The Scariest Business Decision I’ve Ever Made

  • March 2, 2020
  • nickfrancis

If you got it, Haunt it!

I know the majority of kids in the world are too excited to fall asleep on Christmas Eve. The anticipation of waking up and finding their tree stocked with presents is just too much. Honestly, young or old, the magic that comes with Christmas brings a certain sense of joy and hope. You know the one! For me, that feeling came to me through Halloween.

Ever since I was a young kid, Halloween has been my thing. I used to go with my mom to pick out decorations and would truly be in my happy place. As I got older, I would pick out decorations I knew I could use to scare my mom in the near future. Maybe I could take this severed plastic hand and attach it to our laundry shoot. I could probably put this life sized skeleton in the backseat of the car to really freak her out when she goes to get groceries! It was fun for me to feel the buildup of anticipation. I knew what was coming, and I couldn’t wait to see the reaction! It was fun, I thought, to get scared.

I will forever be grateful that my parents saw my true intentions and actually encouraged me to run with it. We started throwing Halloween parties for my class when I was just five years old. As I got older, I was allowed to work my way down to the basement, creating my version of a haunted house for my friends to go through. Once I outgrew the basement, my parents graciously let me fill the garage with props, lighting, and a lot of staples. Before we knew it, we were getting truckloads of wood delivered so I could set up shop in my backyard.

My backyard haunt kind of became the talk of the town. The neighborhood knew they could come to my house on Halloween night and, with a donation to charity, see what I had concocted. My friends knew they were busy Halloween night as they would be working as actors. Partnering with my cousin, Max, we made sure each year was better than the last. 

We were content with operating out of my backyard but couldn’t refuse the opportunity to enter a Good Morning America contest for best home haunt. This would allow us to get an actual building and some backing for creating something more professional. Although we did technically win based on the popularity among the voters, GMA dubbed a home haunt closer to their studio the winner. However, our devastation was cut short when a local business owner contacted us. He had a totally empty building that he was willing to lease to us for only $100. We gathered a team of our friends, and together, Max and I opened as a professional business, Hellsgate Haunted House.

Seeing how much we grew in such a short amount of time got us really looking into what could help us grow more. We decided to pick up our business in Toledo and move it to a more lucrative market in Max’s hometown of Cleveland. We found a space in the suburb of North Olmsted inside of a sports complex and got to work. I spent the school year in Toledo going about my daily life as usual and would move in with Max and his family in the summer. After a few months of blood, sweat, and tears, we opened as The Fear Experience Haunted House in Cleveland, Ohio.

The next few years brought more change and more growth. I started college at Ohio State while Max finished up his years in high school. We relocated to another building in North Olmsted that was all ours before moving to a more permanent and larger location in Parma. I was commuting between three cities non-stop, spending as much time as I could at home when I wasn’t going to school or living with Max during the summer. After spending two and a half years at OSU, I made the decision to leave school and focus on the business full time. I finally made the move to Cleveland where I could be a fifteen minute drive from the haunt as opposed to two hours. With more time on my hands, I could finally focus all my energy on growing our company even more, which is when I started looking into digital marketing…but that’s another story ;)!

So, here we are. From small Halloween parties, to an at home haunt, to a full out professional haunted house. Max and I could see nothing but growth for our business in the future, but that’s where life stepped in. The building we had been leasing transferred ownership, so we packed up our show in trailers where they’ll be until the time is right. Max went on to attend college while I took what I learned in marketing my own business and made that into a business of its own.

I think it’s super important to know that there is no right age to start a business. I was fortunate to not only have parents who supported me, but parents who led by example. As I was a few years into creating what would one day be the Fear Experience, my dad quit his job and also got to work building his own business. I learned what it meant to work hard, lose, win, and sacrifice from watching my dad do just that. To this day, we still talk weekly and use each other for support as we navigate the paths we chose for ourselves. Although the building we were in eventually closed its doors to us, I was able to open so many more based on what I had learned from the Fear Experience. My passion for the world of entrepreneurship didn’t have to fizzle just because things didn’t go my way. A change of pace may be scary, but losing sight of what you want is the scariest thing of all.