FECs Embrace the Fear
Halloween’s astonishing growth and transformation in recent years from a one-day happening into a two-month event has opened the door to a world of new business opportunities. In the United States alone, expenditures on Halloween have skyrocketed from $3.3 billion in 2005 to $10.6 billion in 2022. Big theme parks like Knott’s Berry Farm, Europa-Park, and the Universal Studios parks have capitalized on this growth with enormously popular annual Halloween events.
But what can smaller family entertainment centers (FECs) do without the resources of a giant park? Funworld spoke with three FECs that have cleverly made their investments in Halloween pay off, including two who have turned the hype surrounding the holiday into successful year-round attractions.
Funopolis, Commerce, Georgia
While looking for a way to enhance its sales in the fall as the weather got colder, in 2011, a guest recommended that Funopolis open a haunted house and offered to help organize it. Funopolis liked that idea and began by transforming its laser tag into Haunted Laser Tag and turning the arena into nine scenes named Alien Haunt.
Then, Funopolis saw that a local had built a trailer haunt nearby. Rather than compete with the entrepreneur, the FEC asked if he’d like to move his trailer to Funopolis’ property and combine it with their haunts to create something bigger. “This was the beginning of our branded Fearopolis,” says Brent Greenwood, who owns Funopolis with his wife Mary. “We started with a haunted house and laser tag and over the years have evolved other attractions, including a corn maze, where we discovered we’re not farmers!”
Fearopolis runs from Sept. 30 to Oct. 31, and Greenwood says it’s also become a great benefit for employees: “It gives our employees the opportunity to perform a different type of work—scaring people! We keep payment to our seasonal actors different than that of Funopolis [employees]. The key challenge with actors is getting them to consistently show up. So, we take 20% of our haunt revenue and put it into a pool to pay the actors. The more nights they work, the higher percentage of the actor pool they get.”
All this has paid off for Funopolis. Prior to Fearopolis, Greenwood says October was their seventh to eighth best-grossing month of the year, whereas now it’s third to fourth: “The primary reason for the revenue increase is when guests come for the haunt, they purchase not only those tickets, but afterwards come into Funopolis for additional fun. The cross-selling is the key.”
Scary Strokes, Waldorf, Maryland
With Halloween’s popularity growing exponentially, Scary Strokes owners Doug and Laneta Roth reasoned that year-round haunt theming would appeal to guests and maximize their Halloween investment. “We opened on October 19th, 2017, and are currently in our sixth year of operations. Once we decided to do a ‘dark’ blacklight indoor mini golf facility, ‘scary and spooky’ theming just made sense.”
With just 11,000 square feet, this FEC needed something distinctive, and the Roths saw the year-round popularity of scary intellectual properties (IPs) as the answer: “We understood early on that having a haunted or spooky theme doesn't have to be attached only to Halloween. A lot of our guests love that we're ‘spooky’ year-round. Imagine if you could watch ‘The Walking Dead,’ or ‘Stranger Things’ only at Halloween. Such shows and movies are rapidly in popularity year-round, and we’re able to ride the wave of all of them.”
The haunt theming doesn’t stop at the golf course. There’s also haunt-theme-driven arcade games and scary theming in The Graveyard Grill concession area, with foods like Haunt Dogs and Mummy Tenders. Having such theming in place year-round also affords Scary Strokes more time and money, as the team doesn't have to decorate for the Halloween season each year.
Ghostly Manor Thrill Center, Sandusky, Ohio
Sandusky, Ohio’s Ghostly Manor combines the Halloween haunted house of Funopolis and the year-round haunt name and theming of Scary Strokes and keeps its haunted house open all year long. The FEC is in what looks like a creepy haunted mansion and offers an escape room, virtual reality (VR) gaming, laser maze, roller skating, and an XD 4D theater. But Ghostly Manor Haunted House appears to be the star of the show.
“It’s a walk-through haunted house attraction,” says Bill and Jayme Criscione, who own the FEC. “The theme is an old manor setting with about 20 rooms and covers 6,000 square feet. Skully, our animatronic talking skeleton, provides a thorough but frightening introduction before the group enters the haunted house.”
Previously, they’d added four additional haunted houses during October and up to 125 seasonal actors. For a year-round haunted house, they have one suggestion: “It’s important to find staff that can operate multiple attractions for your business.”