Though the Halloween season is lucrative for the region's largest and most popular haunted houses, those behind the operations say success in this industry depends on a year-round business plan.
“It’s like any business out there,” said Geoffrey Graves, director of operations for Amhurst Asylum in Valparaiso. “A typical business has a three-to-five-year business plan, and you can’t just throw a bunch of money into a haunted house and get it back right away.”
Graves said scaring people every year is dependent on weather and the economy, like many other businesses.
“But it's entertainment, and people love to get lost in that,” he said.
Building up Amhurst begins in January, Graves said. And he’s already designed some new expansions for next year.
“You can’t give them the same show every year,” he said.
Graves said the business begins advertising the haunted house months in advance through social media.
About 80 percent of Reaper’s Realm in Hammond is altered every year, said John Hluska, of Hluska Enterprises, parent company of Reaper’s.
“We tear down the entire main level and about half of the third-floor level,” he said. “We rebuild it with different themes. You work on it all year, and you work on it in earnest.”
Reaper’s is a family-owned business, and Hluska said they attend national trade shows to spur new ideas.
“We attend those trade shows with the expressed purpose of getting a feel for what’s hot at the time,” he said. “We see what other people in the same business are doing and if there’s something we can do better.”
Reaper’s Realm is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.
“It’s grown through the years,” Hluska said. “It’s a very big endeavor.
Reaper’s has added several attractions to entice more customers. In addition to the main three-story Reaper’s Mansion, the haunted house now offers a Dark Zone, Reaper’s Woods, a corn maze and a full carnival known as Carnevil.
Several pricing options are available based on how many attractions the customer wants to experience.
“There’s something suitable for everyone,” Hluska said. “We’re trying to give our customers the best of everything. I take pride that it’s a family adventure. We don’t encourage small children, but we don’t exclude them. That’s up to the parents."
Amhurst and Reaper’s Realm also employ a multitude of actors and actresses, professional makeup artists, lighting and sound technicians and general staff and security.
“It’s a major production,” Hluska said.