Haunted Houses Have One Week To Make A Profit
Rob and Heidi Dunfield are co-owners of Fear Factory, one of Salt Lake’s most popular haunted houses. Located at 666 West and 800 South, the old cement factory turned haunted attraction brings in thousands of visitors during a season which runs from early September to the first week of November. And during that time, they have to make an entire year’s worth of revenue.
On an average night, Fear Factory has a staff of 200 employees shuffling 4,000 patrons through the door―but it wasn’t always this way. Fear Factory opened in October of 2011, but delays shortened their season, forcing the couple to ask themselves whether they should close or push into the next season. “We ran for 12 days and went into November,” says Ms. Dunfield, “but once Christmas music started playing, we knew we had to shut down.”
Another local haunted attraction began as a way to supplement revenue. Shelby Law, business and events manager at Black Island Farms in Syracuse said their working vegetable farm started in the 1960s but was becoming unsustainable as years passed, so they turned to seasonal entertainment for help.
“Thirteen years ago we decided to open up a corn maze and haunted attraction to help support the farm,” Ms. Law says. The farm could not provide their revenue numbers, but Ms. Law says their six-week fall festival with haunted attractions, “brings in the majority of our income and keeps us sustainable year-round.”
Unlike Black Island Farms, Fear Factory has very specific demands and periods when they’re preparing for an influx of business, translating to money spent on inventory, renovations, and more. Finding a sustainable stream of revenue is not only challenging to maintain these aspects of the business but the key to retaining top talent.
Haunted houses are only active and profitable for part of the year, which makes retention the hardest part of keeping a seasonal business running. “You grow a team and create this atmosphere and then when the season is over you have to do it all over again,” says Mr. Dunfield. And though their retention rate has improved, Fear Factory still must rehire almost half of its staff each season.
Not only that, but pre-season preparation periods coincide with the slowest times in terms of revenue, meaning the business’s funds may be looking a bit empty. “We are still in a growth phase,” Ms. Dunfield adds, “and absolutely anything we can find as extra [income] we invest it right back into [Fear Factory], whether that’s creating new experiences for customers or paying our employees more.”
Entrepreneurs that own seasonal businesses face some of the biggest financial challenges of all. They have to be masters at planning, budgeting, and precision marketing and, as in the case of Fear Factory or Black Island Farms, are full of strategies to make their businesses are viable all year round.
Though no longer their primary source of income, Black Island Farm remains open year-round and relies on selling crops, grass, and hay to offset seasonal costs. They market heavily during the summer on social media to get patrons excited for their fall festival, but nothing matters unless the weather cooperates each year, says Ms. Law. “A wet and cold fall really hurts our business a lot and warmer falls means [attendance] goes up,” she says.
The Dunfield’s work other jobs during their offseason to help maintain their finances. Mr. Dunfield runs a fitness and personal training center and the two also practice real estate throughout the year. As for Fear Factory, they have found creative ways to generate revenue while simultaneously creating awareness for their business, such as opening their doors on any Friday the 13th, celebrating “Halfway to Halloween” in the springtime, holding zombie laser tag events, and even hosting weddings.
The duo added that when it’s time for their budget meetings each December, it’s tricky to plan ahead for the future season’s expenses. “During the busiest Saturday night of the year, you’ll hear people say, ‘wow these owners must be doing so well!’ And yeah, if we could be open all year we would be,” says Mr. Dunfield. “If only they knew that the owners are just really good [at budgeting].”