How to Start an Escape Room Side Business

One of the hottest trends in the recreation industry at the moment is the rise of “Escape the Room” challenge businesses. Essentially, a group of participants (possibly for a birthday party, team building or friend bonding experience or family fun) are locked in a room and tasked with solving a series of puzzles that allow them to leave within a set time frame. According to statistics from Escape Room Directory, there are at least 6,100 unique rooms around the globe at present. If you’d like to tap into this lucrative niche, the following road map will help out immensely.

Do Some Market Research First

Understanding the escape room marketplace in and out will be crucial to your success. Use online forums like Escape Rooms on Reddit and Escape Room Enthusiasts on Facebook to gather information on the latest trends. Online industry publications like Room Escape Artist are terrific resources when it comes to getting the lay of the land. Try to canvass your immediate region to get an idea of the specific demographics that would be interested in escape rooms in your area.

Take Care of the Paperwork

Before you lock down a location and construct your room, you should look into local ordinances that might result in snags. You may need permits and zoning approval to get your operation off of the ground. Furthermore, you’ll probably have to clear ADA (“American Disabilities Act”) and OSHA  (” Occupational Safety and Health Administration”) hurdles. Buying insurance is a good idea just in case a customer is injured within your establishment. Contact the local chambers of commerce in your jurisdiction and an attorney to ensure compliance with local regulations and state and federal law.

Obtain the Necessary Start-Up Capital

In some cases, you can launch an escape room business for as little as $5,000 when all is said and done. If you decide to purchase an escape room game franchise, the cost can be several multiples of that figure. Once you’ve established your game, you can make at least $20 per person per room per hour and rake in record profits if the stars align. If a traditional bank loan isn’t an option, a Kickstarter or Indiegogo campaign will do.

Craft a Unique Escape Room Concept

While you could buy an existing escape room game from a vendor, designing your own custom room is a better idea. Fortunately, there are a few design tips that should apply to any room. You’ll need a great theme to start like Wild West saloon, 1930s detective office, haunted house or futuristic spaceship. Use a variety of challenges like word games and math-based brain teasers to provide clues that will allow participants to win the game.

Build the Room to Your Specifications

First off, you’ll need to buy or more likely rent some commercial space to host your escape room. Depending on the themes that you’ll base your game around, both new and old structures could fit the bill. When you’re designing the layout of a room, it’s important to consider future changes that you may want to make. Stock up on some furniture and appliances from an outfit like Escape Room Props and install lighting and audio systems as you go along.

Hire the Right Staff for the Situation

While your room’s concept and quality of construction matter the most, the employees that you rely on to run the actual game are pretty key. Since an escape room is an entertainment experience, finding people with a theater background can make a big difference. If your staff is an integral part of the game experience, they need to have great situational intelligence and the ability to work well with strangers. Obviously, dependability and an outgoing nature are critical.

Fine-Tune the Game before Launching

Before you “go live” with your escape room, you need to test out the concept to identify any problems and rectify them. Use willing friends and family members that belong to your target demographics as guinea pigs to gauge the likely reactions to your challenges. Leverage their feedback to tweak game play and improve the puzzles that will be used. During the testing period, you can upgrade props, modify atmospheric details and finish up any cosmetic work that needs to be done.

Distinguish Your Room from the Crowd

Once you’ve finally launched your escape room for good, it’s time to zero in on the most effective applications for it. Some game rooms specialize in helping corporations build camaraderie or identify strong leaders. Others specialize in creating fun memories for families or couples. Some offer a little something for everyone and modify their games based on the game’s participants. One of the best ways to stand out is by offering unique puzzles that are specific to different groups.

Market the Room to a Wider Audience

While the average escape room will find a ready and willing audience in most areas, marketing is critical if you want to make big bucks. Create a beautiful flagship website using WordPress and a custom template for starters. Use social media portals like Twitter, Facebook, Yelp and Instagram to create a buzz. Groupon is a superb way to market your escape room early on. Make a few videos and post them to Youtube for superior results.

Address Day-to-Day Operational Details

When you run an escape room business, you have to be a handyman, a salesman and a creative consultant all at the same time. If you need to modify the “set” of your escape room or rooms, you’ll need to be good with power drills and circular saws. When it comes to creating a real buzz for your rooms, you’ll need to meet and greet each group that participates. Finally, you’ll need to modify the internal logic of the games as you go along to avoid stale, regimented experiences.

Grow the Business Intelligently Over Time

Making your escape room a phenomenon is all about bringing in new customers. Becoming partners with companies like local tour outfits and business training consultancies is a natural way to attain greater market share. You should try to focus on attracting a mix of locals and tourists when it comes to pulling in new clientele. Courting repeat business via novel variations on your primary games is even better. Adapt your games to be more non-linear and less predictable for repeat business.

Staying One Step Ahead of the Industry

The escape room industry is bound to become saturated at a certain point and experience a bust. Remaining profitable is all about responding to consumer desires and adjusting business models periodically. Keep your finger on the pulse of the audience and switch things up every few months to remain “fresh” in the eyes of the public. If you can continue to evolve over time, an escape room business can be quite profitable for years to come.

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