So you are about to open an escape room business! That’s exciting. Welcome to the club. I know a lot of escape room owners and for the most part there are some amazing similarities.
Courage – It takes chutzpah to open any new business and an escape room is no exception.
Energy – There are a thousand little details – probably many more than you had expected – permits/inspectors/contractors/staffing/accounting and on and on. It’s exhausting!
Enthusiasm – you probably LOVE escape rooms. If you don’t….uh…well I hope you do!
Genuine desire to entertain – owning an escape room means you are providing families and friends a fantastic opportunity to get together in a unique setting. Nothing else really compares to that experience you are providing for them. And that feels GREAT!
You are probably experiencing some trepidation and outright FEAR! I know. We’ve all been there.
But- there are some proactive things you can do to increase your odds of success….and that’s what it is all about.
Our little escape room business in the middle of the prairies in Winnipeg, Canada grew from two rooms in January, 2015 to 12 rooms in summer, 2019. And we feel lucky… (Boy. Do we ever!) that we found this unique opportunity to start a new business after travelling in Europe in the summer of 2014.
I remember well the fear.
Once we had been in business for awhile an opportunity came about for us to sell our rooms to others across Canada and the US and that business has gone very well. What it has done is given us a unique perspective on what it takes to be successful and what each escape room owner can do to improve their odds.
I’d like to share some of those ideas with you in hopes that there will be some things you maybe haven’t thought of that can help you grow and prosper.
Table of Contents
First Things First!
You’ve signed your lease or purchased your space. Check with local permit authorities and order up a Coming Soon banner. That Coming Soon banner is going to work hard for you – in rain or shine – you don’t have to pay it or feed it – and it just works away, letting people know that a brand shiny new escape room business is on its way. In the old days – way back – 5 years ago – most people didn’t know what an escape room was. There are still many people out there who don’t. But there is a built in audience of core escape room enthusiasts and believe me…when that banner goes up they are going to hound you about when you are going to open. And that’s a good thing. Word will get around.
Start working on your plans for your permanent signage. Will it be lit at night? Good! Make sure that sign is ready to rock when you are. I can’t stress this enough. While people who are coming to play do like a bit of mystery and puzzles, finding your location should not be part of the game.
Your Name & Logo
My background is advertising and personally, I think escape room owners can do better with this. I really encourage you to find a name that is distinctly yours. My partners and I have played over 100 games and realistically the number of escape room companies I can name off the top of my head is quite small. And if you want to be fairly generic in your name – at least be distinctive in your logo or colours. Create something memorable. Or you’ll be known as “that escape place over by the 7-11.”
Give it your best shot.
Chamber of Commerce
Your local Chamber of Commerce can be a huge help to you as a new business. They are set up for that very purpose – to help you succeed. They’ll offer many opportunities to get your name out in the local community. From mini trade shows to small ads in the directory or newsletter to promotion of your corporate team building package if you have one. We’ve found that business people are very supportive and helpful. They’ll offer mentoring, ideas and they will gladly help you get the word out.
Hotels and other Businesses
Get yourself some hotel rack cards made and be ready to deliver them to hotels as soon as you are open. You may want to put an offer on the card to further encourage a visit but it is not absolutely necessary. When people are visiting from out of town they are always looking for something to do – they don’t want to miss the best things to do in the community and, of course, your escape rooms are some of the best things to do. If you can, chat up concierges. Invite them to bring their own families (no charge) . Talk to the managers or owners of nearby bars and restaurants. See you if can place some announcements in their rest rooms or discuss the possibilities of a reciprocal arrangement ie Bring in a receipt from Pony Corral and receive 10% off (or one free player.) We ran a very successful promo with a nearby restaurant. After they “escaped” we gave them a coupon which gave them a free gourmet pizza (with the purchase of bar beverages) after their game. This created a win-win-win!
Throw a launch party
I love parties.
It is helpful to get the buzz going. Invite influencers in your community. Radio station DJs, community reporters, the Mayor and his or her family, of course, your kid’s teachers. Mine your friends. Do they have some ideas? The more influencers you can get to attend, the better. Provide them with special invitation coupons to come back offering one free player with every four paid. Give brief tours but don’t show any secret rooms or other secrets. Let them know there ARE secrets …..but leave them guessing. Maybe have a puzzle or two in the lobby to help them understand what they’ll experience in the room.
Get your social media going as soon as you can. Our friends at Locksmith Escape Rooms in Sanford, Florida did an amazing job with this on Instagram. Also Escape LBI did a great job of gathering community support before they opened.
Build engagement with fun ideas, provocative photos of your build. Teasers. Then after you are open you can build awareness and attention through Facebook, Instagram & Twitter.
Have fun with it.
We’ve introduced a regular Gamemaster of the Week program. Then we ask trivia questions and engage people for a chance to win a free game.
We have stuffed bears in our lobby (it’s a long story) but our clever staff came up with the idea of featuring the bears in various locations around the city. Not sure just yet where this is going but it seems like it is going to be a lot of fun.
Don’t hesitate to post photos of you or your staff visiting other nearby escape rooms. We are all in this together and it’s always nice when you can share your love of escape rooms to help build overall awareness.
In terms of paid advertising. We have primarily used post boosts and occasional ads on Facebook. From time to time we have purchased local radio. Because it is so difficult to measure effectiveness it is sometimes a difficult investment to make, but with a background in advertising I have to say that even though you know McDonald’s is there and you know exactly what they have when you go – you’d be surprised how that billboard or tv ad puts the idea in your head that you must have a Big Mac TODAY! McDonald’s continues to advertise for a reason. It works! But when you are just getting started you may want to hold off on those big investments.
We are very involved in our community and sponsor many different events and sports teams. We like the idea that we can benefit by getting our name out there and we are also supporting and giving back.
This can get away on you, however, so do try to ensure you are getting some value out of the support. That’s what makes it work best – when both sides are winning.
Our staff are walking billboards for our company. We ensure that we provide them with branded clothing that they WANT to wear in public.
I hope somewhere in the above information you find inspiration or a tidbit of an idea to help you ensure you launch your new escape room business with a bang. Or if you have already been open for awhile, perhaps an opportunity you can leverage.
We love this business and are somewhat evangelical about spreading the good word about how awesome an escape room experience can be. It’s only fair that as many people as possible are exposed to this uniquely amazing entertainment option.
All the best!
Laura and her family launched Enigma Escapes in Winnipeg with two rooms in early 2015 after first playing in Europe. Enigma Escapes now has three locations, 11 operating escape rooms and 45 employees.
In 2016, Laura and her team began selling escape rooms across North America through an associated company Gamemasters Escapes. They recently completed a sale to Saudi Arabia.
For over 25 years Laura has owned and operated a full service advertising agency which provides both the creative and marketing experience to develop 5 star rated rooms and to market successful escape room businesses.