By Maureen Spurr
In the escape room industry, Louie Hernandez of The Sanctuary Escape Games in Oklahoma City, Okla., said that what’s trending are bigger, more immersive experiences. “When we came onto the scene January of 2017, we raised the bar to a new level of what an escape room was with our immersive storyline, using puzzles that fit that time frame the story was set in, and we brought players into a different world where they felt like they were no longer in Oklahoma,” he said. Hernandez is co-owner with business partners Tino and Cathleen Pascuzzi.
Hernandez said that customer service is important to create happiness and memories by providing the best escape room experience—by meeting and exceeding expectations. “We are focused on the guests’ experience the entire time they are in our facility—from the moment they walk through our doors until we walk them back out the doors. Our reputation of having the best games in the state must be met with the best customer service to go along with it,” he said.
Keeping the facility clean takes work that includes each game undergoing a thorough inspection each night as well as a full walk for maintenance two days a week. “Each day, bathrooms and common areas are mopped and disinfected, so our players see a clean facility. We sweep and mop constantly so that cleanups are minimal. If you stay on top of cleaning, there’s not much to clean,” he said.
Hernandez said he’s planning two new horror-themed rooms, one slated to open in mid-August.
Dominique Fruchtman, owner of Escape Room Palm Springs in Palm Springs, Calif., opened in 2015 after her husband Mark—an IT professional—told her he could not climb under desks forever. They started their escape room facility, were profitable their first year, and expanded into the successful business they have today. Currently they have one of the largest facilities in Southern California, six rooms, 6,000 square feet and seven employees.
“One trend that I am thrilled to see that looks like it’s here to stay is private rooms, she said. “Most escape rooms now run private games, where you are never grouped with strangers.” Also, she’s noticed the trend of locking people up in rooms falling out of vogue. “We are philosophically against the concept of locking people up, both for safety reasons and because most people prefer to know they can walk out of the room at any time.”
For customer service, she trains her staff to check with each game’s players to ensure that they had a good time. If they didn’t, she tries to learn what they can do to improve the games, the hints, the puzzles, or anything else about the way they run the business.
As far as keeping the facility clean, she said the best tip is to keep up on it regularly—to sweep often and not allow food or drinks past the front door. “We tell players to throw out their gum at the front desk to prevent gum from landing on our carpets, and we check the restrooms several times throughout the day for supplies and cleanliness,” she said.
As far as expansion, she said, “We are not redesigning our rooms at this time. Recovering from the losses of 2020 is our top priority. It’s expensive to support the PPE, additional cleaning and reduced hours,” she said. She added that a lot of her business is based on travel and many of the customers are first-time visitors to Palm Springs.
Charlie Sundahl, who runs Escape Games at the River in Rancho Mirage, Calif., opened in 2016, has 5,000 square feet with a staff of six, and is open 365 days per year. He runs six to seven games on average and said he sees trends in Southern California going in two directions: the first direction toward enthusiasts and players who have played multiple games are looking for bigger and better “wow” factors. The second direction he said is trying to tailor games more to the younger crowd with families, children and even grandparents – games that every type of player can enjoy.
“As more and more players are discovering how fun escape games are, there has been a definite need to make games more immersive with special effects that create memorable experiences,” he said.
When it comes to customer service, he said, “This is one of the most important aspects of this industry: We are driven by impressions that a facility leaves on players,” he said. The first impression is when players arrive at the facility—it should be clean and welcoming, he continued. And the moment players enter the facility, they should be greeted by an enthusiastic staff member. “We want to get our players excited and immersed into the storyline before they even start. Players are then given a backstory video about the game. Game Masters should always further explain rules and answer any questions before entering the room, so the players have a clear understanding of their objective. After the game is what I call the moment of truth. This is the lasting impression on the facility and players should have all questions answered regarding the puzzles, a team photo taken and walked out of the facility by an enthusiastic employee thanking them for their business. It is amazing how much of a relationship can be built in the short period of time before the game during the game and after the game with your customers. Make them feel good and they will return.”
As far as keeping the facility clean, he said staying on top of it is key. “We wipe down our games after every game, but due to COVID, we have extended the time in between games to allow for a deeper cleaning. We use a bleach mixture recommended by the CDC and we spray the entire room down and then we leave the room for it to air out and dry. Fifteen to 20 minutes later we go in with a rag with the same bleach mixture and hand-wipe all touchable objects down. Two of the most important places to keep clean besides the games are the lobby and especially the bathrooms. As far as I think you’re only as clean as your restrooms! Clean, clean, clean!”
Sundahl said they will be re-designing and building new rooms in the future because he thinks families, friends and coworkers are always looking for fun activities to do. “Our next games that we are planning on building are going to be the family friendly playable by all types of players!”