None of the links in this article are affiliate links. These are just my thoughts / experiences in visiting Transworld.
There are a lot of trade shows out there for the haunt industry but we always made Transworld’s Halloween & Attraction Show in St Louis in March as our choice to visit. This was partially because of it’s size but more so because of it’s proximity to us. St Louis, MO is only about a 3-4 hour drive from where our we live and this saved us from having to deal with airlines, rental cars, etc. We were able to drive and save some money there.
To help save money, we never stayed near the trade-show. Those rooms book fast and are usually pretty expensive. We would drive in and pay the $20/day to park our vehicle in the garage next to the convention center, piling as many people in a single car that we could!
We typically drove in Friday night after work and visited the trade-show on Saturday and Sunday! We used Saturday to try to circumnavigate the entire show floor. We would get literature, take pictures of booths / items and each make notes of what we may be interested in. At dinner or the hotel later, we would sit down and go through everything we had and make the decisions on what we wanted to purchase. Our budget was never high so we always had to really ensure the decisions that we made would give us the most bang for our buck! We used Sunday on the trade-show floor to go back around, get any questions we had answered and ultimately make our purchases!
We usually picked our hotel by price while not getting completely disgusting or unsafe. Here are three that I remember and a bit of my thoughts:
Renaissance St. Louis Airport Hotel – Link – This hotel was super fancy. We almost felt a bit out of place, typically staying in cheap hotels but we got a good deal a couple years. It is near the airport so a bit of a drive to the convention center but for the right price, it was worth it. The worst part though when we stayed was that they charged for parking so that is why we stopped going here.
OYO Hotel St. Louis Downtown City Center MO – Link – We stayed here on one of our last trips before the pandemic. It was nice, affordable, a bit aged but overall, a really good hotel. The nice thing about it is that it was just off I-64 and close to the convention center (still too far to walk). It is also just a few blocks from a place called Chris’ @ The Docket and it is my personal recommendation to check this place out for breakfast! The food was amazing.
Days Inn by Wyndham St. Louis Lindbergh Boulevard – Permanently Closed – This hotel being gone is a huge shame. It was a nice hotel with a cool game room, free buffet breakfast, and even triple rooms that had 1 queen bed and 2 doubles. You could fit 6 people in for one cheap price! This was a favorite place of ours and well, it’s gone… But if you are on a budget and can find a hotel with 3 beds per room, that is a great way to save money!
A favorite place of ours to eat while in St Louis was always CiCi’s Pizza. In the pre-pandemic world, that had 2 or 3 locations, it appears there is now only 1 but on the plus side, you can get yourself all you can eat pizza, pasta, salad and desert for only $6.99. A bit more for a soft drink but always a great way to refresh and fill up after a long day of walking the trade-show floor! Also, they have items that can appear to most everyone so if you have a big group, you can avoid some conflict.
Another thing that we always did while in St Louis was visit the Goodwill Outlet Center. If you have never been to one of these, imagine a Goodwill store with everything thrown into blue bins and pushed out for you to dig through. Nothing has a price on it but rather, you buy the items by the pound. It can be a madhouse when they first push new bins out but it is also one heck of an adrenaline rush! We would find clothing for costumes, misc. stuff for props, lighting, about anything you could imagine. We would spend an hour or two just digging through bins and finding cool things to dress our haunt up with!
Lastly, what to do after the show? We never attended any of the parties or get togethers, just not our style. We preferred to be on our own. On Saturday night, we typically visited The City Museum. If you have never heard of or checked out The City Museum, you are missing out. I know, you are thinking “a museum, that sounds boring”. It’s kind of a museum, kind of an art exhibit and completely a massive playground for both kids and adults! This place never has disappointed. We went several years and always discovered new things, had great experiences and more. Check it out at least once if you have not!
Finally, to wrap up, another thing you can always do is an escape room but you do need to plan these well in advance. One that we visited was Code Rulers. They have changed locations and rooms since we visited but I do remember that there room was very well put together and the owner was super friendly! I just wanted to give them a quick shout out!
Ultimately, if you are looking for a tradeshow to attend, I recommend Transworld in St Louis and have some amazing memories! Remember, be respectful to the vendors, their time and their ability to get paying customers to their booths. They are there to conduct business ultimately. Most of all though, have a great time at any trade show that you visit!
Please Note: This article includes links to items that have been created through our affiliate accounts with different suppliers and we may receive a small commission for purchases made through those links.
LED light strips can be a powerful tool for every haunter! You can do all sorts of things with them from single room lighting, multi-room lighting and even atmosphere or attention building for your outside or entrance areas! I am going to touch on a few things that that can help you when using LED strip lights to reduce some of the headaches of their use. P.S. These lights are great for things beyond a haunt too. They can be used for kitchen under cabinet lighting, accent lighting behind your TV, bar lighting, waterproof sets can be used as under-glow lighting on cars (or hearses) and so on!
When shopping for LED light strips, there are primarily two options for you to choose from. This is single color (2 wire) or RBG – Red Green Blue (4 wire). The RGB lights are the ones that you see with controllers that can do multiple colors. The single color options are great and much more simple if you do not need changing colors. If you are lighting a particular room / area and just need a set color then this is your best method.
As you can tell, two and four wire options (single color vs. RGB) are pretty easy to tell apart. Both on the end wiring as well as the cut points in the strips.
Pro-Tip: RGB stands for Red-Green-Blue, these three colors are mixed at various light levels to great the visual effect of multiple different colors.
One really cool thing about most of the LED strip lights is that they can be cut to length. Most commonly when you buy these strips, they come in 5 Meter length, approximately 15 feet.
As in the picture above, you can see the little copper connectors and a line down the middle. You can easily just take a pair of scissors and cut across this line to shorten your strip to your desired length.
On your first cut piece, you typically have the factory installed connection (will discuss this more below) but after that, you may be wondering what to do with the remainder of the strip? Do you throw it away or is there a way to use it?
You can solder new wires on to the connectors if you have the wire (can get specific wire for 2 and 4 wire strips on eBay or Amazon). To make any connection, in my experience, it is best to take a knife and ensure the connector spot on the strip is clean. This is especially important on the waterproof strips as they may have plastic residue on them.
A better option though is premade connectors that are made to connect to your strips. They have many options for these. They come in both 2 and 4 wire varieties, ones with bare wires coming out the ends, ones with the 5.5×2.1MM barrel connectors, ones with the 4 pin connector used for RGB, ones to connect 2 strips together including both straight and right angle, T connections and so on!
One great place to experiment with connectors is by grabbing a multi-pack on Amazon. This is a great way to get some stock on hand and experiment. Experimenting is an amazing way to really start to learn different things and to figure out what all you can do!
Now that you have an understanding of the two types of LED strip lights and some connection methods, lets get into some specifics of each kind and some of the stuff that you can do with them.
Let’s start simple with the 2-Wire Single Color LED strips. These come in a variety of colors, Whites (Warm & Cool), Red, Green, Blue, UV (Blacklight) and so on!
My most common used colors were either Warm White or UV. I am a HUGE fan of the UV black-light LED strips. We used these in our Spinning Tunnel (similar to a Vortex tunnel), our black light area and more! They were great for our black light area because instead of needing individual fluorescent bulbs in each room, we were able to run the strips across the ceiling, over the room walls, lighting up multiple rooms with a single 5M light strip!
The single color light strips are super easy to work with because there is no controller needed. You can simply hook them to the needed power, most come native as 12 Volts.
If you get a strip with a 5.5×2.1MM female plug on it, you can use one of our 12V 3A Power Adapters. If you have one with just bare wires coming from it, you can get an adapter to hook a standard power supply up.
With these lights, you can add a simple inline controller to act as a dimmer, a power switch and even add some effects like fading in and out. We stock a very simple controller made to go inline between the power adapter and light strip. This is a great way to get some effects with the single color light strips.
There is also a really good turn knob dimmer that goes in line. I do not have this in stock yet but have used it and really like it. You can grab it on Amazon.
Now for the RGB lights, there is the need for a controller to get the desired colors. You could, in theory, hook one of the single color connectors and ground to 12V and get that color but why then buy RGB lights?
A lot of the lights come with controllers when you buy them. There are multiple types of connectors that have different features and options. Most operate with a remote but some advanced ones have wifi / app connectivity. Most standard ones are IR (infrared) which means that they need a direct line of site from the remote to the controller. There are options available for the RF (radio-frequency) also and these are great for when you will be concealing the controller inside of a box. We used RGB led strips on our highway sign to catch attention and had an RF controller as it had to be at the top of the sign inside a watertight box.
The Basic RGB Controller
This is really the most basic controller that I am familiar with. It is made to hook to a single light strip and choose from a few color variations as well as brightness and some simple effects.
Many of these controllers that I have used do not have a memory function. This is frustrating because every time the controller loses power, you have to put it back to the setting you want it on. This can be frustrating in a haunt when you have to go through at the beginning of the night and reset everything or if you have a power flicker during session and you have to reset while trying to do everything else.
Basic W/ More Functions
This controller is a bit more advanced with some more features / functions, color mixes and such but most of these also do not have a memory function.
Again the downfall to this is that if they lose power, it likely will not return to where it was.
These are also IR which again means it needs direct line of sight for the remote to function. I installed one of these on a hearse as under glow lighting and hid the connector under the dash and then just made a small hole for the IR eye to slip through so that I could point the remote at it to make changes!
Using RF (Radio Frequency) When IR Won’t Work
While most of our controllers were IR because of the cost and ease of use, we did have 1 RF controller that we used for many years. It was similar to the one listed here.
In front of our haunt, we have a permanent sign with that was supported by 2 6×6 posts about 16′ tall. We took RGB Led Strips and ran down the faces of each post. We had these lights on a fade between colors to attract attention to our haunt. Since everything was wired at the top, we wanted something that we could enclose in a waterproof box but still be able to control. This is where our RF controller came in. It also had a memory function so every time we powered it off and back on, it came back to our last settings.
Since we installed ours, there seems to be some updated styles of RF controllers that you can choose from. While I have not used these, I have never ran into a controller that did not work for me. Please ensure though that your connection types match up when choosing a controller and strips!
Bluetooth & Wi-Fi Controllers
While I have never used any Bluetooth or Wi-fi type controllers, there are lots of them out there that might be of interest to you! I seen Bluetooth and wifi ones that you can control from an app on your phone. There are ones that can be synced with music and all sorts of different applications.
Go to Amazon and Search RGB LED Strip Controllers and scroll through the results. You likely will be as surprised as I was with all of the unique options available; most at affordable prices!
In the end, there is no right or wrong way to utilize LED Strips. Regardless if you need accent lighting, backlighting, safety lighting on obstacles such as stairs or if you want to use them in your house under your kitchen cabinet, to dress up a bedroom or any number of other things; these are an affordable and powerful lighting tool!
Our haunt had LED strips in various applications, colors (black light led strips were one of my personal favorites and used more than any other), controller types and so on! If you have not started to incorporate these, order a couple cheap sets and start experimenting!
Please Note, While this blog is based on a real testimonial of experience, it does contain affiliate content.
Graphic Design is a great tool for your marketing efforts but can be challenging to find locally or being to afford if you can find it!
That is why I want to recommend a tool that I have used throughout the years. While our initial logo for Frightmares and early designs were done locally by a graphic artist and other designs were down by others sourced locally, there is always a time/place for getting services quick and inexpensive. That is why I created this site in the first place, to help people save money!
One place that I have turned for different services has been a website called Fiverr. This is freelance sourcing website with what seems like endless possibilities for finding freelancers.
This website includes people from all over the world. You often can find much more affordable pricing by hiring outside of the states. In fact, the custom t-shirt designs that we offer through our Merch by Amazon account were created by an artist in Bangladesh.
The website is great because it allows the suppliers to post examples of their products, allows you to read reviews and you can contact a supplier before purchasing to ensure that they can meet your expectations.
When you visit the site, Fiverr.com you will find a pretty simple search that you can begin looking for what you want. Try searching terms like “Graphic Design”, “Logo Design” or “T-shirt Design” to get started. You could also try “Halloween”, “Spooky” or “Scary” and get started that way.
Beyond just graphic designs, it looks like there are options for voice over work, story writing and more. I personally have used the site for some electrical component design, t-shirt design and even the logo design of this website.
If you have a hand drawn logo, you can source someone to create a digital version for you. You can also find someone to take a small image and create a scalable version so that you can use it on things like a banner or billboard.
A lot of services can be picked up for under $100; many under $30. Fiverr has a review process for you to look at your product and either approve or request revisions before payment is sent to the provider. You pay initially but your payment is secure until you have a product that you are happy with and accept delivery!
When you select on a provider that interests you, you can scroll down and see the country they are located in, average response time and their review and the amount of reviews that they have received. It is always good to check out the reviews to ensure you will get what you are looking for in a designer.
Overall, there are a lot of options for graphic designers that are available to you. I am a huge proponent of working locally and supporting your local community where you can but also know from personal experience that money is often a concern and you need to look for the cheapest value. That is why I am recommending that you check out Fiverr for your graphic design needs!
Let me start by clarifying that I am not getting paid for any of the tips/tricks in this post. I also have no professional marketing experience or research to backup what I’ve done. I did though take our haunted house’s Facebook page from start to over 5,700 likes in 11 seasons, based in a town of 5,400 people. We had lots of great responses to our posts and spent very little money to get to those likes. I just want to share a bit of what we did.
When I originally started this post, I planned on doing a lot of my tips & tricks in one post but quickly realized that there is way too much for one post. I am going to break it into a series, just covering one topic per post. I hopefully will get a new one out every couple of weeks.
The absolutely most important thing to remember is to be willing to change and learn. There is a quote often attributed to Albert Einstein (that many historians say that he didn’t say) but anyways it goes “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
I think this is very true with all aspects of your business but especially with Facebook marketing. If what you have done for years has not gotten the results that you want, then you do need to change.
The caveat to that though is that you do need to be consistent. You need to pick a point to start your advertising efforts and make consistent postings leading up to and throughout your season. You cannot make the occasional post and expect to get results.
While I state again that I am not a professional Facebook marketing expert, I have noticed some trends. Think about your own time on Facebook. If you are like a lot of us, you have tons of “friends”, like multiple pages and so on. Now think though when you scroll through your feed, do you find that you see just a few friends and pages over and over? If you look deeper, you probably will find that these are the ones that you interact with. You either like their posts, comments, etc. Also, if you go and look at a friends profile, there seems to be a good chance that you will see their stuff for a while but if you don’t react to things, you will again stop seeing them.
My assumption is that Facebook has within it’s code to try to show you things that it believes that you are interested in. With that in mind, you need to get people to both visit your page and interact with your posts so that they continue to see your stuff. I do remember from a business class talking about marketing and that it typically takes people seeing your name/product/information 3-5 times before they even remember it. All of this information is what I used to develop some of the marketing methods that I have used. Now that you understand the principle that I have built my methods on, hopefully you can take some of this and use it in your own unique style to draw new customers into your business.
FREE – Using Giveaways & Contests
People like free stuff, especially contests! Contests are a great way to get people to interact with your page. I also have some tips that I use when putting together contests on my pages.
First, lets decide on what to give away. If you are running an attraction, you could give away merch, trinkets (small props / etc) or what people actually want, something to save them $$$!
My preferred go to was free tickets. I have done several different ways of giving away tickets. I would sometimes do 1 free ticket with the thought that nobody would come to a haunt by themselves and I would at least sell 1 more ticket. Sometimes a 50% entire purchase coupon. The most successful though was always the “2 Free Tickets”; that rarely disappointed.
I know that some of you are currently screaming “WHY WOULD I GIVE MY TICKETS AWAY FOR FREE?” I am going to make a case for such. How much do you actually have in a pair of tickets? We sold our tickets for $10/each. A pair of tickets had a face value of $20 but we very rarely ever hit a point where we had so many people that we couldn’t sell any more tickets on any particular night. Sending a group through had no cost; if you have paid actors/staff then it could have a very small effect on actual cost.
So lets even assume, it truly costs you $20 to give away a pair of tickets. Now, you have to ask yourself how many will see your post. If it reached 100 people, you paid 20 cents for each view, if it reached 1000 people, 2 cents a view. Now how many of those people that viewed your post but didn’t win the tickets, might decide to come to your attraction? A lot of experts like a conversion rate of 2-5% for ads. So, if your post was seen by 1000 people and 2% decide to come, that is 20 people. If you charge $10/ticket and sell 20, that is $200. If you are lucky, 5-10 of those people may have not even come otherwise so your $20 for a pair of free tickets, may have profited you $30-80 (based on selling 5-10 extra tickets). After a while, your posts likely will be seen by way more than 1000 people and that is when you will really begin to see the results.
Now, for some tips on what I believe to be the proper ways to run a contest.
First, you want people to see your contest. I typically started my post with the words “CONTEST”. My followers learned pretty quickly that there was a contest in that post.
I would also make sure to include my important content that I wanted them to see before I got to the contest part. Remember, the entire point of running a contest on social media is to get more business.
Second, make sure you include a call to action as part of your contest. You can’t simply say you are giving away something, they need to do something to enter. I always required 3 actions, LIKE, SHARE & COMMENT. Here is why:
LIKE: There are two reasons here. First, it seems that Facebook prioritizing showing posts with more reactions so getting those is crucial but there is a more important reason. If you go to your page and click the LIKEs as an admin, it gives you the option to “INVITE” people to like your page. This is a great way to increase your followers and the people likely to see your post. Why would you not want to do that?
SHARE: This should really be self explanatory. You want to reach more people. When someone shares a post, their friends are going to see it, hopefully come to your page and participate as well. You are letting people promote your business for a chance to win a prize.
COMMENT: I am not sure if commenting makes a huge difference in Facebook showing the posts to people but comments are super helpful in picking a contest winner. Due to privacy settings, you likely won’t be able to see all of your shares and likes but you will see comments and typically if someone takes the time to type out a comment, they did all three.
Additionally, when someone comments, you can generally tag them in the comments as a winner. I would usually write my winner announcement like “Congrats to @Joe Smith (tagging them if I can) on winning the pair of free tickets! Please send our page a message to claim your prize.” This will let people know that you picked a winner and notify the winner of winning. Typically from a page you cannot directly message an individual and using your personal profile is difficult as usually your message will go into a “Message Request” folder that they may or may not ever see. If you ask them to message your page, you can then easily get them the information to claim their prize.
Another note for contests, include when the contest ends / when a winner will be announced and stick to it. Some people get really upset if you do not post a winner on time and then start accusing you of running a scam.
Here is an example of what my contest post may look like:
CONTEST BELOW! This coming weekend will be our opening weekend and we expect the screams to be loud! We have spent the last several months building and are finally ready for you! We will be open this Friday & Saturday from 8-11PM and tickets are only $10/person! Remember, opening weekend is typically our least busy so if you want to avoid long wait times, this is your opportunity!
Now for the part you really want, a chance to win some free tickets! We want to give one lucky winner a pair of free tickets good for any weekend this season. To win, you only have to do 3 simple tasks! Like this post, Share this post and Comment the name of the person you would bring if you were to win! We will pick a winner this Friday by noon!
We look forward to making you scream this season and providing you a scary good time!
Let’s break this apart real quick so you have an understanding of why I did each thing: •CONTEST BELOW!– This was simply to notify my followers that they could win something in this post and that they need to read it to find out what. If you are consistent with these types of things, people will learn. It does take some time. I also like using all caps because it separates it from the message following it. • This coming weekend will be our opening weekend and we expect the screams to be loud! We have spent the last several months building and are finally ready for you! We will be open this Friday & Saturday from 8-11PM and tickets are only $10/person! Remember, opening weekend is typically our least busy so if you want to avoid long wait times, this is your opportunity! – This is the information that you want to convey. I always liked to add hours and ticket prices cause these are the most asked questions typically. This could be whatever is relevant that you want to convey. • Now for the part you really want, a chance to win some free tickets! We want to give one lucky winner a pair of free tickets good for any weekend this season. – What, Who & When. What are we giving away, a pair of free tickets. Who are we giving it to, ONE person; this is important, be clear on how many winners you are picking. When can they use it, sometimes I would do a specific night / weekend if I was trying to get people there or sometimes the entire season. Do what works best for you.. • To win, you only have to do 3 simple tasks! – Just the call to action. Let them know that there is stuff that needs to be done to enter to win. • Like this post, – As mentioned above, when someone likes a post, you can look at those likes and individually invite those people to your page. Also, getting reactions seems to prioritize when the post will show up on people’s profiles. I also liked adding “this post” because some people may think they just need to like your page. •Share this post– You want shares so that their friends see the post. Typically people have friends who live in the same geographical area & often with similar interests so these are the potential customers that you want to reach. •Comment the name of the person you would bring if you were to win! – I argue that comments help you pick a winner and if they have to comment, why not make it interesting. If they tag another person, that’s another potential customer. I would always change it up, examples “comment the name of the person most likely to pee their pants”, “comment your favorite horror movie”, “comment your favorite Halloween tradition”, or “comment your favorite Halloween memory”. Humans are emotional creatures and by asking them to comment something funny or memorable can potentially link that “thing” to your haunted house in their mind. (This is from listening to other podcasts, etc. I am not a psychologist and am not qualified to give any type of professional opinion on psychology.) • We will pick a winner this Friday by noon! – When they can expect to see a winner. I typically would run contests for 2-4 days. Too long and they fizzle out, too short and you are missing opportunities to reach people. • We look forward to making you scream this season and providing you a scary good time!– End with something catchy, memorably and relatable. This isn’t required, I just like it.
Lastly here, we need to address how you are going to pick a winner. I typically used a random number generator. If I had 20 comments, I would let it randomly generate a number between 1 and 20, count down, assuming the top commenter was #1 and then that would be my winner. If you say you are going to “randomly” pick a winner, then do it that way. As in my post above, we never said how we would pick the winner. You could look at profiles and pick someone a bit farther from your attraction to try to draw in a customer that would not have come otherwise. You could pick someone who you know has never been. There are endless criteria but I typically tried to keep it as random and fair as possible just because that is the type of person that I am.
There are endless ways to do contests on your page; both with posts and other actions.
When we first started our page, for the first 1000 or so likes, I would run one for inviting friends to like the page. The post would be like “We are almost to 200 likes, when we reach 200 we will randomly pick 10 winners to each win a free ticket. Invite your friends to help us get there and for a chance to win.”
There was a point that this didn’t seem to work as well. Facebook hid the “Invite” option behind the share icon on mobile which I think had something to do with it. It is also very hard to pick winners after a while. A lot of the times, I would just open all of the likes, scroll up and down, close my eyes and just randomly put my finger on someone. Facebook does not show all of your likes though and that is another reason that I moved away from this concept.
Finally, just some other advice on good contests posts.
First, you are a professional, type like it. Use capital letters, proper punctuation, spelling, etc. I have always struggled with spelling & wording so I try to re-read my posts multiple times and still mess things up. I am sure that you have found several errors in this article. We are humans but at least try to be professional with your posts.
Second, avoid links and pictures for the most part in your posts. Typically speaking, these never did as well for me. It seems that Facebook does not like them for some reason.
If you do use a link, I would recommend getting rid of the preview popup thing. When you paste a link into a post, it will popup a preview of the page. There should be a little X on the top-right corner of that. Killing that off does seem to slightly improve the response.
Also, while I typically did not have luck with pictures, there is an exception to every rule. My most successful contest ever was a counting picture contest. I took the idea from one that you see on FB a lot where people need to guess how many of an items are in a container and as you can see in the picture to the left, it worked out great!
As we wrap up some of my tips and tricks on increasing your Facebook page traffic with contests and giveaways, I just want to remind you of two things and then leave you with one final thought.
First, be consistent with your postings. You do not need to post every day but you do need to at least once a week, preferably starting 2-3 months before your haunt opens. Also, with contests, do not expect the first few to go great but by continuing to do them and building an audience that understands what you are doing, you should start to see results.
Second, if you have tried something a few times and are not seeing any growing results, then stop. Take a step back, analyze your page, content, audience, etc & figure out something else to try. What worked for my audience may not work for yours. Keep playing with different ideas until you find one that does work for you.
My final thought on contests is that there is a point that you can overdo them. I found that about 1 a week, starting 2-3 weeks before opening weekend and running through closing weekend worked out best. One time I gave away something like 100 free tickets for opening night. My thought was that by getting a lot of people in that weekend, we would have excellent word of mouth for the remainder of the season and it would pay off. I forgot that opening night is usually the weakest for scares as the actors are trying to get into their rolls, things break, etc. We didn’t actually put on a great show and it did not garner the desired response that I had hoped for.
Good luck with your marketing efforts and please do not hesitate to reach out to my at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or ideas!
The year was 2011 and my best friends, Alex & Cristy as well as myself decided at some point to open a haunted house. They had helped several years in a local haunted house that had closed and I had some business experience. We didn’t know exactly what we were doing but we were going to give it a shot.
I do not remember exactly what sparked us wanting to open a haunt or exactly when but I do remember that it was cold still so likely late winter / early spring. I was still a student at Indiana University majoring in Arts Management so it was actually great timing and I was even able to use it as my internship project.
What we had was the idea that we wanted to be open by that fall, a little bit of knowledge about how to build a haunt and some friends who had built and ran the previous haunt in town. What we did not have was money, a building, walls, props, etc. That wasn’t really a concern on our mind though, we just jumped into it and gave it our best.
We decided that we could scrap metal to raise the money for the haunt and possibly even get some props and supplies in the process. We started off small by walking county roads and picking up aluminum cans. We were then given permission to tear down an old mobile home. This was HUGE for us because not only did we get to scrap all of the metal but we also knew that there was lumber to be had. We tore this trailer down piece by piece, salvaging everything that we could. The floor joists were 2×6 so we actually were able to rip these into 3 pieces, each approximately a 2×2 (little less) and our intention was to use these to frame our walls. We also had 2×3 studs and 2x2s from the rafters. I remember the three of us sitting around pulling nails and cleaning up the boards for use.
We were also given an opportunity to clean up my grandparents property and get rid of a lot of the scrap there. My aunt & uncle loaned us a trailer and brought their tractor to help and we found a great scrap yard that was easy to work with and ultimately a lot of people to help out.
By mid summer, we had over $3000 saved up to open but still did not have a building, props, etc. I remember at one point having a “meeting” with some different people who had haunt experience or wanted to help and being told that we really should just wait another year to get everything together.
Being crazy though, we kept pushing forward, just hoping for the best. We were given some props, kept collecting stuff and so on. One of my fondest memories was going to Northern Indiana on vacation with Alex & Cristy and visiting a Dollar Tree. That year they had a good selection of (cheesy & cheap in hindsight) haunted house stuff including organs packaged on styrofoam trays like meat. We knew then that we needed a butcher shop.
It has now been over 10 years and I do not remember the exact timeline of events but I do remember driving around town looking for an affordable place to have our haunt. I was convinced that we were going to have a huge crowd and make tons of money (this was not the case but that is a story for later). We found a couple options but nothing panned out until I noticed that the back lot of a former lumber yard (that was for sale) was sitting vacant.
I happened to know the realtor, as my mom had worked with him, and after a couple phone calls, the owner of the property actually agreed to let us use it FOR FREE as long as we cleaned it all up and took care of it. We didn’t have money but we did have drive and manpower. We got to work right away cleaning things up, borrowed another tractor, did some electrical wiring and so on. Collecting free things from people along the way to make it happen.
We have tons of stories from that year but some of the funniest involve the cops. One of our first run-ins there was shortly after we started working on it when an employee of the owner (who did not realize we had been given permission to use the building) called the cops. We had front and back gates and the cops come cruising in from both sides. While it was all a miss understanding, the funniest part was when one of them ran over a pile of landscape timbers that we had placed in a pile for later use.
Another run in was when we were taking off a power meter box (with permission) from a property but it just happened to be dark. The cops showed up and I remember asking one of the cops if they had a tool-kit in their car because we didn’t have the tools that we needed. They didn’t but the office did hold the flashlight for us to help get it down.
The first year was really one of my favorites because it was crazy but I digressed from the point of our story. DOORS! While we had a building and a growing number of props and costumes, we still didn’t have walls. We had gotten some cheap and free OSB, paneling, etc but not enough to build a haunt with.
Then comes August 13, 2011. I remember this date because this was the night that the state fair stage collapsed at the Indiana State Fair during a Sugarland concert as the result of a severe thunderstorm. That day Alex and myself had traveled to Bloomington to pick up a desk that I had found on Craigslist. After getting to Bloomington, the person I was buying from stopped responding so to kill time, we first went to the Goodwill to see if we could find some supplies and then went across the street to Menards. If you are not from the Midwest, you may have never heard of Menards but it is a hardware / home store similar to Home Depot or Lowes but 100x better. Check them out if you ever get near one.
We go into Menards just to check some pricing and ask an employee to show us the push type door latches for like emergency exit doors. While walking through the millwork department, a sign on some doors caught my eye. It said “$1.99 each”. So after looking at the closures, we go back and check it out. It says a limit of 10 but they have 50ish there. We grab an employee who grabs a store manager and after some discussion, the manager agreed to sell us the doors for $1.99 cents as long as we took all of them.
Of course we jumped on this and bought them all. There were still 2 issues though. First, Alex drives a Nissan Frontier and there was zero chance of hauling 50ish doors. Additionally, the store was closing and we were about an hour from home. We get the store manager to allow us to stack the doors out in front of the store so that they can close up and we call Alex’s parents as well as my dad and they both head our way with trucks and a trailer.
We always remember that it was the night of the state fair stage collapse because the same line of storms happened while we were standing in front of the store waiting on the additional trucks and we learned of the stage collapse while waiting out there. We loaded all of those doors and drove them home in that massive storm too.
Those doors, of different sizes, styles, etc was our missing piece to opening our haunt. We were able to piece them together into walls and ultimately opened for our inaugural season in October of 2011. We had a great reception and that launched what ended up being 11 years of operating our haunted house. Funny enough, there were still some of those original doors adorning our halls during our final season in October of 2021.
The lesson that I learned from our opening season is that sometimes, all that you need is a dream and the drive to make it happen. When we started picking up aluminum cans, we did not know what was going to happen. We just kept pushing for what we wanted and we got it. We learned a lot in the process, made tons of friendships and ultimately proved that we could do virtually anything that we set our minds to.
If you ever feel that you cannot achieve your dreams, try stepping away from thinking of it as a whole and just pick up the first piece of the puzzle and get started. You may not succeed but you will also not fail as long as you try and manage to learn something. True failure comes from never trying.
You never know when you may reach the door (or doors) that holds the final piece of the puzzle to your success but if you are not prepared for the opportunity, you may just miss out.
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