A haunted thrill park is any space designed to entice customers by offering a scary or thrilling experience. Americans spend about $7 billion on Halloween, and $300 million on haunted houses. Haunted thrill parks may be located in makeshift, temporary houses, corn mazes, or even old prisons or asylums. Typically, workers will dress up in costumes and pop out at customers to give them a fright. Props such as fake chainsaws or straight jackets are often used alongside fog machines and soundtracks of creepy noises.
Learn how to start your own Haunted Attraction and whether it is the right fit for you.
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Start a haunted attraction by following these 10 steps:
- Plan your Haunted Attraction
- Form your Haunted Attraction into a Legal Entity
- Register your Haunted Attraction for Taxes
- Open a Business Bank Account & Credit Card
- Set up Accounting for your Haunted Attraction
- Get the Necessary Permits & Licenses for your Haunted Attraction
- Get Haunted Attraction Insurance
- Define your Haunted Attraction Brand
- Create your Haunted Attraction Website
- Set up your Business Phone System
We have put together this simple guide to starting your haunted attraction. These steps will ensure that your new business is well planned out, registered properly and legally compliant.
Exploring your options? Check out other small business ideas.
STEP 1: Plan your business
A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. It will help you map out the specifics of your business and discover some unknowns. A few important topics to consider are:
- What will you name your business?
- What are the startup and ongoing costs?
- Who is your target market?
- How much can you charge customers?
Luckily we have done a lot of this research for you.
What will you name your business?
Choosing the right name is important and challenging. If you don’t already have a name in mind, visit our How to Name a Business guide or get help brainstorming a name with our Haunted Attraction Name Generator
When registering a business name, we recommend researching your business name by checking:
- Your state's business records
- Federal and state trademark records
- Social media platforms
- Web domain availability.
It's very important to secure your domain name before someone else does.
What are the costs involved in opening a haunted attraction?
This is heavily dependent on the type of experience you offer. Costs may vary depending on the state or neighborhood. To rent out an old jail or asylum, you may end up spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to secure the space. Huge attractions in major cities can total $100,000 just for lighting and sound alone. However, if you have portable attractions that can be set up at carnivals around the nation, you can likely get away with as little as $10,000 for everything. If you own your own farm, you can do haunted hayrides to cover the cost of the costumes and the actors.
What are the ongoing expenses for a haunted attraction?
Because this business is somewhat seasonal, ongoing expenses are low.
- Rent/property costs
- Employee wages
- Prop replacement
- Advertising costs
- Commercial insurance
- Sound/lighting equipment maintenance
Who is the target market?
Your best clients are normally young people (teenagers) with a taste for adrenaline. Older people may have conditions where they can’t engage in heart-racing activities. Those who visit you should be people who understand that no matter how scary things may seem, they are never in any real danger.
How does a haunted attraction make money?
Haunted houses generally charge a flat fee to participate in one or more houses. These costs need to cover and exceed the cost of the space, employee salaries, and props.
How much can you charge customers?
Haunted house tickets are typically anywhere from $15 to $40, but they can go even higher than that. People may spend as much as $100 or more on a custom experience.
How much profit can a haunted attraction make?
The large attractions can make up to $3 million a year, while even the small businesses may make around $50,000. Your profits will be dependent on your resourcefulness when it comes to finding the equipment, costumes, and actors. For example, you may want to find all of your costumes solely at thrift stores for additional savings.
How can you make your business more profitable?
Considering Halloween is such a profitable holiday, you can become a consultant for would-be business owners. Or you can look into other thrilling experiences as well. For example, escape rooms trap participants in a room, and invite the players to solve puzzles and mysteries in a given amount of time to get out of the room. These can be kept open all year round, but are typically only popular in the larger cities.
Want a more guided approach? Access TRUiC's free Small Business Startup Guide - a step-by-step course for turning your business idea into reality. Get started today!
STEP 2: Form a legal entity
Establishing a legal business entity such as an LLC or corporation protects you from being held personally liable if your haunted attraction is sued.
Form Your LLC
Read our Guide to Form Your Own LLC
Recommended: You will need to elect a registered agent for your LLC. LLC formation packages usually include a free year of registered agent services. You can choose to hire a registered agent or act as your own.
STEP 3: Register for taxes
You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
In order to register for taxes you will need to apply for an EIN. It's really easy and free!
There are specific state taxes that might apply to your business. Learn more about state sales tax and franchise taxes in our state sales tax guides.
STEP 4: Open a business bank account & credit card
Using dedicated business banking and credit accounts is essential for personal asset protection.
When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your business is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing your corporate veil.
Open a business bank account
Besides being a requirement when applying for business loans, opening a business bank account:
- Separates your personal assets from your company's assets, which is necessary for personal asset protection.
- Makes accounting and tax filing easier.
Recommended: Read our Best Banks for Small Business review to find the best national bank or credit union.
Get a business credit card
Getting a business credit card helps you:
- Separate personal and business expenses by putting your business' expenses all in one place.
- Build your company's credit history, which can be useful to raise money later on.
Recommended: Apply for an easy approval business credit card from BILL and build your business credit quickly.
STEP 5: Set up business accounting
Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.
Make LLC accounting easy with our LLC Expenses Cheat Sheet.
STEP 6: Obtain necessary permits and licenses
Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.
State & Local Business Licensing Requirements
Certain state permits and licenses may be needed to operate a haunted thrill park. Learn more about licensing requirements in your state by visiting SBA’s reference to state licenses and permits.
Most businesses are required to collect sales tax on the goods or services they provide. To learn more about how sales tax will affect your business, read our article, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.
To avoid liability and potential lawsuits, haunted attractions should have their clients sign waivers.
An example of an appropriate waiver can be found here.
Certificate of Occupancy
A haunted thrill park is generally run out of a large indoor or outdoor space. Businesses operating out of a physical location typically require a Certificate of Occupancy (CO). A CO confirms that all building codes, zoning laws and government regulations have been met.
- If you plan to lease a location:
- It is generally the landlord’s responsibility to obtain a CO.
- Before leasing, confirm that your landlord has or can obtain a valid CO that is applicable to a haunted attraction.
- After a major renovation, a new CO often needs to be issued. If your place of business will be renovated before opening, it is recommended to include language in your lease agreement stating that lease payments will not commence until a valid CO is issued.
- If you plan to purchase or build a location:
- You will be responsible for obtaining a valid CO from a local government authority.
- Review all building codes and zoning requirements for your business’ location to ensure your haunted attraction will be in compliance and able to obtain a CO.
STEP 7: Get business insurance
Just as with licenses and permits, your business needs insurance in order to operate safely and lawfully. Business Insurance protects your company’s financial wellbeing in the event of a covered loss.
There are several types of insurance policies created for different types of businesses with different risks. If you’re unsure of the types of risks that your business may face, begin with General Liability Insurance. This is the most common coverage that small businesses need, so it’s a great place to start for your business.
Another notable insurance policy that many businesses need is Workers’ Compensation Insurance. If your business will have employees, it’s a good chance that your state will require you to carry Workers' Compensation Coverage.
FInd out what types of insurance your Haunted Attraction needs and how much it will cost you by reading our guide Business Insurance for Haunted Attraction.
STEP 8: Define your brand
Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.
If you aren't feeling confident about designing your small business logo, then check out our Design Guides for Beginners, we'll give you helpful tips and advice for creating the best unique logo for your business.
If you already have a logo, you can also add it to a QR code with our Free QR Code Generator. Choose from 13 QR code types to create a code for your business cards and publications, or to help spread awareness for your new website.
How to promote & market a haunted attraction
Flyers, internet advertising and television ads are the best way to market your website. You can even consider billboards too. Your target demographic already knows they want to attend a haunted house this year, they just need to know exactly what their options are. To distinguish yourself amongst competitors, you’ll need to be aggressive when it comes to your advertising. After all, you won’t have the luxury to establish yourself when you’ll be packing up by the first of November.
How to keep customers coming back
Let your customers know why you’re different. Instead of the same old scenes they’ve seen, tell them about your clever alternatives or show them on television or on your website. To boost your retention for next Halloween, stand apart by offering twist or surprise endings.
STEP 9: Create your business website
After defining your brand and creating your logo the next step is to create a website for your business.
While creating a website is an essential step, some may fear that it’s out of their reach because they don’t have any website-building experience. While this may have been a reasonable fear back in 2015, web technology has seen huge advancements in the past few years that makes the lives of small business owners much simpler.
Here are the main reasons why you shouldn’t delay building your website:
- All legitimate businesses have websites - full stop. The size or industry of your business does not matter when it comes to getting your business online.
- Social media accounts like Facebook pages or LinkedIn business profiles are not a replacement for a business website that you own.
- Website builder tools like the GoDaddy Website Builder have made creating a basic website extremely simple. You don’t need to hire a web developer or designer to create a website that you can be proud of.
STEP 10: Set up your business phone system
Getting a phone set up for your business is one of the best ways to help keep your personal life and business life separate and private. That’s not the only benefit; it also helps you make your business more automated, gives your business legitimacy, and makes it easier for potential customers to find and contact you.
There are many services available to entrepreneurs who want to set up a business phone system. We’ve reviewed the top companies and rated them based on price, features, and ease of use. Check out our review of the Best Business Phone Systems 2023 to find the best phone service for your small business.
Recommended Business Phone Service: Phone.com
Phone.com is our top choice for small business phone numbers because of all the features it offers for small businesses and it's fair pricing.
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Is this Business Right For You?
There is an art to scaring people while keeping them safe, so an entrepreneur will have to coordinate the right scenes while ensuring workers understand how to handle the guests. Those who already have a love of haunted houses likely understand what's currently out there, and what people would like to see in the future.
Want to know if you are cut out to be an entrepreneur?
Take our Entrepreneurship Quiz to find out!
What happens during a typical day at a haunted attraction?
Owners typically deal with the following activities on a daily basis.
- Finding/booking facilities
- Traveling to different towns
- Hiring workers
- Designing/buying costumes
- Creating scary scenes
- Advertising the business
What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful haunted attraction?
This is the right business for someone who is a jack-of-all-trades type. For the most part, it will require owners who are extremely thorough when it comes to making decisions. There are many things that can go wrong when opening a haunted thrill park, so it comes down to how well you’ve planned for the catastrophes. It will also take a certain amount of people skills and a real interest in the science of horror.
Owners should have an idea of what their customers want to see in their particular location. Offering different experiences is the best way to get people interested in what you do. Today, many haunted house owners are concentrating on more interactive experiences rather than just having people walk through a house.
What is the growth potential for a haunted attraction?
A haunted house is a niche market, but there is still room for growth. While haunted houses are more popular during Halloween, they can technically be run all-year round which can generate a lot of growth. If you’re able to come up with creative scenes and employ the right workers, you may find that you can branch out to more towns throughout the U.S. as well.
Take the Next Step
Find a business mentor
One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.
Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.
Learn from other business owners
Want to learn more about starting a business from entrepreneurs themselves? Visit Startup Savant’s startup founder series to gain entrepreneurial insights, lessons, and advice from founders themselves.
Resources to Help Women in Business
There are many resources out there specifically for women entrepreneurs. We’ve gathered necessary and useful information to help you succeed both professionally and personally:
If you’re a woman looking for some guidance in entrepreneurship, check out this great new series Women in Business created by the women of our partner Startup Savant.
What are some insider tips for jump starting a haunted attraction?
Because the costs to get started can be so high and the public interest is highest in October, many people end up losing money on their first year. You should think of a haunted thrill park as a time investment, as it may be a few years before you make your money back on the initial costs.
To ensure you meet your goals sooner rather than later, you need to pay attention to what’s happening with your core market. Television series like Fear Factor, Naked and Afraid, or American Horror Story can inspire new ideas and help your business stay trendy with your demographic. The public doesn't necessarily need extremely expensive effects, but they do need an experience they'll want to tell their friends about.
How and when to build a team
Your actors will be the key to your success, so you’ll need to get them scheduled at least a few weeks in advance. They’ll need to not only be scary, but also flexible enough to add a little of their own personality into the mix. Staying in character is important, but that doesn’t mean the character has to be one-dimensional. Chances are, you’ll get a lot of younger people applying, but that may just mean you'll have a lot of untapped potential in your midst.