How haunted houses became a monster industry
In their seasonal 30- to 45-day runs, some of these spooky attractions are expected to generate more than $1 billion in revenue.
Thu, Oct 10, 2013 at 03:25 PM
Inside The Darkness, a haunted house owned by HauntWorld.com founder Larry Kirchner. (Photo: Larry Kirchner)
Haunted house attractions have been a mainstay of the Halloween season for decades. Every October, countless theme parks, farms and fairgrounds across the country construct elaborate displays of all things spooky to draw in scare-seekers, each bigger and better than the year before. Before the Internet, haunted house operators rarely connected with others in the industry beyond their home state. In the late 1990s, haunted house owner Larry Kirchner combined these disparate industry members into an online community called HauntWorld. Today, that community is the world's largest database for Halloween resources and activities.
HauntWorld is a website and magazine featuring a directory and forum for Halloween-related attractions. Operators can find inspiration and vendors for haunted house materials, while visitors can search for local houses, ghost tours, hayrides and other "haunted" activities. While the forum started out as a small message board, it has continued to grow each year and now includes a "Haunt Directory" of more than 110,000 vendors.
"The original objective was nothing more than giving the industry a place to communicate so we could learn what they were doing in other cities — to share experiences and secrets of scaring people to get more customers," Kirchner told BusinessNewsDaily. "I never really expected that the haunted house industry would get as big as it did."
A common misconception about the industry is that October is the busiest month for people who run Halloween attractions. Kirchner said that although the majority of haunted houses operate seasonally, owners work for months in advance to construct and prepare them for the Halloween rush.
"The hiring, building, planning and advertising all happens in the summer," he said. "There are also industry trade shows, some of which were started on HauntWorld's forum. For about 50 percent of owners, this is their full-time job."
As the leading industry resource, HauntWorld publishes annual lists of the top professional haunted houses in the country based on the attractions' innovative themes, quality of special effects and actors, level of detail, and overall "fear factor." The increasingly realistic, sophisticated effects of the top 10, 13 and 31 houses on HauntWorld's lists put a high price tag on construction: These attractions cost an estimated $1 million to build. However, in their 30- to 45-day runs, the houses are expected to generate more than $1 billion in revenue.
Kirchner predicts a few haunted house trends this Halloween season, noting that among the top industry players, old is new again.
"We're seeing a lot of old-fashioned creepy themes making a comeback, with a resurgence in scary clowns, old schoolhouses and haunted motels," Kirchner said.
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