The haunted house business

The Houston Press had a great story last year about the business of haunted houses in Houston. Now that the season is in full swing, the Chron has a similar piece.

If there’s one thing that spooks Jim Fetterly, it’s the cost associated with advertising Scream World, an attraction open only six weeks a year.

The three “haunted” buildings, maze and make-believe cemetery have drawn 30,000 customers a year since opening in 2001 off Beltway 8 in northwest Houston.

And though revenue totaled $618,000 last year, advertising costs ate up almost a fourth of that.

Fetterly said a challenge is that his competition outspends him on advertising.

Among the ideas of Terry Hemeyer, adjunct professor of management at the Jesse H. Jones Graduate School of Management: “First off, people need to look at where they’re located. Your signage is an excellent form of advertising. So check that first and make sure you’ve maximized it.”

Fetterly said he is considering signs.

“We’re looking at getting a nice, lighted sign, but right now we’re refinancing the business,” he said. “It’s definitely something we know we need to work on.”

I wonder if any other industry spends that high a percentage of its revenue on advertising. With such a short season to make money, that’s gotta be a pretty risky proposition.

This story sort of answers a question I had with the Press article: What do these guys do during the offseason?

“Once the season ends, we take off a few weeks, but come January we’re in here tearing down the sets and thinking of new vignettes,” Fetterly said. “We may keep 80 percent for the next year, or only 20 percent. It all depends on what’s coming out in animatronics and what we think we’ll need.”


Fetterly said he spends between $30,000 and $40,000 on new props each year. The business owns about $250,000 in props and equipment, he said.

“We consider our props diversions. They make you look somewhere else, so then our actors can pop out,” Fetterly said.

This year, ticket prices for Scream World rose $2, to $22 for the five attractions.

To offset the increase, Fetterly offers promotions such as Student ID Night and Family Night. He also rents his parking lot to a storage company during the off-season.

I guess that helps some. I just know that putting all my eggs into a six-week basket would scare me more than any animatronic prop or made-up actor.

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2 Responses to The haunted house business

  1. Diana says:

    I drive by that haunted house every day but have yet to go in. And, now they have that nude haunted house… that is a little TOO scary for me 😛

  2. Greg Morrow says:

    A co-worker’s uncle runs one of the other haunted houses in Houston.

    He says his uncle has another job for the off season. So it’s not a question of putting all one’s eggs in one basket.

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