I understand there is a big difference between simply loving puzzles, and opening your own business. I hope this article helps you decide if you want to dive into the escape room industry.
Start by Asking the Experts…Existing Escape Room Owners!
Take advantage of the world wide web and do some research about escape rooms. Start by reading blogs, reviews, social media sites, etc. and find some people who are doing a good job growing their escape room businesses. Consider resources such as Escape Room Tips, Esc Room Addict, The Logic Escapes Me, Escape Room Reddit, Escape Room Directory, and Escape Room Startups.
Next, try reaching out for some advice. The escape room industry is full of creative people who may be willing to help you if you send them an email or call.
In addition, you may want to take the time to meet existing escape room owners at trade shows such as the Transworld Room Escape Conference and Tour. It (and events like it) have vendors, exhibits, on-site demos, and educational seminars presented by industry leaders.
As in any other industry, you need a thorough, organized BUSINESS PLAN. A business plan is an important document to show potential investors, and it is useful for keeping you on track.
Business plans typically include an executive summary, business concept, industry overview, growth strategy, management plan, analysis of competitors, potential risk factors, financial projections, and investor return strategy. You can find generic business plan templates online from companies like Bplans.com, Entrepreneur.com, SCORE, Prince’s Trust, Small Business Pro, and Office Depot. Black Box Business Plans has some templates specifically tailored to escape rooms.
In the escape room industry you also need a ROOM PLAN. A room plan focuses on the design of your room, because you want to make sure it looks good and is functional. Room plans involve choosing room themes/designs, storyline scripts, breakdown of puzzles, number of players, and prop locations.
If you are concerned about designing your own escape room from scratch, your plan may involve options such as opening a franchise through an existing company, buying ready-made escape room kits/puzzles, and hiring escape room designers. Consider companies like Buy Escape Games, Escape Game Design, Creative Escape Rooms, Puzzle Werks, Escape Room Supplier, and Escape Room Shop.
Manage the Money!
First and foremost, make a detailed budget, and continue to diligently manage it so you do not run out of money. You can start with an online template for small businesses from sites like Vertex42, Smartsheet, Fundbox, The Balance, and Small Business Can and tweak it to suit your business. If math is not your strong suit, you should consider hiring a bookkeeper and/or accountant.
Another consideration is whether or not you want to raise money. If you do not have all of the required funds yourself you will need to consider taking on investors, getting financing/loans, and/or partnering with others. If this is the case, make sure everyone is clear on percentage of ownership, share of profits, etc. and the financial arrangement is clearly documented.
Build the Room!
As with any real estate venture, it is all about location, location, location. Make sure to choose a convenient property that you can afford to buy/rent. You need to consider the neighborhood, size, proximity to public transport, parking, etc. and find the perfect place to attract escape room players.
Once you have the property, build the escape room itself. While you may be able to build props and puzzles yourself, you will still need to hire proper builders, plumbers, electricians, or other contractors as needed. You may also want to have an engineer/Mr. Fix It who understands the mechanics of your escape room and can make repairs as needed.
Obtain Insurance and Legal Advice!
You will likely want insurance to cover anything that happens to your property (earthquakes, floods, fires, theft, etc.). I recommend researching or talking to an insurance agent about the differences between buildings insurance, renters insurance, contents insurance, and others.
You will also want to consult with a licensed attorney about your potential liabilities as an escape room owner. You may want a legal waiver drafted for players to sign in order to limit your liability if a player gets injured during the game. Your local area may have specific laws about locking people in a room without an alternative exit. You may want to learn about local employment laws if you plan to hire staff to run your escape room. These, and other issues can be handled simply by getting some legal advice.
Launch a Website and Promote Your Escape Room!
The vast majority of players book online, so you must ensure that you have a stylish, user-friendly website with all the necessary features for escape rooms. Unless you are extremely tech-savvy you will want to hire a web designer to make sure your website is attractive, easy to navigate, responsive to re-sizing, and includes search engine optimization (SEO). Escape rooms also need booking systems (such as Bookeo, Booking Bug, Bookify), and payment processors (such as Stripe, Paypal).
If you want an easy option for all of the above (and want to avoid paying monthly fees to numerous separate service providers) you should consider using EscapeAssist. We have developed platform that includes a modern user-friendly website, fully integrated booking system, legal waiver management, pre-written FAQ’s, web analytics, and other customizable features tailored specifically for escape rooms.
To attract players you will also need to do a lot of marketing. You should interact with multiple forms of social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) to get people excited about your escape room.