Over the past few years, the “escape room” phenomenon has taken off. Originating in Japan, escape rooms have proliferated in the U.S. as people have discovered the fun in trying to use ingenuity and problem solving to get their group out of precarious simulations ranging from zombie invasions to murder mysteries. The concept even made a cameo on the popular TV series “The Big Bang Theory.”
Harold Williams first experienced an escape room with friends in Portland, Oregon, in 2014. He was hooked immediately.
“It lit a fire,” he says. “All I could think was, ‘I have to go back. I know I could do it better, faster.’”
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As a business model, escape rooms tap into the consumer popularity of haunted houses (without the seasonality) and layer on the broader marketability of corporate team-building. Harold saw the business potential and left a lucrative consulting career to open an escape room called Escape This in the Dallas area in March 2016.
To differentiate from thousands of escape rooms nationally, Harold’s business focuses on a “complex, intricate, and cerebral experience.” His scenarios — searching for medical records to stop a deadly pathogen or wiggling out of a secret society initiation that takes a deadly turn — are meant to provide a true mental challenge, with success rates ranging from 13% to 67% for the 60-minute team-based scenarios.
“Anyone who’s ever watched a detective show like CSI has thought, ‘I could solve that,’” Harold says. “We’re selling an intellectual experience, not a theatrical one. We’re not apologetic. We’re trying to make it difficult.”
Harold’s approach has worked, especially with the corporate team-builders who comprise about 70% of his company’s revenue. (In fact, Harold says some companies are now inviting candidates to Escape This to see how they respond to adversity and approach problems.)
Harold and his business partner, Rajan, seeded the business with $30,000 and made it all back in about five weeks. Unbelievably, these days Escape This has an even higher rate of return. Additionally, with a new 3,000 square foot conference center currently under construction, they are poised to take an even greater piece of the corporate team-building pie.
Like all small business owners, Harold is pressed for time. But he also wants to understand how his company is performing relative to others in the area and make adjustments to get the most out of it. He uses Womply small business software to get a quick view into company, customer, and competitor information.
“Every business owner is wondering, ‘Where do I stand?’” Harold says. “The value of data is priceless. It’s easy to see how your business performs over the course of a year, but it’s really helpful to look at a smaller snapshot on a daily or weekly basis.”
Harold reviews the summary emails he gets from Womply each week to see how sales are trending and what customers are saying about his business on consumer review sites. He also likes to look at Womply’s business intelligence functionality to see how much revenue his company is generating per employee. This provides a truer picture of the company’s health relative to its overhead.
Harold also keeps tabs on competitor and market trends. Womply’s Leaderboard feature shows how the business stacks up against other similar ones locally, and Womply also provides alerts when a competitor makes a significant change like updating its hours of operation. The comparative revenue features also enables Harold to see if a dip or spike in sales is specific to his business or potentially part of a larger market trend.
If you’re in the Dallas area, bring some friends or coworkers to Escape This and try to set a record time in one of the four escape rooms: The Epicurean, The Society, Pathogen, and Heist. However, be sure to book your visit in advance. Tickets for their rooms sell out quickly.
If you have Womply, see where your business stacks up on the Leaderboard or which days are the best for sales at your business with the Day of the Week feature. Learn more, plus get free reputation monitoring and customer insights when you sign up for Womply Free!