Reasons Why Escape Rooms Fail

Some caveats before we start. This article will be looking into real bricks and mortar escape rooms and not online ventures. With that said, then upwards and on wards... The escape room business has seen a massive boom in both the number of new businesses being set up and with an ever-growing customer base hungry to try out the latest and newest ideas in escape room games. But we feel that the business, as an idea, has now peaked. Those who got into the game early and were consistent in quality and value are still with us. But many newer ventures are now starting to come undone as the marketplace starts to take a more critical view and as players become more finicky about all aspects of the escape room game genre. So, what makes one room a boom and yet another a bust? 

Why Escape Rooms Fail: Lack Of Planning

When escape rooms first came onto the scene, they were an instant hit. Players loved this new medium and owners reaped massive rewards. Easy to set up and run, a games room could simply run and run. The players who fell in love with the games immediately thought about setting up their own businesses. Let's face it, how hard can it be? This era coincided with a new entrepreneurial spirit. The 2008 -09 crash had caused many well-educated professionals to question the economic security offered by big businesses, which had failed them during the years of the market downturn. These people saw in escape rooms the perfect opportunity to build themselves up. In the computer marketplace, people were making millions building apps and widgets. So it followed that jaded professionals thought of escape rooms as a new miracle. 

As with any new and untried business, one should spend a lot of time on research. What we might perceive as successful on the surface, might be an illusion that our optimism enforces. So many early adopters jumped in with both feet instead of trying the water first with a toe. But their luck was that these games were exceedingly popular. So these new escape room owners were able to have a functioning and profitable businesses even as they were still learning the ropes.

Recognizing The Current State Of The Industry

But this era of living on the edge is now firmly in the past. Yes, you could get away without much due diligence back then. But today's marketplace isn't as kind, and in an age of social media's instant feedback, you'll stand or die based on a few bad reviews. And so it follows that many escape rooms have come in for a rude awakening. Existing rooms that are still fixed on lazy and old ideas are falling like flies. Those entrepreneurs who want to enter the escape room business need to up their game and look much further into the future. One thing we are starting to see, and that's the starting of the franchise model. Like the cinema before them, escape rooms may well benefit from this business model, but the fundamentals will surely bring about a change within this limited model. Another relatively new approach is the introduction of online live games. With the addition of 3D technology, maybe this will have enough legs for a new future, more defined by Covid-19 than any other factor.

Why Escape Rooms Fail: Over-Reliance On Your Abilities

There appears to be a mode of thought that says that starting your own business is a lonely affair. You have to wear all the different hats necessary to make things work. From designing the games, finding the premises, making the puzzles, and advertising the business. And many people starting do try and fulfill all these separate roles. But, let's get real here. There are not many individuals who are as multi-talented as they are multi-faceted. Many businesses start this way and believe that this is also the way forwards. But no business is going to be successful with this limited approach.

Remember that starting a business does take massive balls. The success of the venture relies on maintaining and growth. For this, you're going to need a skilled team. Many business owners have a basic problem with letting go. Letting other people take some strain. If you can't delegate, then an escape room business, or any business for that matter, isn't for you. So many times we've seen something with potential be ruined by an inability of the owner to simply get out of the way. To let other people do their jobs. Take it from us, no, you don't know best in everything.

Discounts and Then More Discounts

A common factor that can be seen in an oversaturated market place is the offering of discounts. And then some more discounts. Yes, we understand that the escape room space is now falling under aggregators like Groupon and Living Social, putting pressure on the entrance fee. But there tends to be a wrong-headed principle at work here. The idea that something expensive must still be of great value at half the price. This is the lazy route to overcharging, with the monies being given to discounters, as opposed to investing in creating better rooms. Look, we get it...a discounter is great when you're just starting as they offer great exposure. But in the long term, they'll be expensive as you're going to receive around 25% of the base rate at best. Another issue is that discounters are mentally setting up the players with the false premise that you needn't pay more than the discounted price for an escape room.

The problem with your escape room business is that you compete with all those rooms offering discounts for this or that. Maybe it's cheaper on a birthday, for over a certain number of players, or before a certain time of the day. Hearing of these offers, you'll start to feel that unless you follow the same path, then you'll be out of business. Again, a wrong-headed way of thinking. Ask yourself, are you some two-bit rubbish escape room? No, you're not! Don't ever deflate the value of your games. So offer better games, more interesting clues and puzzles, or more interesting and stimulating Games Masters. Rather than lower your prices, up your game! Yes, we get it, that by spending more on the games, your return on investment will diminish. But that's just over the short term. Any investment now will be like planting fruit trees for the next season. The fruit will come as you'll be putting money into longer-term growth. But if you just concentrate on discounting, then at the end of the day you'll experience ever lessening returns.  

Why Escape Rooms Fail: Not Enough Funding

Yeah, yeah, no one ever has enough funds. A large problem is that many enter the escape room space after playing several games and then having a brief chat with an owner. They become focused on making great games and forget about such things as whether they have enough room to expand. Just like making a movie, whatever you think you're gonna call your budget, then you'll need to triple it for all the unseen stuff that's going to come about. Before starting a business you need to be able to allocate every single penny for your ongoing expenses. Rent, bookkeeping, cleaning, wear and tear, and a million other things that'll cost you money on a day to day level. Then don't forget about advertising. Whatever you think the costs are, be aware that in reality, it'll cost even more.


Bathrooms And Lights

The guy who took McDonald's from a small town restaurant and made them into a global chain, once said that there are only two superlative elements: clean bathrooms and good lighting. Whatever type of business you're visiting, you can tell a lot from the state of their bathrooms. The sheer number of escape rooms that don't pay any attention to their bathrooms is shocking. Many times we believe that a client left a venue, never to return thanks to the state of their toilets. They need to be spotless, well lit, with clean bins and modern appliances. 

Why Escape Rooms Fail: Hospitality Issues

In the same manner that staying at a hotel is not so much about the decoration, then the same holds true about escape room games. People might come for the games, but it's their experience when they're there that makes them want to come again or recommend the venue to others. Hospitality matters. A lot! There's no point in trying to save money by employing a spotty kid for peanuts, who can't empathize with the clients. If they just regurgitate the back story as rote and then push the players into the room, it'll leave an impression of a business that doesn't care about the customer. Of course, this hospitality shouldn't just begin and end at the room itself. You might be surprised as to how many owners turn to websites like Squarespace and WIX to knock out a lazy and generic website. Sure, you might save some money, but bad websites along with complex booking systems will end up costing you a lot more in the long run.

Tiny Marketing Budget

So many businesses rely on social marketing to get their message across. This is all fine and dandy. But more often than not, these campaigns are made up on the fly. This can lead to a muddied message. Likewise, we often see a sloppiness in the publicity itself. Bad spelling, appalling grammar, wrong phone numbers, and mispunctuated email addresses. These might appear as non-issues, but every little thing counts. Another thing we often see is that the message of bringing in new and repeat customers is lost through the self-fulfilling cleverness and cockiness of the owners themselves. Sure, your image is important, but the publicity and advertising should be selling the rooms above all other things.