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Escape room business plan: How to open your own escape room

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Need help coming up with an escape room business plan? Find out how to get started and how to open your own escape room with a bang! Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years, you’ve probably heard about (or been to) an escape room. In the last 5 years, escape rooms have gone from having 14 locations in the United States to over 2,000.

The fun, critical thinking, puzzle-solving concept behind escape rooms originated in Japan and has since become an increasingly popular activity for all age groups in North America. Many people who attend an escape room leave thinking what a cool job it would be to open one. If that sounds like you and you’re serious about it, you’ll need help coming up with an escape room business plan. Keep reading to find out how to get started on opening your own escape room.

Caution: No diving

While opening your own escape room might seem like the best idea you’ve ever had, resist the urge to dive in headfirst. Like any other business startup, opening an escape room is not an easy endeavor. There are a lot of moving parts (literally), and a lot to think about before you start installing laser beams and trap doors. Take your time to suss out a business strategy. Not sure where to start? That’s where we come in.

Test the waters

If you want to be an event planner, start by planning an event. If you want to be a writer, start by writing.

The same goes for running an escape room. You might think it’s something you’d enjoy doing, but it’s best to do a test run first to make sure it’s actually something you want to take on.

Try hosting your friends and family for a small-scale DIY escape room party. This will give you a feel for what goes into designing the room. Consider it a focus group. Feel free to ask your participants what they liked about it, what they’d improve, and if they’d pay for an enhanced experience.

Get reading

If you’ve successfully hosted an escape room party and loved every minute of it, the next step is to do some initial research into the industry. Is there a market for a new escape room in your area? Have other companies had success? Visit local escape rooms and see what the competition is doing, and what you can improve upon. Read up on the industry and soak up all the information you can. Look at success stories across the country. What worked for them? In contrast, check out case studies of companies who’ve failed. What did they do wrong?

Your escape room business plan

Once you feel confident that you know enough about the industry to contribute a strong product to the market, you need to hunker down and focus on writing a clear, concise business plan. Every single company, regardless of its nature, requires a business plan to get started. Not only will it help you find funding, but it will also give you and your team a clear picture of how to get started. Check out this slideshow of The Asylum Escape’s business plan. It’s a great template to help you get started.

If you have no experience writing a business plan, don’t fret. Just get your team together and go through the sections one by one. Consider asking a business-savvy friend to help you out, or consider hiring a business development consultant. Lucky for you, there are loads of non-profit organizations out there who love helping new entrepreneurs.

Decide on the logistics

There are a few ways to structure an escape room company. You could look into buying into a franchise of an already established brand. In some ways, this is the easiest route to take, as all of the development and design work has been done for you. However, if you buy into a franchise, your freedom as a business owner is limited. You have to adhere to the pre-established rules and regulations by the parent company, and the brand will never be yours alone.

Other options are outsourcing or doing it all yourself. Arguably, the best option is a mix between the two. Do what you can realistically do yourself, and outsource the rest. If the design aspect is what you’re most passionate about – feel free to design it yourself. If managing a team and promoting a brand is your bread and butter, take on HR and marketing yourself and outsource design. There are loads of companies popping up all over the place that provide escape room design services.

Run the numbers

Every business costs money to open, operate and maintain. Establish your budget and determine whether or not you’ll need outside financing. Most startups do. A common rule of thumb of financing is to ask your friends and family for help before you go to the bank or start the search for investors. If you can get a low (or no) interest loan from your parents to get going, that’s preferable to signing your soul over to the banks.

Location, Location, Location

Lights, camera, action! Many of the things to consider when starting an escape room are similar to shooting a movie. First of all, location is key. But one advantage of an escape room is you don’t need a storefront window. Be open to finding unconventional locations that are a bit off the beaten path.

You don’t want to stray too far from where the people are, but many successful escape rooms have done well with locations that are a bit hidden from the boardwalk. As long as you have proper signage, signing a lease for a weird, quirky little warehouse with an alley-way entrance could be just the thing you need.

Don’t skimp out on theme

The thing people enjoy most about escape rooms is the thematic atmosphere they create. The theme is what attracts first-time customers. The puzzles and interactions are what make people come back. Make sure to put a lot of careful thought into your theme and puzzles. If you’re taking on the design yourself, make sure you do it right. If you aren’t confident you can beat the competition, hire a design team to do the heavy lifting for you.

Countdown to launch

Now that you know some of the basics, get started on writing your escape room business plan! And don’t forget about marketing. With over 2,000 escape rooms in the country, you’ll have to offer something different to stand out. Consider hosting a launch party and having your staff don branded clothing.

Offer referral programs and social media contests. One great idea is to offer a checkpoint promotion that allows players to come back for a second chance at solving the puzzle if they pass a certain point. The opportunities in the fast-growing escape room industry are endless. Most importantly: have fun with it! If you’ve opened a successful escape room, leave a comment below with your advice to budding escapists.

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