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Discussion Starter #1
Hey Spooky Gang:

After 8 years of doing a FREE backyard haunt at my home I have an opportunity to …”Go Pro”.
A local apple orchard owner is allowing me to use the woods on his property and create a scary Halloween Walk during the 2015 season for profit. I know a lot of outdoor haunted attractions feature Hayrides but we’ve always done the walking tour and I’d like to stick with what I know.

Although it seems like I probably have a ton of time to plan and create our next Halloween season will be here soon. With that said I’d like to turn to ask all my knowledgeable friends here to assist with some questions:

#1. Although my scares are always ACTOR DRIVEN… I’d like to have at least one big PROP that people really talk about. Does anyone have a suggestion on Websites for used or discount attractions? Not the I-Party or cheep stuff. Rather a giant foam monster or cool visual/gag that I couldn’t build myself. I’m sure things come through EBAY or Craigslist from time to time but since I need to budget out a large purchase over the next six months, I’d like some options to look through and get the biggest value for my dollar.

#2. Legal: The owner of this small orchard has parking for roughly 25-30 cars. Because I expect the first year to be small scale I am hopeful that the town doesn’t come in and say I have to pay for a police officer at the gate. If I do I’m sunk. Anyone have any blog or podcast start ups suggestions that’ll help me sort out some of the loopholes an OUTDOOR spooky walk might encounter?
Thank you so much!!!
Zombcie
 

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Hey Spooky Gang:

After 8 years of doing a FREE backyard haunt at my home I have an opportunity to …”Go Pro”.
A local apple orchard owner is allowing me to use the woods on his property and create a scary Halloween Walk during the 2015 season for profit. I know a lot of outdoor haunted attractions feature Hayrides but we’ve always done the walking tour and I’d like to stick with what I know.

Although it seems like I probably have a ton of time to plan and create our next Halloween season will be here soon. With that said I’d like to turn to ask all my knowledgeable friends here to assist with some questions:

#1. Although my scares are always ACTOR DRIVEN… I’d like to have at least one big PROP that people really talk about. Does anyone have a suggestion on Websites for used or discount attractions? Not the I-Party or cheep stuff. Rather a giant foam monster or cool visual/gag that I couldn’t build myself. I’m sure things come through EBAY or Craigslist from time to time but since I need to budget out a large purchase over the next six months, I’d like some options to look through and get the biggest value for my dollar.

#2. Legal: The owner of this small orchard has parking for roughly 25-30 cars. Because I expect the first year to be small scale I am hopeful that the town doesn’t come in and say I have to pay for a police officer at the gate. If I do I’m sunk. Anyone have any blog or podcast start ups suggestions that’ll help me sort out some of the loopholes an OUTDOOR spooky walk might encounter?
Thank you so much!!!
Zombcie
#1: Auctions are going to be your best friend. Seen a couple local haunts close, and they all went up to big national auction houses to get rid of the stuff.

First hit on google: http://www.hauntedhouseassociation.org/haunted_house_suppliers/haunted_house_auctions

#2: I'll say it every time the whole going pro comes up. Just a beginning, mind you, not comprehensive:

  • Talk to your insurance. You're going to need event insurance plain and simple. Period. End of story. Explain what your plan is, what days open, how long, what your haunt entails, etc, and get your event insurance.
  • Now that you have insurance, go down to the city offices and apply for a license. They will want to see your insurance, hence this is stop 2. They can also fill you in on what you're going to be able to accomidate as far as parking, numbers, and that kind of thing, and what regulations you're going to need to adhere to.
  • Now go talk to your fire marshall or whoever will be doing the inspections. Get with them EARLY. It's a LOT easier to build to code from the get go than to go back and bring something to code later. Little things like wheelchair accessibility, adequate exit paths and marking, etc you're going to need to plan into your design BEFORE you start building. Other things like pallet construction might need to be tossed out.
  • Fire sprays...gonna need a lot of that fire coating spray...
a LOT of variables lie in your city/state regulations, so guides are REAL hard to do.

Generally, get a good path. Keep tripping hazards away (chords, but also tree roots and whatnot, pay attention). Adequate lighting. Yes, dark forest is scary...especially if people trip and get hurt. Make the path CLEARLY DEFINED. Don't need kids wandering off somewhere. Hard barriers are better than soft for that, even outside.
 

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As UnOrthoDox has already said, auctions will be your best bet. If you want some seriously professional props, look into The Horror Dome, or Poison Props. The only thing with places like that is how pricey they are, but that's all up to your budget. I hope you keep us updated with how everything goes!
 

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Discussion Starter #4
Thanks Unorthodox. Although 100% of this attraction will be experienced outside, building a good relationship with the local fire officials is always a good idea. Originally I was looking for a good indoor location but I know sprinkler issues and proper fire exits are huge. Being outdoors takes that out of the equasion if your guests don't go into an enclosed space. Truthfully I never thought about wheelchair access though. Although the path will be free and clear of roots and rocks, unsure if the undulating terrain (a few small hills) will allow for someone who is handicapped. Doubtful that hand barriers could be built on the entire root but you're right...keeping snarky teenagers on the path is important. I ALWAYS have a guide who helps tell the story of the haunt so that shouldn't be an issue.

Darkhavenmanor: I've always enjoyed the blogs and podcasts in which developers of Haunted attractions show you how things are going during the off season. I'm be sure to do that because it not only drives interest to your event, it helps with your brand/professionalism. I've done that with my own haunt a bit but for this I would REALLY take it up a level. I'll check out your PROP suggestions! Thanks!
 

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Hey [email protected],
I don't know you but i might be able to help. I did a pro haunt for 2 seasons and quit because it sucked the fun out of haunting for me, i hope you have a different experience. mine was in CA which has some of the strictest laws and regulations in the country so here's what i know,
1) stay outdoors, if you don't have a roof overhead than it does not count as a structure which gets you around a lot of fire codes.
2)insurance, i believe this was covered already.
3)you will need a license to operate if you are going to charge admission.
4)you will have to either hire private security or pay the city for police officer security.
5)before you can open your doors you will need an inspector to pass you.
6)if you are going to hire anyone keep it under 15 employee's to avoid federal labor laws(at least that's what it was in CA)
Well good luck and i hope everything goes well for you, it's a big step jumping from home to pro.
 

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Discussion Starter #6
Thanks Thenighmare Family. I need all the help I can with this venture. Pros and Cons. The Good the Bad. The gross and the ugly. Bring em on. I know I have a long list of hurtles to jump through and over so I figured starting now is smarter than waiting until the Spring. Because I'm on the land of an existing business I wonder if things like a license is needed though? If the orchard owner already has one for his own sales we might be under his umbrellas because it's simply an extension to his sales. Unsure? I do know his "pick you own apples at your own risk" license helps with liability issues on the land. It's something worked into the very old agricultural laws in New England. Basically allows small places like him to let people on his land without forcing him to deal with HUGE insurance policies. and we're walking not on a hayride. A bit safer. I would love to hear why you closed down. Was it a burnout? Was it worth it finacially? The great thing about this is I have no rent or overhead outside of what I bring on with props? Figured I might buy one cool scare year one and use my great team of scare actors while keeping the admission fee down. This way if we're not great at least the guests will say we're only out $6.00 or 7.00 bucks. Not $20.00 or more. :)
 

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Being in the woods ? Look "UP" see any half-rotted limbs hanging? they should be cut long before anyone is walking around under them.
What is the farm's orchard's history like concerning lightning strikes? Some places are more prone to such things and somebody might be able to tell you some very helpfull things.
All haunts in Illinois need to get backround checks for owners and employees. The State checks that you have them.
A trail haunt I know of had a woman stub her toe, because she was wearing sandals and a large Medical nightmare ensued. Infection...
New rules:No open -toed footwear. People wear the stupidest footwear and clothing to a haunt and they don't "listen" very wellto instructions either, even if it pertains directly to them, all very frustrating, and i have not even mentioned how it can be dealing with your hired help yet! ("GRR!")
If you LOVE Halloween , don't own a Haunt, because you will never be able to see another Halloween, you will be too busy looking for help, calling trying to get them to show up. Who do you trust? Who do you have to trust? Who do you want to trust? Sometimes we only discover long after the fact exactly what our employees were doing here , usually informed via the customers,Good and Bad reports...
The Best of Luck! (Because everyone needs some of that too.)
 

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Thanks Thenighmare Family. I need all the help I can with this venture. Pros and Cons. The Good the Bad. The gross and the ugly. Bring em on. I know I have a long list of hurtles to jump through and over so I figured starting now is smarter than waiting until the Spring. Because I'm on the land of an existing business I wonder if things like a license is needed though? If the orchard owner already has one for his own sales we might be under his umbrellas because it's simply an extension to his sales. Unsure? I do know his "pick you own apples at your own risk" license helps with liability issues on the land. It's something worked into the very old agricultural laws in New England. Basically allows small places like him to let people on his land without forcing him to deal with HUGE insurance policies. and we're walking not on a hayride. A bit safer. I would love to hear why you closed down. Was it a burnout? Was it worth it finacially? The great thing about this is I have no rent or overhead outside of what I bring on with props? Figured I might buy one cool scare year one and use my great team of scare actors while keeping the admission fee down. This way if we're not great at least the guests will say we're only out $6.00 or 7.00 bucks. Not $20.00 or more. :)
Hey [email protected],
You might be able to cut a couple of corners being that you will be operating on an already existing business but check and double check the laws and regulations in your area first, and if things get messy just blame the owner of the property and run.LOL.

My Pro Haunting story is kinda long so bare with me.
Originaly, the Family haunt was started with my dad about 30 years ago as just a home haunt, then after 20 years of him operating it he semi retired from it and passed it to me about 10 years ago. I wanted to take it to another level and myself and a former business partner of mine created a haunt called Nightmare Manor. We went through the song and dance of regulations and got approved and even rented an empty old outlet mall in Palm Springs CA. to host it for the month. we were in the same location both years. The first year was a finaincial success, we did it the way we wanted, covered pay roll made a profit of around $100,000 which was split around the company staff and us as well. the next year we ended up having investors that wanted to invest in our product, so we went with it. The investors "in their infinite wisdom" decided they knew what people wanted more than we did and changed the haunt. they ordered the stuff and all we were reduced to were basically site managers and the crap they ordered wasn't even good quality stuff, it looked like they just odered a bulk supply of cheap garbage from walmart. The short version is they thought the original Nightmare Manor was to scary and only catered to a selective audience and they wanted a more family friendly environment to maximise profits. Well Oct. came and went and you know what happened? They lost around $250.000 on the project because everyone that went through it came out saying "what happened?, this was good last year" or "i can't believe i payed money for that". after the first week of operation in Oct. people just stop coming and on Halloween night we had a total of 5 customers all night (that also hated it and demanded a refund). So at the end of the season i wasn't having fun with it any more and it became like going to a job that you hate, so my partner bought me out. The damn haunt looked like Disney's It's a small world with a smiley pumpkin here and there, it was absolute crap. my former partner i believe opened for one more year with the same investors and lost a huge amount of money that year before the investors pulled their funding and my former partner sold all the assets and rights to one of the big time haunts like netherworld or something, i don't remeber. but he did come back and he did split the money with me that he got from the sale, which was a solid thing to do, and i went on to create Nightmare on Barberry (my own personal home haunt) and GRIMZI 13 PRODUCTIONS (my self owned and operated prop building studio), and he partners with other pro haunter across the country as an advissor, every ounce in a while he will ask my studio to build or repair something and i will always lend a hand if i can.

Long story huh, It's OK because if i ever decide to go pro again i learned to never partner with involved investors and keep everything my own.
Good Luck, and be carefull of investment sharks that only care about maximized profit margin's.
 

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Hey [email protected],
You might be able to cut a couple of corners being that you will be operating on an already existing business but check and double check the laws and regulations in your area first, and if things get messy just blame the owner of the property and run.LOL.

My Pro Haunting story is kinda long so bare with me.
Originaly, the Family haunt was started with my dad about 30 years ago as just a home haunt, then after 20 years of him operating it he semi retired from it and passed it to me about 10 years ago. I wanted to take it to another level and myself and a former business partner of mine created a haunt called Nightmare Manor. We went through the song and dance of regulations and got approved and even rented an empty old outlet mall in Palm Springs CA. to host it for the month. we were in the same location both years. The first year was a finaincial success, we did it the way we wanted, covered pay roll made a profit of around $100,000 which was split around the company staff and us as well. the next year we ended up having investors that wanted to invest in our product, so we went with it. The investors "in their infinite wisdom" decided they knew what people wanted more than we did and changed the haunt. they ordered the stuff and all we were reduced to were basically site managers and the crap they ordered wasn't even good quality stuff, it looked like they just odered a bulk supply of cheap garbage from walmart. The short version is they thought the original Nightmare Manor was to scary and only catered to a selective audience and they wanted a more family friendly environment to maximise profits. Well Oct. came and went and you know what happened? They lost around $250.000 on the project because everyone that went through it came out saying "what happened?, this was good last year" or "i can't believe i payed money for that". after the first week of operation in Oct. people just stop coming and on Halloween night we had a total of 5 customers all night (that also hated it and demanded a refund). So at the end of the season i wasn't having fun with it any more and it became like going to a job that you hate, so my partner bought me out. The damn haunt looked like Disney's It's a small world with a smiley pumpkin here and there, it was absolute crap. my former partner i believe opened for one more year with the same investors and lost a huge amount of money that year before the investors pulled their funding and my former partner sold all the assets and rights to one of the big time haunts like netherworld or something, i don't remeber. but he did come back and he did split the money with me that he got from the sale, which was a solid thing to do, and i went on to create Nightmare on Barberry (my own personal home haunt) and GRIMZI 13 PRODUCTIONS (my self owned and operated prop building studio), and he partners with other pro haunter across the country as an advissor, every ounce in a while he will ask my studio to build or repair something and i will always lend a hand if i can.

Long story huh, It's OK because if i ever decide to go pro again i learned to never partner with involved investors and keep everything my own.
Good Luck, and be carefull of investment sharks that only care about maximized profit margin's.
Funny, similar but almost opposite for me. Partner and I opened a haunt specifically targeting kids 3-10. Our motto: "We want them clinging to parent's legs, but not up all night with nightmares". After 2 years of success, turning a small profit, we had to move locations, and new investors decided we should up the ante to the teenage crowd. I bailed immediately, didn't even try, knew it was going to be a disaster. He went on to keep the rebranded place open at a loss a couple years before giving up. I've occasionally acted as advisor or prop builder to haunts here or there since, but really have no desire to go in full on professional again. Gym nails it: I love Halloween more than I do the business of Halloween.
 
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Halloween is a lot more fun as a celebration than a profit making machine.
I'll second or third that. For about 5 years we use to deck out a local improv theater for their big weekend long Halloween event, that would then end with a party on Halloween night. Lots of fun cause whatever we wanted to do was want ever we wanted to do. Then they got a new "business manager" who wasn't into the Halloween thing and had total different vision then we or the improv group members had - don't you just hate boards of directors that direct things... after butting my head one too many times with her it was apparent the fun stopped we moved on to other things. Became a part of a pro haunt group in 2013, never do that again. I will echo when you have little to no control over how you spend your time, energy or money and the people you are working with have little or no respect for your contributions there is no fun.
 

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Funny, similar but almost opposite for me. Partner and I opened a haunt specifically targeting kids 3-10. Our motto: "We want them clinging to parent's legs, but not up all night with nightmares". After 2 years of success, turning a small profit, we had to move locations, and new investors decided we should up the ante to the teenage crowd. I bailed immediately, didn't even try, knew it was going to be a disaster. He went on to keep the rebranded place open at a loss a couple years before giving up. I've occasionally acted as advisor or prop builder to haunts here or there since, but really have no desire to go in full on professional again. Gym nails it: I love Halloween more than I do the business of Halloween.
Yep..the guys I know in the pro haunt business hate that the business takes over. They want to build props and scare people and end up doing everything but that.
 

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Discussion Starter #14
Some great stories and info. Thanks friends. Hate to read about the negative situations some have experienced but your I'm thankful for the advice. Having proper footware isn't something I would have given much thought to but you're right... sandles in the woods isn't a great idea. Crazy to think that happened. I am concerned about tree limbs. I spend a ton of time mountain biking and I see first hand how stuff comes down randomly.

After 8 seasons of running my own deal on Halloween night I've tried to "brand" my scares to everyone. From the small kids to the teens and adults. We tend to be very story driven which helps fill the gaps between the old and young. So we'll probably do something similar. Still working on the theme of the new location. Possibly an Apple Farmer has gone insane or the woods have a legend. For the young kids we'll also probably do face painting and encourage some the games we run at my house. You can't please everyone but you if you please yourself that's half the battle.
 

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Discussion Starter #17
I do realize that turning this into a "for profit" can take away the fun. But after last year (drunk adults, teens wrecking our line games etc) I might as well to at least try making some money. :) Currently finding that parking might be the biggest issue. My partners are all concerned that the limited spots (25-30) might not be enough if it gets busy. Trying to figure out if we can run a shuttle van/bus to an overflow parking lot about 1/4 mile away. Sadly that opens up another can of worms. :(
 

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I'm going to name drop here: last year, we were thinking of going pro (still are) and we had our eyes on an old barn, built in 1914, that was for sale near us.

We were at HauntX, and spoke with Leonard Pickel who was teaching seminars (and playing a mean game of "beer pong") there.

We told him about the barn, and he asked us how the parking was (among other things). The barn was on 1 acre of land, and everything that the barn didn't take up would be usable for parking. Leonard said that wouldn't be nearly adequate.

The main thing you have to focus on, in order to have a financially successful haunt, is throughput. Several items go in to throughput, and parking is a biggy.

We passed on the barn, which is a good thing. We would have bankrupted ourselves just bringing it up to code.

We live on 5 acres. It is zoned as residential, so we'll never be able to run anything other than a home haunt here. This year, our busiest night was just over 300 people, and we had at least 30 cars on our property at all times. A successful pro haunt needs to push through a lot more than that (750 to 1,000 or more) per night.

Not trying to be a downer, but you're right to worry about not having enough parking at that location.
 

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Discussion Starter #19
Sadly the Apple Orchard location feel through. The owner is all for the Haunted walk and the land is perfect for the event but we can't get around the lack of parking. 25 spaces is simply not enough IF we get busy. Looked into using a shuttle to transport customers back and forth but the alternative parking spot at another orchard 1/4 mile down the road said no. Can't have people walking that far down a dark road and there are no other open fields or local businesses in the area. The shuttle would also add more liability issues and of course increase start up costs. I thought I had a lead on another farm but that feel through too. :( One of my only other leads now is a local skiing place. They have a bit of woods and parking for over 200 cars. Yet the location is on a busy street and I hear that it might be open to teen vandals. I'll update here if something else comes up or progess happens at the skiing location in the coming weeks. I'll keep searching over the winter and not give up until the Spring. (That's my 2015 cut off because I wanted to handle a lot of the busniess related issues over the winter.)
 

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Best of luck ZomBie.
Is there a paintball place near you or something similar?
Campground?
Fairgrounds or flea market?
You do want a high traffic area for visibility and easy access (right off of a highway, near the intersection of two major roads, etc.).
 
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