We are always looking for ways to improve our venues and to add new things that will help us appeal to an even broader demographic resulting in an increased number of visitors to our farm. Adding a haunted attraction to your venue can be a great way to do just that. On the other hand, if executed poorly, they can be what haunts your dreams at night (pun intended). In my opinion, of all the major attractions that we may add to our venue, this one is the one that takes the most resources and is the toughest to get right but if we pull it off – the rewards can be significant.
Farms are able to offer some unique things that cannot be found in your typical haunted house. Just being outside in a field or in the woods already puts your typical haunted house enthusiast in a much more unpredictable environment and puts them on edge immediately. We also don’t typically have space limitations and have plenty of room to build as high or wide as we want to go. When done right, an Agritourism haunt can easily become THE premier haunt in your area.
Here are some things to consider before making this leap.
To do this effectively, you will need space dedicated to your haunted attraction. You need to have a place where your props and scenes are not able to accessed by your daytime and non-haunted guests.
For example, if you run a daytime corn maze and want to add a haunted maze, you should plant additional acreage that is dedicated only to your haunt where your props and scenes can be worked on during the day and away from curious guests. The same goes for a haunted barn, haunted orchard, haunted woods – you get the idea.
There are some other facility type things to consider when adding a haunted attraction such as:
Zoning - Be sure to check with your township to make sure adding this night attraction will not violate your local laws.
Insurance - Check with your insurance company before making a decision so you know what this will do to your rates.
Lighted parking areas
Lighted bathrooms - We used the self-stick dome lights in our porta-potties.
Your admission rates, rules, and other important signage needs to be lit.
Lots of power to wherever you are going to haunt (either generators or a remote service panel installed).
If you are in a populated area, be sure that you won’t be in violation of any noise ordinances by having running chainsaws, train horns, or other loud things running up until your closing time.
It is not uncommon for haunts to require dozens of staff to be effective. Actors, added security, cashiers, and maintenance team to keep the props and equipment running. This equates to a significant payroll each night and definitely something you need to figure into your cost analysis.
Also, don’t expect to use your existing staff that run your daytime activities to haunt your maze. It takes a specific personality type to be an effective haunter. Animatronics and props are great but an actor that really “sells” their role, will be the thing that makes or breaks your attraction. Be sure to be intentional when you hire for your haunt. Local theater clubs are a great resource.
3. Gore vs. Startle
When planning your haunt, you will need to determine whether you want to go the blood and gore route, the startle route, or a combination. This will come down to both your philosophy as an individual as well as who you want to target for your clientele.
For instance, our haunts have always been very high on the startle and very low on the blood, guts, and evil. For us that was a choice based on both personal philosophy and that fact that we heavily market to groups such as church youth groups, scout groups, and others that are looking for a less gore alternative.
4. Extended Hours
Be sure to factor this into your decision as this can be brutal for those that run a daytime venue as well. This will turn your typical 12-hour day into an 18-hour day or more and then you get to get up and do it all over again. To avoid burn-out, be sure you have delegated the management of key tasks of running your venue so that you can last the season.
Be sure to budget for marketing. Even though you can add your haunted venue as an offering to your existing marketing efforts (and thus not increase your costs), you will typically be going after a totally different demographic for your haunted venue. Teens, college kids and young adults are your target for this which may be opposite from your main target market.
Social media is definitely your friend when it comes to this. Many of us are still thinking Facebook is the place to market our venue which it is for families but the younger generation has moved on to other platforms such as Snapchat, Periscope, Instagram, etc. Find and hire a teen or college student to be your social media manager. Find ways to get your coupons or other advertising material into local colleges and high schools.
One year, we did something that was “outside the box” and that was to purchase an old 1974 Ford pickup. We took off the bed and literally built a barn in its place. We made the barn look extremely creepy, painted the rest of the truck a flat black, put a larger banner with our haunt name on the side, and drove it to local college and high school sporting events. We had one of our staff in a “tall man” costume (they are awesome and we will be adding them to our resources page) and one of our other staff handing out coupons. Be creative in your marketing!
6. Prep and Tear-down
Unlike many of the other attractions at our venues, haunted attractions are not something that you just install and let it run. It takes a significant time commitment both before and during your season to pull it off. Prop and scene building happens during your off-season, and maintaining it happens during the season.
This is one area that most people underestimate when considering adding a haunted attraction. We spent weeks planning and building props prior to our haunted attraction opening.
Professional props and effects are not cheap. It is nothing to spend tens of thousands of dollars each year to improve your attraction. With that said, there are a lot of great effects that you can create without spending a ton of money and we will have a blog post on my favorite “do it yourself” props in a future blog post. Even if you are very creative and are able to build a lot of your own props or if you purchase your props, you will have a lot of time and/or money invested in getting your attraction up and running in an effective manner. Don’t expect to throw a few actors in your maze with chainsaws and expect to attract the hundreds or thousands of guests. I speak from experience.
This additional cost is multiplied by the fact that typically, our farm haunts are impacted by weather. Indoor haunts can know how many days they have to make up their investment. With our outdoor haunts, we don’t have that luxury and is something we need to understand going into our season and to understand how many days you need to be running and at what volume to reach your break-even point.
8. Rowdier Crowd
The main clientele at a typical Agritourism venue are adults or young families. Many times when considering a haunted venue, we underestimate the impact this rowdy demographic will have on how we run our operation. Be prepared for additional headaches that come with this age group. Things such as additional staff to help with “crowd control”, additional litter clean-up the morning after, and more things that get damaged than with our typical demographic.
This article is not meant to scare you out of starting a haunted attraction but to give you a realistic picture of the challenges going in. Haunted venues that are done well can be a HUGE money maker and a ton of fun. Where we might charge and $8 admission fee during the day, you can double or triple that for a good haunt (or more if you offer VIP packages etc.)
As our site continues to grow we will be adding more things to our haunted resource pages as well as some how-to videos for some great props we have had success with.
Also, we just did a podcast interview with a great resource for those farms that have started or want to start a hunted attraction. Haunted Farms of America is the name of this resource and you can check them out at www.farmhaunts.com. Also be looking for their Podcast interview to air the week of March 28th.