PKED caught up with Jake from Escape Maze on Cedar Bank Road, just south of Peterborough in Stewart Hall to talk about how they are using the Tourism Resiliency Fund to help their business through recovery from the COVID-19 global pandemic.
1. Where did the idea/concept for your business come from?
We had been searching for a while for a business we could run on our family farm. We had tried a few businesses but hadn’t found the right fit for our skill set. I was travelling in Europe in 2014 and googling “Fun things to do” I came across an escape room. From just reading the description, I was already sold on the idea. It took about 3 months from when I arrived back home until we opened our doors to the public with 2 escape rooms. Since we were setting up the business on our family farm, inside our barn, we decided to give the facility an overall theme of the 1860’s gold rush. There was a gold rush right here in Ontario in 1866 so we adopted that bit of history into our games. We were able to expand into 8 escape rooms, 5 outdoor adventure trails and a seasonal haunt. We also sell our game designs worldwide as well as the custom work we do, such as the game we designed for the Marriott Hotel chain. We also have been part of many community projects such as the Peterborough EX game, John Howard fundraising, parades, festivals and a custom-designed game for Elmhirst’s Resort this year.
2. What has it been like navigating the pandemic with your business?
Naturally, we have struggled to keep customers coming in during this unsettling time. It was with a very heavy heart that we had to close down our second location in Lansdowne Place Mall. We did not have the traffic we needed to keep our doors open there. Unfortunately, it also meant we lost three much-loved employees. In an effort to accommodate hesitant players, we rammed up our four outdoor trails and created an outdoor Christmas trail and outdoor haunt experience. This has been what we needed to keep running in our first location. With all the cleaning procedures and accounting for spacing out groups at the front desk, we have reduced the number of players we are able to accommodate to half of that before COVID-19.
3. What will you be using the Tourism Resiliency Funding towards?
We will be using the funding toward creating more games where players can begin in their homes and come to our location to complete the game. This way, we can accommodate more players per day. There will be much fewer props and puzzles to clean, reducing reset times. We will be purchasing a 360 camera as well as designing a website to accommodate more online gameplay. It is our hope that players will play about 75% of the game online and will arrive at our location to finish the other 25%. We think that players will enjoy the expanded freedom of creating several 360 rooms to play in digitally but finish the game in the last remaining room.
4. What are your hopes for the business in the next few years?
It is our dream that groups of people will be using our facility to come together for teamwork and fun. We want corporate clients to see the benefit of good cooperative gameplay to build morale and a sense of we-are-all-in-this-together comradery. When people are allowed to start visiting each other again, we hope that families will see the benefit of family reunions and take direct action toward making it happen. We love to be the centre where families can come together, enjoy some gameplay and each other’s company. Building on those specific concepts, we like to put in some old-timey accommodations such as cover wagons and create an overall experience with campfires and chuckwagons. In addition to those year-round goals, we would love to be known in the Kawarthas as the place to go for a Halloween good scare. We have been creating new haunts each year since 2014 and we have developed a great system to avoid the long lines usually associated with haunted houses at Halloween, while still delivering an experience described as “like being inside a Hollywood movie”.
5. What is it like owning a business in Peterborough & the Kawarthas?
Peterborough and the Kawarthas have been super supportive. The first year of business we entered the Bear’s Lair where we finished in 2nd place, but more importantly, it taught us many fundamentals about business and got our name into the community. We have taken part in many business classes and took advantage of business to business meeting ups. We were also lucky enough to win a trip to the Edge of the Wedge Experiential Travel course which helped foster many of the ideas we want to put into practise today. On top of all the business help this community has provided us, the people in this area have been incredibly supportive.
6. What makes your business unique to our region?
Our escape room facility is the only one we have heard of, that is in a barn and has a gold rush theme. Also, we have the land (129 acres) to create our own little villages of escape room fun. The 1860s theme creates an atmosphere of old-timey days when things were a little more simple, less electronics and more family fun. We, the staff, dress in period costumes and we design games around the 1860’s time period, often including stories of our own local history.
7. What is your favourite thing about living and working in Peterborough & the Kawarthas?
There is no denying Peterborough and the Kawarthas beauty. She is beautiful in the city and country roads where we are. It is a gift to wake up each morning and really appreciate the trees in every season changing and the way the landscape gently curves down to the river. We are thrilled to be working and living on the same piece of property. We can never forget how beautiful it is, because we hear it on a daily basis from our players.
PKED is profiling several tourism-dependent businesses that were successful in receiving Tourism Resiliency Funding to support costs associated with adapting to public health measures and safety reopening, which will support the tourism industry’s recovery in Peterborough & the Kawarthas.