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So, you’ve completed x number of escape rooms and thought, ‘Hey, this seems simple and fun. I’m going to create some puzzles and open up my own escape-the-room business, which will generate a ton of money in no time.’ Sounds easy enough, right?
One of the hard truths about the escape room industry is that it’s so unpredictable. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing (depending on how you look at it), but if you’re new to the business side of the industry and not accustomed to thinking on your feet, then this could prove to be more of an uphill battle, especially in the beginning.
In my experience working at Brainy Actz, I’ve come to realize that this unpredictability can sometimes be a blessing in disguise. Don’t get me wrong though – we’ve definitely experienced our fair share of trials and tribulations since we first opened our doors in late 2015. What I’m saying is that an escape room business is so unique and non-traditional compared to many other businesses, and that alone makes all the difference when running this interactive storytelling platform.
Contrary to its nature, these immersive adventures are not all fun and games. A lot of work goes into the creative process and constant maintenance of an escape room that most people don’t realize. There are many (and I mean many) trials that come with running an escape-the-room type of business, but here are three of the greatest challenges:
As with any story, coming up with an idea can take as little as one second or as long as a couple of weeks/months. The creative process can be grueling and feel tedious at times, but you have to remember that this business is all about immersing people in a fun, memorable, interactive adventure. Don’t worry about creating a full-detailed story (you’re not writing a novel). The whole point is to craft story beats in a way that’s open to interpretation. This gives participants the freedom to think creatively when using information to solve a particular puzzle.
Regardless if you choose the safe route and opt for a common theme (murder, mad scientist, etc.) or decide to branch out and try something entirely different (barbershop), you need to find a way to bring out your theme’s compelling nature. Ask yourself, “What sets my _______ escape room apart from other _______-type escape rooms? How can I engage my customers so that they enjoy their experience with us?” Answering these simple questions will not only captivate your customers, but propel them into trying another immersive adventure with you (should you provide it, of course). At Brainy Actz, we’ve drafted over 20 themes/storylines for our rooms because we felt we needed to have other scenarios from the get-go, just in case we wanted to build new escape room experiences or replace older themes.
2. Designing the Escape Room Within Budget and Performing Regular Maintenance
Let’s face it: puzzles/props are going to break (through wear-and-tear or by accident). If you’re lucky, these will be items that are of low-cost or easily replaceable. If not, then you’d better have a back-up plan (or multiple back-up plans) or else you’re sunk.
Once you’ve decided on a theme/story, the creative process becomes much more difficult in dealing with the actual room design, especially if you don’t have any previous experience building an escape room AND now that money is involved. Note: I’m mainly speaking about the design itself (decor and puzzles), not location or space, which is something to consider all in itself.
Remember, you’ll want to engage participants beyond the premise of your story, whether through various artifacts, interactive games, or visual/audio messages. The cost of these items can be fairly cheap or expensive, depending on your budget and how you aim to utilize them during the actual escape room experience. Implementing some form of technology within a puzzle (or puzzles) can also be a costly investment, but one that you might want to consider since the industry is evolving at such a fast pace. We pretty much had zero experience when we constructed our very first escape room and had to learn early on how to build the best immersive adventure we could using the budget we had.
Performing regular maintenance shouldn’t be taken lightly either. Unless you’re an experienced designer/engineer, the escape room will most likely undergo several changes during its run. The most important thing to keep in mind is that the quality of the experience does not diminish. Again, things happen and maintenance may take more time than expected, but planning is key and having a few contingency plans (just in case) will save you in more ways than you could probably imagine.
3. Handling Customer Disputes
Everyone knows that customer satisfaction goes a long way into building any successful business. More often than not, especially in the escape room industry, people are going to agree to disagree and its your responsibility to mediate any and all customer complaints. You’ve undoubtedly heard the phrase “the customer is always right.” We know this isn’t always the case, but sometimes, you must swallow the frustration pill and look at the bigger picture. You can always improve your business and any customer feedback (no matter how ludicrous it may be) might spark an idea for either handling future disputes or preventing the issue from happening entirely.
All businesses deal with criticism. Some more often than others. Some reasonable and some not so reasonable. Whatever the case might be, it’s important to be positive and courteous, yet firm, no matter how many years of customer service experience you have. Positive attitude and common courtesy may prove to be all the difference when a family decides to book your escape room for their daughter’s birthday party instead of going to Dave & Busters. You’ll also want to be firm so that customers will take you seriously and not walk over you. It’s all about mutual R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Even if the customer doesn’t enjoy the actual escape room itself, your personality and demeanor can still elevate their experience and possibly avert a future awkward complaint.