Coming up Hush Haunted Attraction in Westland, MI opens tonight for their Valentine haunt. It’s Valentine’s Day weekend, so there are over 50 haunts all over the country opening to celebrate. Some haunts, like the haunt in Atascadero CA, are reopening with their normal show. You can check our feed for our show on February 5th if you want to know more about that one. Others though, like Hush Haunted Attraction, are adding entirely new scenes and characters to celebrate Hush Haunted Attraction is opening for their Valentine haunt, February 11th, 12th, and 14th with all new scenes and exclusive characters, here’s Cody to explain why.
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Cody: I am Cody Bailey, the founder, owner, creative director of Hush Haunted Attraction in Westland, Michigan. Yeah, this will be our 3rd Valentine Haunt at our new location, the prior two have been well received.
It’s exciting for us because, something that I’ve done at Hush, and now that we’re going into our 10th season, so it’s literally every year, anytime we’ve ever opened for an offseason event, I’ve always added new scenes. People are looking for something new and fun to do for Valentine’s Day, you know this hallmark holiday for those of us that aren’t single riders. And you don’t just need a date, you can bring your friends, you know? That’s what a lot of us do. It’s about having fun and just escaping reality, especially in Michigan in these cold times.
What Is This Year’s Story?
Cody: So our Valentine’s events are like, how could Valentine’s go horribly wrong? What are the worst things that can happen? OK, you go on a date, you meet someone great, hook up, several months later you end up with a demonic child. So, we have crazy babies running throughout, we have demented cupids, this peak fur burger monster from hell. It’s literally like Valentine’s Day on shrooms mixed with the devil.
We’re using a lot of practical effects in these scenes, because over the last years, a lot of haunted houses, us included have put money and effort into a lot of animatronics and all this stuff, and it’s not the same level of scare. So, I wanted to try to get back to the basics with the stuff that we’re doing for Valentine’s Day, and for this upcoming season. This is like our first multiple scare spots for a single actor, but it’s all very practical.
It’s been one of the most fun scenes that I’ve developed in the last couple of years. Obviously, there’s labor shortages for haunted attractions, they’re for every business, so we have to think about how we can make who we do have stretch. It’s not just by, “Here’s an actor,” and then four scenes later, “here’s another actor.” I think we need to look at how can we use that singular actor in multiple spots throughout a series of scenes? That’s where practical effects come in, especially when you’re operating a larger scale than involves conga lines, which we all get inevitably, you can use one actor to control multiple scenes.
You know there’s always animatronics going on, but how are you make that work? If there is a single line of people all right, the front of this group got scared from this hole in the wall, whatever, let’s say that for example. How are you going to scare the middle and the end of that huge line? You need multiple spots, but they still need to be hidden, and practical effects are the best way to do it. It’s dropped windows, it’s elastic strapping, it’s those kinds of things that I think are going to be able to make this industry survive this labor crisis and survive inflation.
I mean, there’s no way that any sort of seasonal attraction can fully maintain the staff that we used to have several years ago at $15-18 an hour. You need to figure out how to make it work with less, but you have to make that live actor portion still be as dominant as any sort of animation. I just think you can’t just rely on animatronics, it’s not going to work. But, you can make one actor, even with conga lines, do so much more work and deliver such better results than we’ve seen in years, because those people feel more empowered and they’re more apt to deliver great results.
What New Characters Are Present?
Cody: Yes. We added a couple more on today because it’s more fun that way. We have this giant candy selling/baby person. I have in-house artists that work for me that create masks and costumes for us, so we have this really cool super oversize head that this baby character is wearing. It’s in all of our videos and photos that you can see on our website for our Valentine’s event.
Also, we did the big giant pink fur burger. I actually I honestly have no other name for it, so I just call it a giant pink fur burger which sounds…
Philip: He’s my favorite.
Cody: Yeah, and it’s so funny, we made two versions of that costume. We made the first one that was used in our ads and one of my actors, who’s also our costume designer, is going to play that character this weekend. So he made his own version of it, that’s like souped-up, because it has a like a 6-foot long tail, a giant kangaroo pouch, it’s wild, it’s awesome. I want to use it for more than Valentine’s Day because it’s that good.
Philip: Do you think it’s important to have a linear story?
Cody: That’s the hardest part about this event for me, because like I’m very story-iented, my bar is very themed story base, my haunted houses are all the same way, but Valentine’s Day is just [noise], but it works. It works for this, I would never do it for a full season, nor a year on business, because I just mentally couldn’t do it. I know a lot of people do, and that’s fine, trust me, it’s fine, but for me, I want that structure. I don’t have structure in my life, but I want structure in my business with a storyline.
Why Do New Things For Valentine’s Day?
Cody: It makes it more of a draw. I just always think there has to be something new, something more unique, to create a better experience for our guest. I think the characters play a part in that, and if we’re trying to actually sell this as a Valentine’s haunt, we need characters that specifically fit that. So that’s why we don’t reuse. I mean, we may reuse some of the ones this year in next year’s Valentine’s haunt on top of our new ones, but I’ve never once used a Valentine’s character inside of our regular season show.
Philip: How do you balance the creating these characters for this temporary show versus just working on making October a bigger draw?
Cody: You’re talking about an event in February. Our main show’s in September, October. I think we are using our resources more wisely to continue to build our audience, to continue to engage our cast. And we were talking about employee retention, especially in this environment, you need to do stuff beyond September, October, and one week in November. That’s not enough. You need to engage the people that work for you, make them feel a part of your family, and that’s what I think these things do.
We’re not diverting our attention. We are bringing in revenue in the offseason, which helps cover ongoing operating costs, or engaging and continuing to interact with our core staff.
Staff Retention Isn’t A Problem, Cody Explains
Cody: I mean I have a 95% employee retention rate over ten seasons, and it’s there for a reason, because we do things with our team beyond, “come work for me these nights. Come and scream your lungs out and that’s it, you’re done.”
For example, I mean my whole team’s been bogged down opening my new bar. Hush haunted house opens, you know, in less than 12 hours, and I don’t even have my queue line area set up, or cleaned up, and I put out a call if some of my cast would come and help to set up. Not single person wanted money for it, I would have paid them. They all showed up, and they were there for four hours tonight. They not only set up my queue line, they cleaned up the entire attraction, they helped finish setting up our new scenes, but that’s because they like being there, they like being a part of something.
You know, obviously, you have to pay your people, I will never say, “don’t pay your people,” ever, but make them feel like they’re more than just a hired mule, you know?
That’s how I’ve run all of my businesses. I have like 10 different businesses now, and I’ve been successful over my lifetime, so far. I think part of that all plays down to my leadership and how we operate as a unit.
Philip: How else are you engaging your team to keep them engaged year-round? You mentioned the bar and you mentioned the February event, but the bar is not your entire acting team.
Cody: We host various events. We do a huge award ceremony. We do a New Year’s Eve party. I’ll probably do a couple more parties over the next few months. The benefit of owning a large entertainment venue now is that it’s easy to do those kind of events. But even before I had axe throwing or I had spaces for bars and parties, I would still spend the money. We would go to a bowling night, we go to putt putt night, or we go to a movie night. And it may not be all of them at once, there’s been plenty of times where it would be a different group this night, a different group a few weeks from now. Trying to work with everyone’s schedules to do only one night, I think, is that is just a losing battle. And it’s really not that expensive. Spend a few thousand dollars over the course of a year to take people to movies, to take them to putt putt, to take them to whatever else kind of fun stuff people do nowadays. It makes a difference, it just makes them feel like they’re part of something. You’re not paying for their food or their drinks, you know, you’re paying to take him to go putt. They can buy their own alcohol.
Philip: So it’s a mix of doing stuff like the Valentine events where there’s paying work and then having kind of like outings throughout the rest of the year.
Cody: I’ve had so many people that have worked for me now for almost 10 years. That and in my early days before we made everyone 18 up, and all that stuff, I had some younger people. So, I had some people that were 16 in our early years who were awkward in life, being bullied, and didn’t know what to do. They came to work for us, and they didn’t know what that was going to entail.
Actually, all six that I know of, that had been bullied in school back then, continue to work for me today. We just gave them a new environment to feel comfortable, to meet friends that they can relate with, and I think that’s just like the best part of my job. It’s not about money, it’s not about you know, lawsuits or anything like that. That’s what makes this all worth it to me. I think doing off-season events just continues to build that, it grows that. That’s what makes me love doing it.