It’s the horror story that keeps entrepreneurs up at night: investing all their time, money, and love into starting a small business, only to be run out by a larger corporation. The world claims to love the triumphant underdog narrative. However, time and time again consumers will pick large corporations like Starbucks over their local baristas. This is because of the convenience, timeliness, and cheapness of chain options. The newest trend? The escape room.
Enter Jeff Boyer and his company, Room Escapers — Boston. Considering what we said before, his company is thriving in the escape room industry against national competitors. Why, you may ask? Boyer does something that larger corporations don’t. He devotes everything to ensuring each customer walks away absolutely exhilarated by their experience.
The escape room underdog: customer experience above everything
“This is more than just my business — this is my baby, my passion project,” said Boyer. “Everything I do is for the customer and their experience, and I try to make every person feel like they had their own perfect adventure here. That is the singular most important thing to me.”
Getting Ahead of the Game
Room Escapers — Boston opened in 2015, right before escape rooms became the mainstream and trendy entertainment experience that they are today. The concept for these businesses is simple: create an interactive room with clues, puzzles, and challenges. Then, have groups of friends, co-workers or family sign up in hopes of working together to try and ‘escape’ the room. These rooms often involve coded safes, hidden messages, and encrypted symbols. Teams must decode the various puzzles in order to find a key and escape the room. While they originated in Japan and eventually migrated to Europe, they only recently became popularized in America. This surge in popularity turned out to be both a blessing and a curse for Boyer.
“I opened my business before escape rooms really became a thing in America, so it was hard to advertise an entertainment experience that people didn’t really understand yet,” said Boyer. “It was great because I basically beat the trend in time, but I had to go through the challenges of convincing landlords that this business was profitable, receiving the right permits, and getting contractors to conceptualize my vision.”
In order to spread the word Boyer used Google and Facebook advertising and location-targeted marketing. However, he said the most-effective way for getting the word out about Room Escapers — Boston was something much simpler: getting people to talk about them.
“We created a groupon when we opened up, and although it didn’t exactly help us generate a lot of revenue at the beginning, it did help us generate a lot of reviews and buzz,” said Boyer. “Having a satisfied customer walk away and tell their friends or co-workers about our business created a lot of recognition and an influx of people, all because they had an amazing time.”
A guaranteed one-of-a-kind escape room experience with each visit
Boyer prides his escape rooms on being different (and better) than chain escape rooms. Why? Because of his individualization and unique themes. As with many corporate chains, specialization and customer care can often get pushed to the side and come second to profit and sales. Not here! Boyer specializes every team’s experience to their preferences, and creates vastly complicated and captivating story lines based on Boston History. Examples of this includes exploring “The Whydah,” a real sunken pirate ship off the coast of Cape Cod, for hidden treasures. This helps ensure that the customer be completely immersed during their time.
“Instead of trying to sell an experience, I really try to sell an interactive, make-your-own adventure,” said Boyer. “We want them to feel a real sense of urgency and purpose in our rooms, just like a real story. I try to talk to every customer after their time slot and receive as much feedback as possible, because listening to your customer is the best way to ensure that your customers leave wholly satisfied, come back, and tell others us. Listening to your customer and ensuring that they have a great time gets them to do your advertising for you.”
Boyer also added that there is a massive escape room community compromised of other business owners in which advice, ideas, and suggestions are discussed.
“In the escape room business, your best allies are your competitors,” said Boyer. “The thing about escape rooms is that you can only do them once; so, we pass around customers and advice to each other so that we can continue to profit as a collection of small business owners against the chains.”
“It can be harder to compete in the escape room market as more chains come to Boston, just because they have so much more money to utilize on advertising and marketing,” said Boyer. “But I am okay with relying on customer enjoying our experiences more than those big chains. People want to be in control of their own experiences, so when you put in that extra effort and time to give them that, you’ll always win.”
Hear more from Jeff about his experiences as a small business owner in a competitive market below: