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Utah Business

How Fear Factory reinvented their model after the pandemic

Fear Factory opened in 2011 and quickly became one of the scariest haunts in the country. At Fear Factory, we pride ourselves on our preparation for the unexpected, including things such as an economic recession, cold weather, and other similar factors. Every year as we prepare for our seasonal opening, we ask ourselves what could go wrong and create scenarios so that we can mitigate the situation, if it actually happens, with ease. 

However, the global pandemic was something we had never considered or planned for. It was just something so unexpected that we didn’t write it into our business plan. In an industry where we make our living off of scaring people, we’re rarely startled ourselves. 

At The Fear Factory we are proud of our ability to think outside the box to provide our fans with unique experiences each year. Every off-season we review what went well and basically tear everything down and start from scratch to provide our guests with a new, fresh experience the following year. This process has helped us find success in a number of ways, most notably keeping us on our toes and helping us adjust to changes and trends in the industry.  

While we are used to innovating, when COVID-19 hit, we like many others, were first at a loss as to what to do. While we “start over” every season, it’s a planned restart. We anticipate it and generally have an idea of what we’re doing. With the pandemic, there was really no playbook for what to do or how to do it. 

Our primary concern has always been and will always be the health and safety of our guests and employees. With that in mind, we began exploring our options for opening and conducting a normal schedule for 2020. 

We got a jump on our planning with our annual Halfway to Halloween event in early May. Halfway to Halloween is a two-day event where we open six months before the Halloween season to give fans a sneak peak of what they can expect from the upcoming season. As we headed into May, there were serious questions about hosting the event this year. 

Fortunately, Utah was making progress in terms of controlling the virus and Governor Herbert launched our color coded system. We examined his system and the safety measures required and said, “We can do this.” We honestly felt like we could make our haunt significantly safer than a grocery store because we have a higher standard to go by every year in order to open to the public. Grocery stores are essential. Haunted houses aren’t, so we hold ourselves to a higher standard.

As we began building out our COVID-19 strategy it became evident to us that we would be the first in our industry to open for a live event during the pandemic. We also quickly realized that other haunts around the country were watching us to see how we pulled it off. 

So we created a Contingency and Safety Plan to help ensure the safety of our guests. The contingency and safety plan was created in conjunction with the World Health Organization’s guidelines and federal, state and local government recommendations for operating a public venue in our new COVID-19 world.

One of the most effective safety features we implemented was timed ticketing. Instead of just showing up and buying a ticket onsite, attendees are required to purchase tickets at a specific time. This enabled us to space people out more effectively and socially distance attendees. Moving forward this Fall, we’ll keep this measure in place. 

Halfway to Halloween was a huge success. We didn’t have any health issues and no employees, fans, or staff contracted the virus. As a result of the success, we’ve shared this safety plan with other haunts, amusement parks, and active entertainment centers around the country. Many are even planning to use this as their own guide when they decide to open back up to the pubic.  

With everything going on, we get asked all the time if we’re going to be open for the entirety of the 2020 season. Our answer to that is an emphatic yes, depending on government regulations, of course.

This article is part of a month-long work from innovation series where executives and entrepreneurs discuss how their companies have innovated as a result of COVID-19. Read more here.

Heidi Dunfield is the Co-Owner of the Fear Factory, Utah's most popular and only haunted, haunted house. In her role at the Fear Factory she is responsible for the day-to-day operations and for establishing the vision and direction of the company. Since opening in 2011, the Fear Factory has been named one of the scariest haunted houses in America by the Travel Channel and one of the scariest haunted houses in the world by BuzzFeed, USA Today and Parade Magazine.