for Alex. What percentage of people don’t show up after buying a ticket? Is that a stat that you have available?
Alex: It’s a tough stat. So, I can’t give it to you with any certainty. I have had some haunted attractions that certainly are in the 20% range. Some are in the 5% range. Everybody has some, right? Unless you’re only selling one ticket online or something like that. Anybody who’s doing a statistically significant number do that. The reason I can’t give you an exact number is because, unfortunately, not all of our clients use our scanning like they’re supposed to. So when we look at the numbers, they’re a little bit skewed to the number of tickets that aren’t actually scanned in versus people that just decided to not scan tickets that night because they trust the folks coming in, or whatever, didn’t want to worry about it, their phone battery was dead, so they didn’t want to scan tickets, that sort of thing. So, that’s why I don’t have an exact one, but I think it also differs a lot by location.
Alex: So in more metro areas, where people have more disposable income and where haunts sell out faster, which happens in those metro areas a lot of times, people will tend to buy tickets just in case, just in case they have that opportunity to go out that night. If another opportunity comes up, their favorite band is in town or something like that, sometimes they’ll go to that and they won’t worry about those haunted house tickets. So, I think they do go up in metro areas and they go down a bit in rural areas, but everybody has some. Even if it’s just 5% extra that you’re getting, that covers any extra credit card processing fees you have with that extra 5% in the bank.
Darryl: Good, that was Leonard Pickle that asked that question.
Alex: Ah yeah, I’m sure he’d be a guy that would like to know that exact number there. I think we’ve talked about that one before.
Haunt Industry Trends Philip Noticed in His Interviews This Year
Brian: Well, go back to Philip a little bit. Philip, all your time last year or two, you know, going over and interviewing haunters, interviewing vendors, what kind of trends have you seen past, present, and leading up till next year and maybe 2023 as well?
Philip: The three main trends that we kind of saw this year, which I don’t think would surprise anybody, are consolidation. I think that this year we kind of saw, as we did a little bit last year, two piles, right? There’s a pile of people that were able to open last year and we’re able to hold on to their market share, and we’re able to then reopen this year bigger and better, or whatever. So, they did really well, about 20 to 30% more than 2019, like shockingly well. Then, when you combine that with everything Alex is saying, like these are the people that jumped on to time ticking and jumped onto social sharing, and jumped onto everything Alex just mentioned. Which means, that they filled up all of their dead time, so they were at capacity and sellout nights and had a great season.
Philip: Then you have the other camp which maybe they didn’t have as much cash reserves, or they couldn’t figure out a way in their area to launch, or whatnot, so they kind of lost that market share and they had a hard time. Then the high lumber costs this year and all the stuff that was building up this year, kind of just hit those guys and really hard and many of them closed mid-season, or they had issues, they didn’t fill up, they had less percentage, they couldn’t get staff. It’s going to have this flip.
Philip: So, on this side, for example, like Reign of Terror here in Thousand Oaks, he was fully staffed, only 80 actors, but still 80 paid full-time actors, it’s quite a chunk. Even requiring everyone to be fully vaccinated, he staffed and he had only one person not show up for their shift. That’s crazy. The same with the San Francisco Mint, they were able to hire this year their own security to run their security themselves, and we’re able to increase, so they’re paying security $35 an hour. They, again, also required that. Then, you had haunts on the other side of the spectrum that we’re not able to keep fully staffed, had a huge no-show rate, and were not able to open or not able to fill the demand that they had, or didn’t get the good demand. Those are people that were even offering incentives and were also not even requiring vaccination status, so just really making it easy as much as they could to bring people in and were struggling.
Philip: So you really saw two piles. So consolidation, that kind of thing, that’s like your first thing. The second thing I heard a lot of, which we just talked about, was staffing issues. Everyone talked about it, and it was kind of again on the spectrum, some people that were on the more sophisticated side or could pay higher because of a different model they had or whatnot did really well, but the other end of things did not. Across the board though, people have had the most problems with staffing food and beverage and merch which just makes sense, right? Who wants to work at F&B or merch at a haunt, especially when things are crazy and bus when you could just go to Starbucks or Amazon, it doesn’t make any sense.
Philip: Again, to push Alex like he just said, this is another reason why we see a big adoption from not just haunts but attractions in general, over to anything that can relieve some of that stress like, if you can buy your merch ahead of time on your ticket when you’re up charging people, and then you don’t need to have them do that interaction with an employee, that is better. Anything you can do to push that stuff away, because reducing those staffing points, still having the opportunities is critical because you want people to have memories and you want them to have merch, that’s a big opportunity. F&B and merch is huge, but also it’s very hard to staff those positions. You can get people that are passionate to scare act and passionately part of a haunt, yes we all have always relied on that, but it’s hard to be passionate about selling t-shirts, right? Ultimately, that’s all it is, so why not do it on HauntPay and push it ahead of time? Or even just have a tablet there? So we’ve seen that, we’ve see a lot of advances in that, even Disney at the parks, they’re just having a self queue system, self-parking, all this kind of stuff. Parking attendants to, that’s a huge area of issue. So, that’s the second one is kind of staffing.
Philip: Then the third big thing that I heard a lot from is just issues from guests. Again, that kind of is situational depending on your target demographic. People let target tweens or anyone in that like middle school to like tween range, especially if those people don’t have chaperones with them had large problems with behavior this year. If you are 21 and over, or if you’re like an adult-only, or like a family-family, as in like the parents are there with the kids, then it was OK. If you were much older, it was OK, but any in that tween range, that’s a lot of reports of issues. That’s not just stuff I heard in my reporting, but it’s also stuff that made national news, as I’m sure you’re aware, that two Six Flags locations had to shut down due to violence, and the one up in here in Magic Mountain also had to reduce their hours. So this is another one, right? Another thing of having to reduce, or not being able to stay open and to sell like they want to, just because they have too much violence going on, so they have to shut the park early, they have to ban backpacks, and they have to not allow any bags whatsoever in this case up here. So, I think that those are the three kind of big veins that we’ve seen, that we kind of knew were coming from 2020, and then they kind of just materialized here in 2021.
Philip Suggests Possible Haunt Industry Trends for 2022 and Beyond
Philip: Then, going forward, I think there are five main areas that we’re going to be looking at for like 2022 and whatnot, and that is planning for supply chain disruption, whether that be supply chain regular disruption, as in like just delays on like fog machines, like last time, or whether that’s going to be, also, inflation in there. There is going to be an increase in component pieces that will cause a lot of these materials to go up in price, so that’s going to be one.
Philip: The second one is going to be reducing friction for the guest, which is what we just talked about. Reducing friction meaning, can they get their tickets on their phone? Can they do them online? Can they order, can they do everything without talking to a human, ultimately, and then just show up and have a good haunt experience? That’s kind of ideal. Then when they are there at the event, is it 45 minutes to get a corn dog? Because that’s not a good experience, you know? So how can you reduce that kind of friction? I’m putting staffing in that bucket of reducing friction because staffing will continue to be a problem for a while, just like the supply chains can be a problem for a while.
Philip: Then the third bucket is like bringing the haunt home, kind of when I’m calling it, and that is the kind of concept that previously we talked about, which is merchandising. I think you can start to see that expand into, as Alex also mentioned, kind of the virtual experiences, that’s bringing the haunt to your home, or showing your friends virtual, or doing merchandise falls under that; anything you can take home, souvenirs, member moments, but also stuff like what Scarehouse did this year where they released their 20th-anniversary album that you could take home. So, anything like that where you basically can extend the experience you know, Chuck E Cheese, I know I come back to that, but they got a new CEO and he’s blah-blah about Halloween and everything. They did music, and then they took their characters on like an actual like music tour and did little mini-concerts for people. We’ve seen it right? We’ve talked about haunts being in community events and at parades and blah blah blah. But you know, thinking of it in terms of how can you bring the haunt home and take it outside of the four walls. So that’s number three.
Philip: Number four, the season is expanding to be earlier, and we saw this. Kind of like Halloween goes as retail, because retail is the first Halloween marker that kind of primes our guests right? This year Spirit and Party City saw an increase in foot traffic in September versus 2019. So more people showed up in September and the less people showed up in October. You could attribute that to supply chain and buying concerns whatever, but it’s also showing us that you can move up the season earlier. You have Disney starting their Halloween party August 10th, so there’s already Halloween stuff to do in August 10th, and on the West Coast we have Midsummer Scream that’s also in August. So I think September, whereas it used to be the last weekend in September, now it’s kind of like all of September is a season. I’m sure Alex can also talk about this, I’ve seen haunts expand their schedules, but maybe what they’re doing is they’re cutting like a Thursday, or they’re cutting Sunday, and they’re doing like Friday, Saturday, but earlier. So, moving it earlier in September to do Friday, Saturday and maybe cutting a later September Sunday or Thursday, moving that earlier, expanding that time frame.
Philip: Also I’m seeing an expansion not just in time frame but also expansion markets. So I’m kind of putting those both in the same bucket. So, expansion in market would mean a lot of expansion in the adult-only, and like low capacity, high ticket price, adult-only options, and then also in the family market. Like making specific Halloween things that are not gory at all and that are geared for a family of four. So, I’ve seen a lot of expansion in those two areas. Important for that is to note, that of people that say that they’re going to celebrate Halloween by doing an activity, still, only 18 to 22% of them are doing something that’s haunted house related. More, you know, a much higher percentage plan on doing something with families. So those kinds of numbers point to the fact that there are people that want do things for Halloween, but maybe they don’t want to do a traditional tween haunted house. Maybe they want to do an adult-only event, like a spooky cocktail thing, or they want to do something they can take their kids to, which would be like all the theme parks have that, and then you know we have a lot of mall events and what not to do that now.
Philip: I guess the fifth thing is going to be, if you were able to expand your market this year, a dimension on that is going to be how to keep those new customers engaged and coming back next year, so that’ll be a little bit of like if your haunt does not change over at all, what are you going to do to create that FOMO to bring them back in? Which is a typical concern every year, obviously, but it’s just some haunts have this as a larger priority because they had up to 30% more people this year than 2019, and 2019 was like a five-year high, so it’s kind of like large numbers. That’s a very long answer to a very simple question, but those are my five buckets.
Darryl: There was, you know, quite a response on social media in some of the groups I belong to saying, “this is our best season ever, we’re halfway through the season and we’ve already done what we did in ’19,” which was kind of good to see, but it is kind of tough on the body. One of the other things is Alex had mentioned you know doing extra stuff offseason so we’re not just Halloween, but then you know you’re doing the Christmas ones, you’re doing Valentine’s ones, the Friday the 13th is that part of what you see as the expansion of the market then?
Philip: Yes, I’m putting all that under that expansion. Even if you look at 13th Floor, they’re doing Krampus on the 17th and 18th, and they’re kind of rolling it out to more and more locations. Even Sir Henry’s Haunted Trail, which is a small, mostly volunteer haunted trail, they’re doing two weekends for their Krampus. I’m seeing that with Alex. You know what the answer is, it’s the same principle as the theme parks, where they have Four Seasons of Fun, is always been the theme park mantra for building FOMO, right? So you can have Four Seasons of Scary too at your haunt. The key is do you have, as Alex said, the indoor location? A permanent indoor location gives you the ability to create these multiple seasons of fun, which is the same as kind of a FEC or a theme park model, and it does make sense. So, it’s just kind of a natural like a natural expansion, I would say. There’s been haunts, have been doing Scary Saint Patrick’s Day and Love Bites for a while, I think now it’s just kind of following the theme parks again and following the retail thing, anything that you see in the stores you could probably do a haunt thing about that.
Alex Explains How HauntPay Can Help With Future Trends
Darryl: Hey I want to flip this over to Alex now. You’ve heard kind of some of the things some of the buckets that Philip has come up with and how things are going to increase. I want you to put on your oracle hat and tell us what you predict, now don’t give away any trade secrets yet, but what you protect HauntPay can be able to do to help all of these different buckets that Philip described. What’s coming down the pipe, again without giving too much away?
Alex: Ah, that’s alright, that’s good. Well, I think one thing that we’re working on a lot right now, and I can tell you is certainly going to expand, as I mentioned earlier, we do non-haunted stuff as well. We want to make money the rest of the year is as well, just like everybody else, and we do use a different name Passage; it’s at gopassage.com for that side of things. So, we’ve been experimenting, one of our big areas there is sports, we do a lot of semi-pro and professional sports. We do a lot of every like non-haunted thing too, but that’s a big area for us. One thing that we’ve been diving into more and more there, which is going to be a big focus this year, definitely going to make it to the haunt side, is hitting on one of those points that Philip had on the staffing side. That is, especially on the food and drink and merchandise sides, more and more ways to automate that process. So right now we already allow the ability to you know, purchase those things upfront.
Alex: We are in the process of developing virtual queues, not only for tickets but also for those as well. So, instead of waiting in line to get your Starbucks, your coffee, something like that, the Starbucks app has the thing that says, “Hey, you know I can order here and go right up and just grab it. I know what time it’s going to be there,” or whatever. We’re doing the same sort of thing so you can get an alert when it’s your time to come and grab your fo8ur hot dogs and four Cokes in that merchandise side. That’s helping to limit the number of staff that are running those establishments all of a sudden instead of having like eight different concession stands you might be able to do it in four with the same line, or shorter lines even, if those people are virtually waiting in line, they’re doing things on their app and mobile. Even if it’s only 10-20% that come over and do that you know on their own device it’s going to be that much less, you know 20% less people potentially that you need to serve them in person, it can make a big dent on things there. So, that’s one thing that’s coming down the line, we already talked about the virtual queues, those are going to continue to expand in function and features that we have there.
Alex: I think one thing that that Philip started to hit on here was keeping in touch with fans throughout the season and different ways to interact with them. So, we’re building in more and more ways, we’re building in more ways to message and notify your fans this year, and we’re going to expand on that; it won’t just be by email, it’ll be by text message and things like that. That’s something that’s definitely coming to our platform a little bit more on the marketing side and social media side, just to continue those interactions with them and get in front of them and in more ways. We’re also doing things to make you know our stuff show up better in search, and less clicks through to actually buy a ticket right from Google homepage, and things like that which are all helpful in their own little way, but they’re kind of small, they’re not the big features to talk about. But it’s the small things that add up at the end of the day and end up increasing those sales.
Alex: I definitely can echo everything that Philip was saying. Oh my gosh, the staffing. That was one thing that we actually had in our report at the beginning of the year, more people, more haunts than anything else we’re concerned about staffing going into the season. 55% of haunts were concerned about staffing going into this season. I don’t really have good numbers after that, we haven’t surveyed people again afterward. Anecdotally, the number of people calling me and saying, “hey, I didn’t have X people show up. I need you to help somebody else real quick, load this onto their phone because they’ve agreed to help out this evening,” or whatever. You know all those issues like that, that’s come up quite a bit. There were a lot of people that were saying, “so and so didn’t show up. We couldn’t hire enough people for this and that. We had to cancel this weekend because nobody would stay this late into the season.” It’s super frustrating to see because you can just feel the pain. That’s not something that haunters usually have to deal with. Usually, you pay a decent wage, people are willing to work, and I think in a lot of places that still is the case, but it’s harder, it was harder this year than years past.
Alex: I think the expansion of the seasons, as Philip mentioned, I think some of our haunts would kill me for saying this, but that expansion of the markets into stuff that’s designated for adults or family-friendly, especially in the family-friendly side, there were a lot of haunts that were getting frustrated people because they were trying to stay kind of family-friendly but not designated family-friendly. So people would go through and they complained that it was not scary enough, at the same time somebody else was going through and saying this is too scary. You’re used to it as a haunt owner, right? You always get this, but I think that this was happening a lot more and more as people expect more and more personalization to them, which is just happening over the years there. So we saw several new haunts launch, and by far the haunts that we’re launching to do the family-friendly side of things were doing better than standard haunts that we’re launching. This is kind of anecdotal, I don’t have great data on this right now. But, from my mind, the new haunts that I know of, that I can pinpoint my mind that were family-friendly versus the ones that were just general, just normal, the family-friendly ones were doing better sales in their initial year this year. So, I think that’s something that’s going to continue in a lot of regions around the US, if there’s not a good option in that region, there will be openings and there will be people taking those openings. Where there’s openings people figure out ways to fill it. So that’s a great idea, yeah
Should You Have a Family Friendly Time for Your Haunt?
Darryl: Would it make sense then, for haunts to do from you know, 6:00 to 8:00 PM the family-friendly and then from 8 to midnight do the full blood guts and gore?
Philip: I think it generally has to be a separate event, Darryl.
Alex: Yeah, I would agree with that. We have a lot of people that do that and it adds to confusion. You know, some people pull it off successfully, there’s always those that pull it off successfully. But, for a lot of people, they just don’t have the communication they need, and it adds to confusion. Somebody goes to the 3:00 PM and they think that they were getting the full-on guts and gore and they’re even more frustrated then. As Philip mentioned, this is a rough year for customer experience. We saw the same thing. A lot of people were just more, you know, ticked off than usual. I don’t want to lean into it too hard, but it was tough for haunt owners this year with the amount of feedback and people just going over the top to cause trouble this year. Brian’s shaking his head.
Darryl: Is that customers in general, not even just hot related though, is that kind of customers in general this year?
Alex: I would guess, so yeah. I mean we’ve seen it in other ticketing areas as well. So I could say that side, Philip would know better in the other areas of attractions.
Brian: Based on the local Good Bad and Ugly Facebook page for our community, just based off local comments and stuff just ever everywhere, business-wise you know it’s been a hard year for a lot of people.
Darryl: Understandable right?
Brian: Everybody, wants to go to a haunted attraction, to get scared. They probably haven’t been out of the house in a while or done something crazy.
Alex: Yeah, and you know what, they’re on edge because they haven’t been around people for a while. They didn’t realize it, but that’s different. You get anxious when they haven’t been around people for a while. They haven’t had to wait in line for a while. You know, even though they used to be used to that, they haven’t had to do that for a while, and I think that’s put everybody on edge. But it’s it stinks because man, the haunt owners, or the business owners all across the board have it harder than they’ve ever had it before just trying to keep things going right now. These customers a lot of times are taking out their frustration, so I feel for everybody in the equation there, yeah.
Brian: That’s right, so we just need a three-tiered haunt, one family-friendly, one really scary, and then one can in between, or something different, a midway. Then you order your stuff on HauntPay as a bundle deal so you get a T-shirt and a hot dog and tickets for a certain price. So package deals stuff, that way people aren’t messing with it, and they just show you the app and then virtual queues. I like it, I like where this is going.
Alex: Sounds good, you’re gonna make all the money this year Brian, you’re taking the whole market.
Darryl: Let’s do it!
Actor Staffing in Edmonton, Canada
Brian: So, Darryl, about your season. Tell us about the actor staffing in Edmonton, Canada.
Darryl: Yeah, well, fortunately, the weather was good for us. It was only below freezing a couple of nights, and that was near the end of the season. Last year we had major snow, major ice, we had rain, you named the weather we had it. We have both an indoor and an outdoor haunt. Fortunately, the outdoor one did really well because of the weather, so that was a good thing. We still had fairly long lineups, we adopted timed ticketing last season and carry it over to this season, and I think that’s a blessing. I think that’s something that more haunts should have, just from the sanity aspect of it. You know you can let so many people in per hour, half hour, however, you’re timing is, and you know you’re going to keep busy. We were letting people in on the half hours is what our tickets were, so you could show up at any time within there.
Darryl: We also had a general concession area with our own food truck and our own food and beverages booth. We do allow drinking we were selling beers. Saturday nights we had some local breweries come in and offer a beer sample. There were several cocktails that were, you know, Halloween-themed that went over fairly well. So, people could mix and mingle between the haunts. While you’re not in the common area drinking, everywhere else, you need to have your masks on. We’re trying to keep people 6 feet apart. We had a COVID the Clown character again who had a two-yardstick that was going around and sort of enforcing that rule. The crowds were, for the most part, really good. You know you always have some of your bad customers every now and then.
Darryl: One night it was really funny because we had an hour that we had just the absolute worst customers. It was tween time and you know those young teens and the middle-aged teens that end up talking, or they’re very cocky, and that’s the way they deal with fears they talk and try and show off to the girlfriends and stuff. Then the next hour we had the screamers. There’s nobody that screamed for an hour, they just all talked and BSed, and then every group you looked at them wrong and at least one person just about peed themselves. It was hilarious because they were just a total dichotomy, a total difference from the other group, and it really brought up the morale of the actors themselves because we had that good group.
Darryl: You get the bad customers and sometimes you get ten groups of those in a row, a busload of somebody, and it just sets the actors off for the evening, kind of makes it a little tougher on them. Then we had the good customers and it brought everybody’s spirits back up, and all of my actors, we’re working five or six hours, we’re working over past the end of the night, and some of the actors are in full fur bodysuits. We had a Yeti inside, and you know it gets pretty hot like I’m sure the poor guy lost 20 pounds over the season. But just having those customers that scream and react to you, it just brings up everybody morale. So overall I think it went really good. Timed ticketing was great and I hope we camped out in the future. With both an indoor and an outdoor haunt, we’d expanded on both of them, and some customers prefer the indoor one, some customers preferred the outdoor one. But overall, I think everybody had had a really good time, lots of really good five-star reviews.
Darryl: It was a good season, and again, a lot of it is because the weather held out fairly well.
Brian: Talking about the unruly teenagers, we had more parents dropping off kids and leaving this year than we had in the past, so there were a lot of middle school, high school kids. I saw a sign around movie theater, “Friday and Saturday nights, 16 years and below must be accompanied by an adult, by a parent.” So, it must not be just the haunted must be in movie theaters and other places too.
Darryl: And previously also, this is kind of fun too, because we always maybe overstaff a little bit because we know there’s going to be some attrition from actors; some just can’t make it through the year. We were opening 27 nights, so it’s not like a weekend gig, and it’s both physically and mentally hard on a body. We started off and we had a couple of actors dressed as zombies in our parking lot, we had two clothed parking personnel and then we had two zombie parking personnel. So they’re wearing a high VIS vest and one is wearing like a yellow rain slicker dressed as a zombie, but she’s scaring the living hell out of customers. We couldn’t count our chicken outs this year from customers that would go to one haunt and wouldn’t go to the other, or there’s some that made it to the parking lot and were scared by the zombies in the parking lot and left. That’s loss of revenue.
Alex: Oh man, scaring away your customers.
Darryl: It depends whether they paid or not though, right? But we do have both haunts under one admission price. You get to see both haunts, the outdoor one is a little shorter. But we did have customers that were too scared to attend the second haunt and they didn’t make it on our chicken out tally. So our chicken out is probably considerably larger than it was in previous years because we didn’t count some of those people. Chicken outs we count as people who paid, enter the compound, and for whatever reason can’t make it through the haunt.
What You Can Do to Keep Up With Haunted Attraction Trends
Brian: Alex, tell us one thing that we should look forward to in the future. Say haunt owners listen to this, the operations manager, ticketing manager, and were starting to get into digital, not sure how to start, not sure what to do, what kind of things should we be looking for? And can we come talk to you about it?
Alex: Right, absolutely yeah we would love you to come talk to us. What should you be looking for? Easy ways to get online and get where people are searching. I said it earlier and I sound like a broken record, but that’s the biggest thing I can tell people as a tip. Getting out there, make sure you’re everywhere people are searching. Whether that’s just being on social media so people you know can find you there because if somebody is searching on Facebook and you’re not on Facebook, they’re not finding you. It’s as simple as that. I don’t want you to waste your time on all these different social media networks and that sort of thing, but at least put in the minimum effort on some things like that. Same on the ticketing side, try to make sure you’re doing some digital online ticketing so people can find you quickly, can buy tickets when they’re thinking about it, and that we’ve got that money, you’ve captured that sale already. And yeah, come chat with this HauntPay.com, we’ve got phone numbers up there, you can reach me at [email protected], it’s easy to remember. Feel free to give us a shout anytime, we’d love to help you, especially this time of year. It’s a little lower in volume this time of year versus September when everybody tries to cram and get set up and wants to brainstorm. We’d love to start brainstorming early with you.
Is Timed Ticketing the Way to Go For Your Haunt?
Darryl: I do have one question for you before you go. I want a prediction. You said that this last season in your survey 76% of your people were doing timed ticketing of your customers, I want your prediction for next year. Next survey what do you think it’s going to be? And I’m holding you to it.
Alex: What’s on this, is there a beer or something next time we meet up at Transworld?
Darryl: A six-pack if you meet it.
Alex: I’m going to go with 82% here. I think it’s going to tick back up again. Yeah, I think it’s ticking back up.
Darryl: 82% that I’m writing this down.
Brian: There’s a tattoo of it on his forearm. Also, another tip, make sure you when you’re on your website, make sure you have “buy tickets” everywhere. Either on the banner at the top, it’s in your menu bar, it’s in the first third of the website, it’s a pop-up. I control my Facebook Page and get, “how do you buy tickets?” “What time do you close?” Just simple customer service. My automated message even says it, if you call it my voicemail says it, if you text my messenger, my messenger says it, everything, age requirements, times, still got people asking. What do you do? But you solve that problem, Alex, you’re a millionaire.
Alex: Yeah, exactly.
Darryl: I don’t know can you solve stupidity? I mean…
Alex: No, no, but yeah I’ll take it. You know this is a good if true but funny story. We have like 6-7 people now that are working customer support evenings and weekends for HauntPay and 80%+ of the incoming stuff is like, “is starting to sprinkle out, what should I do?” “Can I bring our kids under 6 free?” Just stupid questions that they obviously didn’t look for any information, and they’re somehow reaching out to us, they think we’ve got the answers for that. Which, we’re happy to direct them back to the haunt owners, but you’re absolutely right Brian, anytime you can preempt any of that so you’re not having to answer those later, please do, it’ll help you, it’ll help us. We’re always happy to take those messages too, but it’ll help everybody out in the end.
Should You Start Getting Your Haunt Prepared Earlier for Next Season?
Brian: So Philip, tell us something. I know you’ve already given us or your five things we’re looking forward to, looking at, and trying to translate. Yeah, so I actually think Alex is in the chat, “do you see chip shortage hitting haunt supplies and equipment?” I feel like that’s going to be my, kind of maybe not a prediction because it’s not a prediction, but a be aware of. All of the vendors I talked to at IAPPA, so not a huge amount, about 8, but they’re all haunt vendors, and they all said that price increases were coming. What I know from the manufacturing side from Gantom, it’s across the board, so you should plan for 6% to 20% increase on everything you buy. Anything you touch, 6% to 20%. The other thing about that is, the earlier you order the better. Some of the suppliers that IAPPA are like, “yeah, March is like the end.” If you wait till Transworld that’s fine, you might kind of miss it though, you might miss the boat and be like 2023. So, I think that will not apply as much to the boutique vendors that are at Transworld, because a lot of the vendors that come to Transworld are boutique vendors and they kind of bend around that Transworld thing. But some of the larger places or the ones that could get back ordered… I guess what I’m saying is order as early as possible, make your plan as early as possible, and plan on that 6% to 20% increase in anything that you were going to purchase at all whatsoever, including potentially staff, depending on kind of how everything goes.
Philip: Then one more thing, I don’t remember what Alex said but kind of about the next year stuff. Don’t take the demand next year for granted. The reason I say that is because on average people were attending more attractions per person because of additional disposable income. Now, of course, that’s not true across the board, some people have less of it, and people have more of it, I don’t want to get into any of that craziness. But right now we’re looking at there being less disposable income for next haunt season. So that is also in my fifth bucket, I just didn’t really talk about that angle, but kind of how are you going to entice them back? Just be thinking about what the economy is going to be like at that time, which could be very different from now. People might have less money, might have less availability, et cetera, et cetera. So it’s going to be a little bit more of, I don’t want to say it’s going to be more of a competition, it will be more critical for you to communicate your differentiation in the market so that people can make their choices because they’re going to have to choose next year.
Brian: So to start branding now, start messaging now, and buying now.
Philip: Definitely start buying now.
Brian: Lumber sucked this year, lumber with nuts. I know it was really high toward the summertime then started going down a little bit toward the season, so started coming down a little bit. We postponed a whole attraction because of that
Philip: But yes, there’s going to be supply chain issues at least through, definitely through Halloween, if not through like the end of next year. We know that from Gantom’s side, some of the stuff that we’re trying to get ahold of on this on our side is like four months delayed, and then we’re having to plan for four to five months shipping delays. Definitely, you want to be planning all of that stuff immediately. If you could, the best time to purchase honestly is going to be before the end of this year. So like next week, do all your purchasing, especially if you can get in before Chinese New Year. What’s going to happen is, when everyone shuts down for Chinese New Year and all that kind of stuff happens, then you’re going to see the price increases. So like December, January, and before the reopening, after Chinese New Year. Because all the factories are going shut down, they have to rehire and they’re going to be hired at a higher wage, which means it’s going to continue to push the prices higher up. So just like, if you could order within the next few weeks it’s going to be your best bet.
Brian: While the money is still hot.
Philip: Yes exactly.
Brian: I want to say that there were a lot of trends that you guys were talking about that I’ve been seeing too, so that’s right on point. I’m glad to learn prices going down. We did as retention this year, we were kind of having the same issue. We had a kind of hire mid-season all the way through the last two weekends. Luckily, the people that we got, they were new actors, never acted before, but the way we have our system set up where we put in with a veteran actor and they watch and they learn and they start acting. It worked out and we had good reviews this year. We had some faulty customers that we had to escort out, but that’s just the nature of the game I guess at this point. Hire more security, put more security in place, even though they’re just big guys walking around with security vests on, they could be husbands, they could be wives, it could be just give him a flashlight and put a security vest on them.
Alex: I love that term Brian, faulty customers. I’m gonna use that one.
Brian: Trying to be nice, you know. Also, the supply product, the supply issue, that was like you said, Philip, fog machines. I ended up getting one at Spirit, you know? I was like, “I need four of these, so just send them to me as fast as you can.” I could see that becoming an issue as well.
Philip: On the season recap thing too, I thought Alex’s report was great so everyone should go check that out. It’s just neat to see that stuff, and I think that we need more data like that in the industry. Anecdotal stuff is fine, it’s good to hear the flavor behind the individual things because not every haunt is not equal, but some of those larger trends that Alex is reporting are very important. Also, the Haunted Attraction Association is getting ready to do their industry report, which they’ll premiere at Transworld as well. So, they’ll be sending out that survey, so be on the lookout. I’m sure I’ll do an episode about that.