Spooky Good ROI: How To Explore New Verticals

Lexi Tucker
Posted on October 11, 2017

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — When promoting holiday business, most chauffeured transportation companies might not immediately think of Halloween as a cash cow.

Ken Carter, co-owner of Aadvanced Limousines, saw an opportunity to change this. His haunted house, called House of Trepidation, provides an excellent way to create package deals that make use of his fleet on weekdays while creating buzz for both businesses.

Once Upon A Midnight Dreary…

Carter first started his career in the haunted house business at age 14. The feeling that came with scaring a group of girls so bad they fell on the floor was too good to give up, so he worked at that particular attraction for the next five years. Eventually, some friends invited him to work for a different one, where he stayed for another 10 years.

“On the backend it’s just plywood, spray paint, and costumes, but from the visitors perspective it’s incredibly scary. I learned a significant amount of operations while working for these two companies, including how to build and repair sets,” he explains.

He stepped away from haunting when he met his wife, and worked hard to build Aadvanced Limousines into the company it is today. When he finally got to a position where he had a bit of free time, he decided it was time to start his own house of scares.

Ken Carter, co-owner of Aadvanced Limousines and House of Trepidation

Ken Carter, co-owner of Aadvanced Limousines and House of Trepidation

“If you’re a serial entrepreneur, you’re always looking at different avenues for revenue. I got together with one of the creative minds from the haunt I used to work at, and we teamed up to create the House of Trepidation.”

Connections To Die For

Carter quickly remembered what it takes to get a new venture off the ground in terms of exposure, however. “This business model only gives you a very short window of time to earn revenue,” he explains. He started marketing by partnering with pizza delivery shops and other business where he requested they distribute promotional materials.

As crowds started to build, they would wait in line for hours to get into the attraction. Carter saw this as an opportunity and offered advertising via digital signs within eyesight of guests. They also print sponsor logos on t-shirts, and share links on social media.

“We do a significant amount of wine tours, so I started thinking ‘what if we partnered with multiple haunted houses and did a tour like that?’” Carter says. He asked for a small discount on price and ensured clients could get right into the VIP line at the various mazes to minimize driver wait time. This package idea took off because the other haunted houses wanted additional exposure.

Carter started to bundle passes and discovered it was the right fit for a variety of different clients, such as mothers putting together their teenager’s birthday party. For $389, six people can get to two haunted houses in a limo for three hours. They operate this package on weekdays to leverage underused fleets, with Thursday and Friday nights being the most popular. “This is probably an avenue a lot of businesses don’t really think of. The opportunity is in a lot of markets, and it’s easy to catch on to who’s putting on a good haunt,” he says.

Pricing For Poltergeists

Ticketing rates are based on the design of the haunt times the amount per person. With three attractions all at the same location, Carter charges $25 a head. “We aren’t the most expensive or the cheapest; we didn’t want to scare people away, but we needed to be able to sustain the quality of show,” he says.

He works with event planners to get tourist groups to come by for a visit by providing them with a promo code, which in turn opens up transportation opportunities as well. Social media helps spread the word, but haunted houses don’t operate on the same kind of reviewing system as do luxury transportation businesses.

“There are industry specific sites for haunts, such as thescarefactor.com, where a team of reviewers go around the country and scores them based on wardrobe, timing, how fast actors can reset, scenery, and overall level of scariness.”

Also kept in mind are the scare actors they must pay just like employees. They provide them with a few bonus programs, such as rewarding them for perfect attendance or giving them extra pay for any coupons returned with their name on it. Carter has also adapted the concept of “Wow Bucks,” born at Aadvanced, which are coupons they are given for a job well done.

The haunted house’s zone managers keep an eye out for a particularly good scare, and then reward actors. This is the first year wow bucks will go into a drawing to win a car.

“We feel this will help lower turnover, increase dedication, and essentially help our staff. Our ideal actor is high school or college age and often just beginning to put their life together. Winning a new car certainly wouldn’t hurt.”

Juggling Chainsaws (And Businesses)

Running a haunted house and limo company requires the ability to balance responsibilities, but Carter says success comes from an amazing staff. Many of his employees at AAdvanced are dedicated to building a career, which gives him peace of mind to not have to be so involved every day. Running both operations calls for long days, but he’s thankful for an understanding wife and kids who love to help scare people.

He hopes to inspire entrepreneurs looking to build on underused opportunities. “The haunted house is not the only missed opportunity for creating package deals. Wineries, microbreweries, and escape rooms are all verticals that are very similar, but haunted houses will deliver better ROI because of short time they are available,” he explains.

“If people are already going somewhere, you just have to find a cost effective way to be able to pair your service in such a way that you remain profitable, and then market it in a manner where it will connect with the desired audience,” he says. “It’s a great way to grow without having to buy new equipment, tech, or create a new client base. A lot of the time, you can go back through existing contacts and harvest a good portion of customers already interested that just didn’t connect chauffeured service to it.”

Freaky Facts

  • The House of Trepidation team includes seven people of all ages; Carter’s wife oversees makeup and wardrobe.
  • Just as there are trade shows for operators, the haunted house industry hosts similar conventions. Carter attends about four a year, where tech, insurance, and costumes are displayed.

Related Topics: eNews Exclusive, family businesses, Indiana operators, Sales & Marketing, seasonal marketing

Lexi Tucker Senior Editor
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