Believe it or not, you can make a fortune scaring people for a living. All you need is a haunted house — or one that looks like it's haunted. A typical establishment welcomes about 8,000 paid guests each year. If you're ready to jump on the bandwagon, find the perfect location and draft a haunted house business plan that outlines your vision.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
The key to a profitable haunted house is to create a compelling story that balances fear and narrative. Focus on offering the best possible show by delivering frights that engage all five senses.
Haunted Attraction Industry Overview
Haunted houses are not just for children. In fact, about 25% of their visitors are 18 to 24 years old, and nearly 20% are between 25 and 34 years old. A whopping 16.9% of all guests are 35 to 44 years old. The United States is home to over 2,700 haunted houses and thousands of haunted wax museums, mazes and scavenger hunts.
This industry is thriving, attracting thrill-seekers from all around the world. Americans love haunted houses so much that 33% would buy one. Nowadays, haunted houses offer a lot more than just hyper-realistic horror. Visitors can play escape games, witness graphic scenes of horror and interact with flesh-eating monsters. Industry professionals are constantly seeking new ways to increase the fear factor and offer extreme thrills.
About 85% of those who operate haunted houses see it as their only job, according to Forbes. David and Nathan Polanco, two brothers, made a staggering $200,000 with their haunted house attraction in just 20 days. In addition to a creepy building and graphic horror scenes, they sell branded merchandise and host theme events such as Santa’s ScreamFest and My Bloody Valentine. This allows them to bring in extra income and maximize their profits.
Choose a Business Model
Running a haunted house involves more than just choosing a cool location and hanging scary things on the walls. Like with any other business, you need to research the market, find your niche, define your ideal customer and develop a marketing plan. Additionally, it's essential to comply with the law and learn the ropes of the industry. Draft a haunted house business plan that covers these aspects in detail.
Start by researching the market so you know what to expect and then choose a business model. For example, some haunted houses have a compelling storyline, making visitors feel like they're walking onto a movie set. Some feature voodoo shows, catacombs, hidden subterranean passages and falling walls, while others are family friendly, offering thrilling rides and scary attractions for kids and grownups alike. Some are open year-round, while others only operate during the Halloween season.
Another option is to purchase an actual haunted house. The House of the Seven Gables in Salem, Massachusetts, for instance, has been around for over 350 years. Somber and dark, it features a secret staircase, a unique museum store, guided tours, education programs and dramatic theatrical performances. The Netherworld Haunted House in Atlanta, Georgia is popular for its unusual themes, stunning special effects and terrifying live actors.
Haunted House Business Plan
A successful haunted house business should create a fun and scary experience that appeals to the target audience. Your establishment may offer thrilling attractions like a graveyard, a medieval torture chamber, a dark cellar with monsters and zombies, an autopsy room, murder scenes and more. For example, you can turn an ordinary old building into a haunted house where a family member went crazy and killed those around him. Watch popular horror movies and research world-famous haunted attractions for inspiration.
Next, draft a haunted house business plan that outlines your ideas and goals. Cover the legal and financial aspects too. This document will serve as a road map for your business and should include the following:
- Executive summary (a short description of your business and its competitive advantage)
- Market research
- Company description and mission statement
- Products and services
- Management and organization
- Strategy and implementation
- Startup expenses and ongoing costs
- Legal requirements
- Financial projections
- Marketing plan
A haunted house business plan should clearly state your short- and long-term goals. You also need to consider your budget and determine the amount of money needed to get started and stay in business. In general, these projects are developed with personal or private capital because traditional banks rarely offer loans for seasonal businesses, such as a haunted house. However, if you have a solid strategy in place and plan to keep your doors open year-round, you might be able to get a loan.
Connect With Industry Professionals
Haunted houses rely on special effects, props and unusual items to bring the story to life. Therefore, you need to reach out to vendors, artists, designers, architects and other industry professionals. Consider working with designers who specialize in horror-themed attractions and get in touch with consulting firms, such as Haunt Design Kit and Hauntrepreneurs. These professionals can help you get your business up and running, even if you have little experience in the haunted house industry.
The experts at Haunt Design Kit, for example, offer a free consultation to entrepreneurs. They can also draft a unique layout or blueprint for your haunted house. Hauntrepreneurs provides free consulting services, business plans and on-site design services. This is the only company that sells previously-owned haunted houses and haunting equipment, so it's worth checking it out.
Other helpful resources are the Haunted House Association and HauntCon, an annual event featuring new products and concepts in the industry. This trade show gathers over 100 vendors and 70 hours of haunt education, including workshops and demonstrations. If you're looking for equipment and supplies, HauntWorld provides a compelling list of vendors specializing in lighting systems, animatronics, masks, costumes and more.
Achieve Legal Compliance
Running a haunted house requires more than a general business license. After you register your business with the state and obtain a tax ID number, you'll need to get permits from the local fire department and other organizations. A solid insurance policy is a must-have. You may also want to ask visitors to sign a waiver and submit to a background check.
McKamey Manor in Summertown, Tennessee, for example, requires guests to sign a 40-page liability waiver and accept the possibility of death and severe injuries. Visitors must also pass a drug test, a physical fitness test and background checks. Additionally, they have to show proof of health insurance. It's not uncommon for those who visit haunted houses to suffer a stroke, head injuries or panic attacks, so make sure you will not be held liable for these issues.
Include these aspects in your business plan. Consult an attorney to stay on the safe side. In addition to a liability waiver and basic business documentation, you may need a certificate of occupancy, state and federal licenses, signage permits and other legal papers. For example, if you sell food and beverages on your premises, it's necessary to get approval from the local health department.
Promote Your Haunted House
A key to success in this business is to create a strong brand. Depending on your target audience, you may advertise in the local community, on social networks, on billboards, on TV or on the radio. Consider investing more in marketing during the Halloween season. Distribute flyers and brochures, promote your haunted house on Facebook and other online platforms and attend industry-related events.
Be aware that having too many visitors may affect the quality of the experience. Having too few customers, on the other hand, means lower revenue. Therefore, it's important to find your sweet spot and market your business accordingly.
Set up a website and use it to sell branded merchandise, gain exposure and drive interest. Share the story of the house and outline its features. Post updates every time you host a special event, such as a themed night or guided tours. Consider offering discounts for larger groups and returning visitors.
- Statista: Share of Haunted House Visitors in the U.S.2014-2016, by Age Group
- Smithsonian.com: A Brief History of the Haunted House
- Architect Magazine: 33 Percent Say They Would Buy a Haunted House, If ...
- Forbes: Halloween Is Big Business: An Inside Look at the Haunted House Industry With Larry Kirchner
- The Hustle: You Can Make a Lot of Money Scaring People for a Living
- The House of the Seven Gables: Plan Your Visit
- Netherworld Haunted House: Frequently Asked Questions
- Insider: Tens of Thousands of People Want to Shut Down a 'Torture Chamber' Haunted House. Its Owner Says It's More Popular Than Ever.
- U.S. Small Business Administration: Apply for Licenses and Permits
- Hauntopic: How to Start a Haunted House or Haunted Attraction Business
- America Haunts: Haunted House Facts
- Smith Brothers: What Makes a Haunted House? Architectural Styles Throughout the Years
- Haunt Design Kit: Professional Haunted Attraction Design
- Hauntrepreneurs: Consulting
- HAuNTcon: What Is HAuNTcon?
- Hauntworld: Directory of Haunted House Suppliers
- Raleigh Haunted House: Participant Waiver, Release of Liability, & Image Release
- TRUiC: How to Start a Haunted Attraction
- Mental Floss: 9 Behind-the-Scenes Secrets of Haunted Houses
Andra Picincu is a digital marketing consultant with over 10 years of experience. She works closely with small businesses and large organizations alike to help them grow and increase brand awareness. She holds a BA in Marketing and International Business and a BA in Psychology. Over the past decade, she has turned her passion for marketing and writing into a successful business with an international audience. Current and former clients include The HOTH, Bisnode Sverige, Nutracelle, CLICK - The Coffee Lover's Protein Drink, InstaCuppa, Marketgoo, GoHarvey, Internet Brands, and more. In her daily life, Ms. Picincu provides digital marketing consulting and copywriting services. Her goal is to help businesses understand and reach their target audience in new, creative ways.