How an FEC Used Escape Rooms to Thrive During the Pandemic
Over the last few years, escape rooms have exploded in popularity. The fully-themed, immersive environments have become a favorite attraction for those looking for a unique challenge that they can tackle with family or friends.
Knuckleheads FEC (family entertainment center) in the Wisconsin Dells was looking to expand their attraction mix to provide additional entertainment options. Ultimately, they decided to work with us to add four unique themed escape rooms, and open these rooms as a whole new business.
We sat down with Knuckleheads GM, Amy Palmer, to discuss the whole process of adding escape rooms and opening the new business. We also talked with her about the guest reactions to the rooms, how they’ve performed, lessons learned, and how she is helping other operators achieve their dreams.
Background of Knuckleheads
Knuckleheads is a popular entertainment destination in the Wisconsin Dells area. The 80,000 square foot facility has a variety of attractions, including Hologate Arena virtual reality, an arcade, go-karts, ropes courses, trampoline park, 10 full-sized cosmic bowling lanes, and a full bar and grill.
With a constant flow of new guests of all ages, it was important for Knuckleheads to constantly be looking at new attractions that could satisfy guests of all ages and interests.
Choosing a New Attraction
Even with their impressive variety of attractions, Palmer and Knuckleheads were focused on avoiding complacency and always thinking ahead. Competition was a huge part of that. With many established FECs in the area, in addition to new businesses popping up consistently, Palmer knew the only way to stay ahead was to continue to add new experiences for guests.
“You’re always looking for the newest thing to attract people to your facility. Especially being in a tourist area, you always want something new to set yourself apart,” said Palmer.
When she and the Knuckleheads team started looking into escape rooms, they decided that the attraction would be a great addition to her business. However, instead of just adding the escape rooms to Knuckleheads, Palmer decided that it was best to put the attraction in a new space that they had acquired, and create a whole new business just for the escape rooms. Thus, Booby Trap Escape Rooms was born.
Choosing an Escape Rooms Manufacturer for Booby Trap
The next step for Palmer and Booby Trap was finding someone to supply the escape rooms for the new business. At first, Palmer considered DIY escape rooms. “We did a lot of research. We debated a lot of different things. When we decided that we didn’t want to create our own, then it was like, we wanted something that was going to be the full package.”
Ultimately, after researching several options, Palmer liked how we provided a turnkey escape room solution. “The fact that you guys could come in and hand us a computer system, build it for us, the props, give us the storyline, and pretty much turnkey, just say, ‘Here you go, now you’re fully operational,’ that was a huge perk for us to be able to do so. That is one of the main reasons why we chose Creative Works.”
We worked with the new business to provide four of our unique escape room experiences, Mayday, Inventor’s Workshop, Singularity, and Pharaoh’s Revenge.
Guest Reactions to the Escape Rooms
After we had completed building and installing the rooms, Booby Trap was ready to open for business. Since opening, customers have loved the experiences of the escape rooms, and specifically how the attraction doesn’t have an age limit to participate. This is especially important in a tourist market like the Wisconsin Dells, where lots of families are looking for activities that they can do together.
“People love them. They love that we don’t have the age limits on it. They love that kids, groups of kids, can come in and do it.”
According to Palmer, the guests have also been impressed by the immersive environment that the escape rooms provide. “They just really love the theming, and even younger kids who may not fully understand everything, it’s so immersive that they are just intrigued when they walk in. They’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, [it’s a] whole story that I just walked into.’ They really do love it a lot.”
How the Escape Rooms Have Performed
Sure, customers have been happy with their experiences in the room, but ultimately that doesn’t mean much if the rooms are not making money for Palmer and Booby Trap. Before the pandemic, it was common for Booby Trap to have different groups play together. However, during the pandemic, Booby Trap has switched their booking system to private groups. While it might seem like this would cause a drop in overall sales, the opposite has happened.
“They’ve performed great. Since we’ve gone private, we’ve actually had a lot of really great feedback. We’re seeing more bookings, actually, people are very comfortable that they’re going in with their family and who they book with only. I mean, our Saturdays right now, we’re booking basically open to close in every single room.”
Oftentimes, people enjoy their experience so much that they go back to check out the other themed escape rooms. “Once people do one, they want to do the rest of them. We have the four different escape rooms. We’ve been very happy actually with how they’ve performed.”
Palmer has also been impressed with the durability of the rooms. Durability is an extremely important factor in a high-traffic tourist area like the Wisconsin Dells.
“Performance wise, as far as the guests, as well as holding up and all that, it’s really been great.”
The Perfect Pandemic Attraction
One of the key reasons that the escape rooms at Booby Trap have been able to perform so well over the last year is because they were the perfect attraction during the pandemic, for a handful of reasons.
From a player’s perspective, escape rooms are an attraction where small groups who know each other well, such as families, can play together with minimal risk. Also, the groups could go through the whole escape room experience without ever coming in contact with anyone outside of their small group.
From an operator’s perspective, our escape rooms are very easy to wipe down and clean, meaning that Palmer and other operators were not losing much, if any, throughput between games.
“It’s all covered electronics, so it’s just a lot of wood, and metal, and very easy to clean things. It really didn’t have to add on all this extra time between games. We did not have to adjust our schedules at all. We do 30 minutes between each game, that gives us enough time to do the end walkthrough with the customers, wipe it down and then get ready for the next group. We haven’t even stumbled on that aspect, we just kept going.”
Helping Other Operators
According to Palmer, learning the operational model of escape rooms was a challenge in the beginning. Since escape rooms are not a “set it and forget it” attraction, it took Palmer and her team a little while to learn the most efficient ways to run the attraction.
“It wasn’t just ‘train the employees how to run it’ and then it’s self-sufficient, it’s really learning how the guests are reacting to things. Once it’s installed, that’s just the beginning. There’s so much to learn after that going forward, and what works best for you and what works best for me might not work for somebody else that isn’t in such a tourist driven area.”
This is something that she has now become open to helping other operators with, so that they might avoid the trouble that she and her team had at the beginning.
“We love having people come in that are maybe wanting to open their own, or wanting to know more about Creative Works, just because I think I could have used more of that in the beginning. Anything we can do to help others along the way and give that great experience and give escape rooms such a positive name. Definitely helping other people have that positive experience in their escape rooms I really think helps the industry as a whole a lot.”
Final Thoughts About Working with Us On a Successful Project
Despite challenges along the way, Palmer was extremely happy with her overall experience working with us.
“We’ve had nothing but positive things to say really about working with Creative Works. Nothing’s ever perfect, we know that, especially in this industry. The good thing with Creative Works is they’re very open to communication and working together to get to where we need to be. Like I said, if you have issues, you’re not understanding things or props, there’s always the support. They’re always willing to work with you to find a solution to any issues you’re having.”
“We’ve had nothing but positive things to say really about working with Creative Works.”
“The theming is absolutely amazing. The puzzles, the storylines, everything has really worked great for us with the escape rooms. I can’t say enough positive things about our relationship that we’ve had with Creative Works over the last couple of years.”