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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
It looks like things may be aligning themselves for me to take the plunge and go pro. I'd like any opinions, suggestions, or advice that you guys can give.

Some background on me first. I've run an all-volunteer, non-profit haunted trail for five years. We operate only on Saturday nights in October and our typical gate is 2500 customers per season. I have a staff of approximately 100, consisting of actors, security (local Sheriff's department), concession workers, and ticket sellers/takers. I build props for the trail and design most of the stations. We have an advertising budget of about $2000 used for a theatre ad, tickets, flyers, and a website. We have a liability policy that costs about $800 per season. Being a rural haunted trail, we are not subject to any real government codes. No one gets paid so tax filings have never been an issue.

An opportunity/location has presented itself in a new strip mall type building in our community. For a 3 year lease, rent is $1 per foot which seems very cheap/reasonable, unless I've misunderstood. The units are 1250 sf each, and I would have the option of leasing 2 contiguous units for a total of 2500 sf. The property is located in the county, outside of any city limits so though I expect there to be some applicable codes to follow, I don't think they'd be overly restrictive. My intentions would be to have the haunt opn on Friday's and Saturday's instead of the former Saturday's only routine.

So now, here's some questions I've come up with, but if I've overlooked anything, do please chime in on that as well.

Who do I contact to find out exactly what codes and restrictions would apply to the haunt?

How do I get a small-business liscense?

How do I apply for a small business loan and what factors should be considered when computing the amount of the loan?

Do I have to file W2's on the staff, and if so, how do I get that set up?

What would be the best way to construct interior walls if drilling into the concrete floor is not an option?

Would it be better to get a short-term 3 month lease which would be more expensive per month, or to take the plunge and go for the 3 year lease?

Any response you folks could provide would be more appreciated than you can imagine. You are my best source for advice as there's really no one else I can ask. Thanks in advance for reading all of this and for any input you can provide.
 

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You probably won't need a business license, but you will need to form a business entity. Most pro haunters use a Limited Liability Company, or LLC. It gives you the liability protection of a corporation, while providing flow-through taxation like a sole proprietorship. That's what our company, Rocky Mountain Terror, LLC. uses. Google "Mississippi Business Registry" and it will point you in the right direction. Name your business something different than your haunt. Our actual haunt is called Trick or Terror Haunted House. You won't need a sales tax license unless you plan on having a gift shop, or are selling a product (the haunt is a service, so sales tax does not apply).

If your going pro, do yourself a favor and go to http://www.hauntbook.com/ and buy "So You Want to be a Haunt Entrepreneur" by Kelly Allen. It really is the definitive guide for going pro, and goes in depth on all of the business aspects of starting a commercial haunted attraction. Don't go pro without it.

We just went pro last year, so if you have any questions, don't hesitate to ask.
 

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As for advertising, it is a general rule of thumb in the Haunt Industry to spend $3-4 for everyone you expect to attend. At $2000, your looking at about 500-667 people attending. Take this one seriously. I've seen a lot of first year pro haunts go under because they didn't follow this rule of thumb.

Also, NEVER do an extended lease until you know that you have a prime location. Most people do short term leases for their first 3 or 4 years. If you want, PM me and I can try to give you as much of my knowledge as possible. And before you do anything else, buy that book. Your local Small Business Administration office, and local SCORE office will be vital as well. Contact them soon, tell them what your trying to do, and let them guide you in the right directions.

Here's to your success!!! Let me know how I can help.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Thanks, RMT. I asked the building owner about a 3 month lease but our discussion was very preliminary. I'm awaiting a phone call right now to go meet with him. And - the book's ordered!
 

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Keeper of Lost Souls
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We went professional this last year and I have to tell you it is about 1000 times harder and 1000 times more work than you think. But it is the best feeling ever!
I agree with RMT, I can not say enough about "So You Want to be a Haunt Entrepreneur” It is some of the best money you will spend. Kelly knows his stuff.

We are located in Mesa Arizona, and we are a LLC, but are also required to have a business license, and you do pay sales tax on a Haunted Attraction ticket sales. It is not considered a service. All I can say is research, research, a research! What is required by my State and City are not the same in other areas. Good Luck you will have a blast! If you have any specific questions feel free to PM me. We learned a lot this year about what to do and NOT to do. :)
 

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That is notable to say that laws, tax codes, building codes and fire codes vary from city to city, and state to state. In Colorado, some cities require a $36 an hour fire watch, in some cities its only required on the weekends, and some not at all.

That's crazy that Arizona considers a haunt a product. By economic definition, a product is something tangible, meaning it's a physical item you could take home with you. Like prop controller or a gallon of milk, which you buy from a store. A service is intangible, meaning it is something that is performed for the one who purchased it. Like a haunted house or a trip to the doctor, which you go to have a service performed. Here in Colorado, they do not require businesses to charge sales tax on a service. If I decided to sell t-shirts though, I would have to get a sales tax license and charge sales tax. Check out this article on the difference between a product and a service: http://www.businessknowledgesource....marketing_a_product_and_a_service_025325.html

I did a little research for you that should get you started:

Mississippi SBA: http://archive.sba.gov/localresources/district/ms/index.html

Mississippi SCORE: http://www.sba.gov/about-offices-content/2/3125/news/6043

Mississippi Business Registry: https://business.sos.state.ms.us/corp/soskb/csearch.asp
 

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Do I have to file W2's on the staff, and if so, how do I get that set up?
The answer depends on whether your staff will be employees of your business or independent contractors/freelancers. If they are employees, you are required to withhold all appropriate taxes from their salary (Federal and State income taxes, Social Security, Medicare, etc) and their income is reported on Form W-2. If they are independent contractors, their income is reported on a Form 1099 and you do not withhold any taxes. It sounds as if these will be seasonal workers, which suggests that treating each person as an independent contractor makes more sense. Also, you are not currently required to generate a 1099 for anyone to whom you pay less than $600 in a fiscal year.

An accounting program such as QuickBooks can be used to print W-2s. The 1099 forms still have to be bought from an office supply store or ordered (for free) from the IRS because they are scanned and have a special ink for that purpose.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Thank you all! I've tried to use my role at the Trail as an educational experience, but I do realize that a pro haunt would be different as well as more difficult. RMT, thanks for the links. As ridiculous as this sounds, I just wasn't sure where to start. Thanks again, all, and please, any other ideas or suggestions would be appreciated.
 

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on the lease id try the 3 month and if you think your ready to take the plunge go for 3 years

note from moderator: The advice in this post is coming from a 12 year old.
 

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I highly suggest getting Kelly Allen's "So You Want To Be A Haunt Entrepreneur". It's fantastic resource with tons of valuable information. http://hauntbook.com/

I also suggest joining the Hauntworld Haunted House Forums. There are several pro haunters on there that are willing to lend a hand if you need any help getting started.
http://hauntworld.com/haunted_house_forums/

Good luck and keep us post!
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
RMT, the book is ordered - thanks for the link.

I looked at the building and it's divided into 1250 sf units. The 2500 sf double unit I was envisioning simply isn't big enough. There may be a chance to get more than two units, but the added overhead will be a big consideration. * sigh *
 

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Good Advice everyone, I double the majority of it all.... and also say pick up Kelly Allens book, he also has another one titles Fright team Management.... also worth the read...
 

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Hey TOT....I have seen your work in person, and I know that you will put together and outstanding pro haunt. Best of luck to you!!
 

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I feel your pain

I have been looking for a venue for months now so I can take the plunge, but people in florida dont watch the news and dont know that property values have dipped slightly. I am hoping for a 2012 debut. gonna skip this year all together.
I am sad
 
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