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Chris Stafford Reveals How to Create a Great Haunted Attraction

Written by:

Esther is a business strategist with over 20 years of experience as an entrepreneur, executive, educator, and management advisor.

Chris Stafford Reveals How to Create a Great Haunted Attraction

In this interview, we speak with Chris Stafford, CEO of Thirteenth Floor Entertainment Group, the world’s largest Halloween-themed entertainment company. Thirteenth Floor Entertainment Group specializes in creating immersive and thrilling experiences through haunted houses, escape rooms, and other themed attractions across multiple locations.

Chris shares insights into the creative processes behind their attractions, how they maintain excitement and engagement year after year, and tips for aspiring entrepreneurs in the entertainment industry. This conversation offers a peek into the challenges and triumphs of leading a major player in location-based entertainment.

Chris Stafford

Inspiration Behind Thirteenth Floor Entertainment

SBS – What inspired you to start Thirteenth Floor Entertainment Group?

Chris – I started as a scare actor in haunted houses when I was a teenager, and that’s where I met my now business partner. I was working in banking for about twelve years when I decided I wanted to put all of my efforts into my true passion — live entertainment. We opened our first haunted house in Denver, Colorado, in 2002. I left my banking career in 2010 and brought in two more partners from Austin, TX, and Thirteenth Floor was born. Thirteenth Floor currently operates 36 attractions, including haunted houses, Halloween festivals, location-based entertainment venues, and an immersive art exhibit.

Driving Creativity in Entertainment Design

SBS – How do you maintain the creativity and innovation needed for new attractions each year?

Chris – We’re lucky to have an incredibly creative and talented team based all around the country. We’re constantly thinking of new concepts and creating new characters. It truly is a year-round project and our goal is to give our guests a new experience each year.

Challenges of Expanding a Haunted Attraction Empire

SBS – What challenges did you face when expanding to over 15 locations, and how did you overcome them?

Chris – The biggest challenge was finding the right people to work with who understand the business. We had to rely on and put trust into people outside of the original founders to run the business in markets that we are not based in, and make sure that we are giving them the right support and training for them to be able to successfully run things on their own.

Ensuring Quality Across Multiple Locations

SBS – How do you ensure a consistent quality and experience across all your locations?

Chris – Again, we have to hire the right people and make sure that our staff understands the values that we have in running the business as well as the quality of product that we are producing. As we grow, we use established and successful locations as roadmaps and benchmarks for new locations.

Design Process for New Entertainment Attractions

SBS – Can you describe the process of designing a new attraction or experience?

Chris – It’s changed a lot over the years. It used to be me and the partners sitting down with a piece of paper and sketching out ideas, then building it and opening the show. Now, we have a large company with many creatives who collaborate with us on new designs and multiple build shops that bring those designs to life. In many cases, those creatives are far more talented than we ever were, so we’re able to keep product quality consistently improving.

Thirteenth Floor Entertainment Group

Training Staff for Immersive Experiences

SBS – How do you manage and train your staff to provide an immersive experience for visitors?

Chris – We provide comprehensive training programs for all staff members, including actors, event staff, and operations. These trainings cover everything from understanding the storyline and character roles to customer service and safety procedures. Our training emphasizes the importance of immersion in delivering a memorable experience for our guests.

Effective Marketing Strategies for Haunted Houses

SBS – What marketing strategies have been most effective in attracting customers to your attractions?

Chris – We do a lot of the standard marketing strategies, social, email, paid media, influencers, etc., but what really gets people coming and coming back is word-of-mouth marketing. People come to our events and have a great time. Some will come a second or third time during the season and bring new friends or tell their friends who come themselves.

Adapting Attractions to Changing Audience Preferences

SBS – How do you adapt your attractions to stay relevant and appealing to a changing audience?

Chris – We’re always pulling inspiration from things happening in pop culture and integrating new elements into our attractions each year. We also hang on to the timeless classics, like a traditional jumpscare. At the end of the day, people come because they want to get scared and have fun.

Role of Technology in Enhancing Entertainment Experiences

SBS – What role does technology play in enhancing the experiences you offer?

Chris – As technology develops, we’re able to stay on top of the latest trends and advancements with theatrical lighting and sound, atmospheric effects, and other products that go into our shows. Technology also helps with the creative design process, and a lot of new tools have been introduced that enhance that process. For example, using AI and computer drafting programs helps us get a visual representation of an idea before we actually build it. In my opinion, AI will never replace creatives, but it helps in trying to visualize how something might look down the road.

Managing Seasonal Business Challenges

SBS – How do you handle the seasonal nature of Halloween-themed attractions in terms of staffing and revenue?

Chris – There is a growing demand for those who want to celebrate Halloween year-round, especially in the last few years. People enjoy getting scared, but more so enjoy watching their friends get scared. We’ve grown to be able to exist outside of just the Halloween season. Several of our locations re-open during the off-season for events such as Krampus: The Fright Before Christmas, Love Bites: A Valentine’s Haunted House, and Halfway to Halloween. Guests love coming back and experiencing a unique spin on the traditional haunted house, and it gives us the opportunity to bring back our staff more than just once a year.

Memorable Customer Experiences at Thirteenth Floor

SBS – Is there any one attraction or experience within Thirteenth Floor Entertainment Group that has gained exceptional popularity? If so, what do you think are the key factors contributing to its success?

Chris – We’ve grown to be able to exist in so many different markets, and it’s hard to compare success in such different cities. They’re all successful in their own rights based on the markets they’re in and what they’re working with. I think it’s just understanding the market that you’re in as best as you can and giving that location all of the tools they may need to succeed in that environment.

Safety Protocols for Interactive Entertainment

SBS – How do you address safety concerns, especially in more interactive experiences?

Chris – Safety is always a priority in our attractions, especially in areas that may be more disorienting. Before opening any attractions, we do thorough walkthroughs with our operations team to identify any potential risks or hazards and address them proactively. Our facilities go through regular inspections inside and out and always have emergency plans in place. Our staff goes through extensive training and we provide guests with clear instructions before entering any of our experiences. We also always have EMTs on-site during operating hours if anything were to happen.

Entrepreneurial Advice for the Entertainment Industry

SBS – What advice would you give to entrepreneurs looking to enter the entertainment or themed attraction industry?

Chris – I think one of the biggest mistakes people can make in this industry is thinking that everyone will enjoy the same experience that you do. You have to focus first and foremost on what people want to do as it relates to entertainment and how they want to experience it. You can’t let your own reference criteria get in the way of trends and what people desire. You also need to be passionate about the form of entertainment that you’re involved in and equally passionate about the business side and the customer-facing side. Lastly, you need to not be intimidated to hire people who are better at things than you are.


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Chris Stafford Reveals How to Create a Great Haunted Attraction