In recent years, Halloween haunts have gotten the Hollywood-style treatment, trading up from fog machines and cardboard caskets to CGI and robotics.
But there's also been a less glamorous technological boon for haunt proprietors that has helped drive sales: their back-end ticketing systems.
TicketLeap, a start-up founded by Philadelphia-based entrepreneur Chris Stanchak shortly after he graduated from Wharton in 2003, solves a logistical problem for haunts.
"When you end up with 1,000 people at your door, you need a cost effective way to verify tickets," he says. "And unlike a nightclub, people don't want to see a line out front."
TicketLeap is an online exchange, integrated with social media, where tickets to concerts, theatre, and sporting events are bought and sold. With QR codes, haunt owners can validate tickets on the spot, and patrons don't have to print out tickets. Buyers can also reserve a specific time slot to attend haunts, and with TicketLeap, haunt owners don't need to buy point-of-sale hardware or software, either. All they need is a laptop.
The haunt industry is bigger than you might think. The Haunted House Association, an industry trade group based in High Point, North Carolina, estimates that there are about 2,000 haunted attractions in the Unites States, which generate between 400 and 500 million dollars in ticket sales each year.
Stanchak hopes to take a piece of that business. He says he began noticing an upward trend in haunts using the service in about 2008. The company, which ranked No. 357 on the 2010 Inc. 500 with an 857 percent growth rate and $2.1 million in revenue, now services about 200 hundred Haunts, but expects the number to rise.
Innovation within the industry is especially important for smaller haunts, Stanchak says, because it's a seasonal business. Haunts stay open from just September 1st to November 1st, so there's little room for error in marketing and logistical strategies.
In fact, the company recently partnered with HauntApps, which makes iPhone and Android apps for haunted attractions.
Charles Terry, HauntApp's founder, says that his haunt customers are already seeing a boon to their businesses.
"They love the ease of the service and the ability to offer online ticketing through a back-end system that's also compatible with mobile," he says.
There's a social component, too. When customers buy a ticket online, they can opt to post a link to the event on their Facebook and Twitter profiles.
"In the past, there hasn't really been a social aspect, and it's been hard for these haunts to market themselves," Stanchak says. "They've used traditional marketing methods. We make it really easy for people to see what events their friends are going to. That's been extremely helpful in driving traffic for these events."