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How Much Starting Capital Did You Have When Building Your Haunt?

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  • #16
    The first haunt I did was around 1500.00 dollars true story. The first real all out attempt was right around $160,000.00 and if I was going to do one today from scratch it would really depend on the size of the building but probably in the area of $500,000.00

    Larry Kirchner


    • #17
      There are a lot of variables. We’ve invested about $300,000 so far and after 6 years, haven’t made a profit yet (last year we were close to breaking even), but this will be our third year in our current location. We’ve had to setup/move three times over 7 years and with each move we spent about $40,000 moving and setting up the new location to meet codes. Every time we’ve moved our numbers declined the first year and then doubled the second year.

      We went big from the start, our first building was 50,000 sq feet, our second building was 30,000 sq feet and our current building is 40,000 sq feet. We didn’t want to move, but our first two landlords would only give us a one year lease and then only renewed it once. They wanted more per sq ft than we could afford and eventually someone offered them more money than we could spend on a lease (they saw how many people we brought to their dead shopping center). Our current location is under a 4 year lease with a 3 year option so we can finally build a good customer base.

      If you are the only haunt within a 30 mile radius, then you could start small (10,000 – 20,000 sq ft building) and put on an 8 - 12 minute show. Our haunts combined cover about 25,000 sq ft and they take about 30 – 40 minutes to traverse. The rest of our space is used for indoor cue line, makeup and costume rooms, offices and storage. We also built two of the 3 minute escape rooms and may build at least one more. We have the space to expand.

      Outdoor haunts cost much less, especially if you already own the land and you don’t have the strict fire code issues to deal with. But you are outdoors and the weather has an impact on your attendance. Again, a lot depends on what type if any other haunts are in your area.

      If you are talking a pro haunt where you charge for admission; I wouldn’t get started in this industry if you don’t have at least $200,000 - $300,000 cash to bank your business. It’ll take several years before you see a return and you’ll need the start-up funds to cover your expenses. Worse case scenario; you run out of money and can’t get a loan and then have to sell everything at a loss.

      I highly recommend you take one of the “Getting started in the haunt industry” classes at MHC or Transworld. You don’t know what it is that you don’t know and these classes will provide lots of great information to help you plan your business. This is not a business to rush into.

      Kelly Collins
      The ScareAtorium Columbus


      • #18
        Started Small -

        We started extremely small - I mean no walls....mostly hand made props, we had access to a gymnasium and made it more of a haunted "walk around the gym" - The next year we moved on to a pavilion that we covered the outside in black plastic, our walls were black plastic and clothesline.....

        The next year we managed to get a larger space and add some more props.....still black plastic walls - This went on for a few years, tucking away a little money here and there with the goal of getting "SOLID" walls - Eventually we worked our way up to solid walls and started getting a larger following.

        It just grew and grew each year - Now we have been voted one of the best haunts in Northern Michigan, this year we will have 5 haunted Attractions. a Hayride, and Haunted Trail.

        So you can start with any budget as long as you love what your doing and don't get frustrated easily.

        I can't stand people that say you have to have MEGA BUCKS to start a haunt - Yes maybe if you want to just jump right in full on professional....but not everyone needs to start that way.


        • #19
          Like I said, it all depends on your location. If you don't have any other haunts in your area, then you can start out small and build from there. But I wouldn't recommend black plastic walls. Not sure how your fire marshal allowed them. Sometimes if you are in the country or an area where they don't enforce fire codes, then you might be able to get away with them and other tactics to save money.

          We are located in a major city with several other haunts. We want to be the best and so we have to work hard to compete. Prior to starting our own haunt, we were consultants for two other very large attractions in our city for 12 years. Last year our city shut down larger home haunts because they didn't file for permits; which would have required them to meet fire and safety codes.

          A lot depends on where you are located.


          • #20
            Black Plastic Walls -

            I guess I should have put that the black plastic walls were over 20 years ago - We did at one point switch over the the flame retardant black plastic and most fire marshals that we had were fine with it as long as it had certificates and they could preform a flame test on it. The process of getting where we are at now has taken me over 25 years.....but I never lost money, even starting out we always made enough money to cover what we put into the show & upgrade a little each year.

            My golden rule was not matter what I always put at least 50% of the profit back into the show.....most times it ended up being 100% put back in just because I would always find more things I wanted.

            If your sole purpose of getting into this industry is to make money then by all means dump $50,000-$500,000 into your first haunt and cross your fingers that you make enough in your first year or so to get your money back - I do this because I love what I do and I take pride knowing I started with cardboard coffins and paper mache props and have ended up with a successful haunted attraction that for our area draws in a very large crowd each year, makes most the local news stations, newspapers, etc. and is considered among the top haunts in Northern Michigan.

            We still have room for improvement...and every year I keep adding new things and improving old things, always putting everything back into the show for the sheer reason of seeing my vision constantly moving in the direction I always dreamed of.


            • #21
              20 years ago

              I can see how you rose threw the ranks 20 years ago but I dont believe that would work now if you tried it all over now. The bar has been set so high now that I believe it's almost impossible to make it from nothin to something. Back twenty years ago alot of people were do it yourself with the exception of the few and now I believe that roll has reversed. Even the haunts I have seen recently that are not that good still spend a chunk on advertising even if there show isn't top notch or they been open for twenty plus years like you. If your in a rural area that can make a difference but if your trying to open up we're there's stiff competition with almost nothing chances of making it are slim to none. Except if you own your location and don't have to worry about steep rent costs then maybe but money isn't my first priority but you have to make money to be proffesional or your better off home haunting its a lot cheaper that way.


              • #22
                Agreed -

                I agree with what your saying - I guess my point is if you have the drive and love what your doing you will make it work. I don't think you should jump head long into a professional haunt right out of the gate until you have tested the waters in the area you plan to build. When I hear someone talk about needing $250,000+ to start a haunt it just staggers my mind to think what I could do with that kind of money - I see some haunts that spend that to make a beautiful much so that your too busy gawking at the eye candy to really get scared - then I see a haunt that spent $15,000 and it's scary as hell because they don't rely on all their fancy stuff to to the job.

                So I guess in the end my advice would be do it for the love of it, put whatever money into it that you feel comfortable with because your not guaranteed a return - most haunts I talk to make enough to upgrade some and open each year, very few make a "Living" at only running a haunted house.


                • #23
                  Your right

                  I think you are very experienced and right in your point. You can throw the kitchen sink at your haunt does not mean you will make it. I got smacked just like most people do when you open a haunt in the recent years. Most people that are truely a success OWN were there event is. Whether it be a building, land or trailers you need to OWN where your event is in my opinion. I personally have seen over ten haunts in my state close and the most biggest issue is either rent or landlord. When I open back up it will either be in trailers or land because I don't have the capital to buy a warehouse. It is a labor of love more then capital. I know a couple haunts that don't make piles of money but the owners love it and probably even have to pay some when the bad years roll around. I think staying open year after year without missing one year is big to. Thanx for your input and I hope who ever made this thread is still reading this because it's really good info.
                  Last edited by son-of-sam; 08-12-2015, 12:38 PM.


                  • #24
                    Owning a location -

                    Owning a location is still on our list - We have been a setup/Tear down haunt all these years. The past 4 years we have been working with the local fair grounds, they let us use the grounds and help with the Haunted Trail & Hayride - we provide the haunt, and we split the proceeds. This deal has it's ups and down but has provided a very large space to use. The biggest downside is we have a state fair that goes on in August each year, which means we generally get about 6 weeks of build time total before opening - We have been able to really learn how to put it all together quickly, and still put on a good show.

                    We are definitely aimed at getting a permanent place, the problem is the city I live in <Traverse City, MI> everything is considered prime real estate even if it is a warehouse that has been empty for 10 years they still want $1 Million+ for it. So we settle for what we have and make it work......but I always dream of what I could do with a permanent building or land.........


                    • #25
                      What the votes seem to be saying is that most people start with between a dollar and 25K, after that the largest group has between 100 and 200K.

                      I think this is showing the 'let it grow' people and the 'go in pro' people.

                      What would be interesting to know next is after how many years did each of these haunts pay off the initial investment, show a profit or break even.


                      • #26

                        It really matters on when they opened to.


                        • #27
                          Profit or Not -

                          There was only one year that we did not "Profit" and that was the year a new fire marshal came in just after we had painted all of our brand new plywood walls and told us he would not allow their use.....He would only allow drywall. So we lost a couple thousand between selling the plywood for about 50% what we paid, and buying all new drywall - between that and a large power outage in the city on one of out busiest night we went into the whole that year by about $2,000. Surprisingly the drywall lasted use a couple years at which point we started swapping it all out for fire treated lumber that a "newer" fire marshal approved.


                          • #28
                            Can't believe I missed this thread nice comments. I voted for 100,000 to 200,000 thousands. We are not in a major city but even so buying props to passing inspections might have set us back $165,000-$180,000 roughly.

                            Here is a rough breakdown:

                            1) $15,000 for the maze
                            2) $60,000 for animations/monsters/purchased stuff
                            3) $17,000 for electrical
                            4) $7,500 for an alarm system
                            5) $10,000 for costumes and masks
                            6) $4,000 to get marketing materials, logos, etc developed.
                            7) $2,500 for our website
                            8) $15,000 lighting and sound
                            9) $20,000 in filler props to create theming
                            10) Roughly $25,000 in supplies

                            Hope this helps. Our goal was to stay under $125,000 but that didn't happen. I think the thing to remember is that you will need more money than you budget and to make sure you have or can get that money. The stress comes in at the end not the beginning.


                            • #29
                              Hauntfarm your figures look fairly accurate, except your website fee looks very low, maybe you had a family or friend do it for you (we spent about $10,000 on our web site). Also I don't see any budget for a building, but assume you already owned the land and operate outdoors. A new haunt in a building will have rent and then storage during the off season (we spend about $50,000 annually for our building). Also don't see labor, our second highest expense (about $45,000). And I don't see advertising, we spend about $40,000 on marketing. Our budget to start was much higher than you, we're at close to $300,000.



                              • #30
                                $10K for a website

                                Who the heck charged you $10K for a website?? I know the online marketing and website design world and that is absolutely outrageous for a local business website.
                                Owner of The Fear Experience Haunted House in Cleveland, Ohio, voted the #1 haunted house in Ohio, and #14 in America by Funtober. The Fear Experience Haunted House was called the premier haunted attraction in northeast ohio by and #1 in cleveland by metromix.