The Bates Motel and Haunted Hayride is an iconic attraction that has built the groundwork for those who hope to achieve excellence in the haunt industry. Randy Bates is the forefather of the modern haunted attraction industry an icon that has built such a massive enterprise that his influence spans well beyond the haunt itself. An innovator in attraction design, Mr. Bates has continued to push the envelope in creating attractions that are “larger than life” and help others develop systems that promote professionalism, safety, and quality within the industry. In 2017, Bates Motel and Haunted Hayride, once again raised the bar in hayride design, bringing to life a “Jurassic Park” inspired scene that is perhaps more impressive than one would expect at a mainstream amusement park. Further innovations in the “Escape Room’s” industry have continued to highlight Mr. Bates and his team’s incredible ability to remain a leader in this industry, and we are proud to feature him in this special edition of the Electroshock Spotlight.
Can you provide a background on the history of the attraction? We opened the Haunted Hayride in 1991 with 25 actors and four tractors and wagons. In 1996, after attending our first Transworld Tradeshow in Chicago, we decided to open the “Bates Motel Haunted House.” In 2000, we added the third attraction, the “Haunted Trail.” Since then, we’ve added tons of new scenes and sets, and upgrade each year. We built a new gift shop and added to our food concessions. Last year, we created four cutting-edge escape rooms in West Chester.
What are the primary reasons you launched your attraction? What were your inspirations and guiding principles? Being a small farm, we were looking for additional revenue. We also enjoy scaring people and entertaining the public, so this was a great fit. Our event is a total team effort. We have a build crew that brainstorms each year then begin construction in the spring. Our primary guiding principle is to leave your ego at the door. Also, since we build a majority of our props, and all of our masks, makeup appliances, and costumes, we are truly an original attraction.
How have you been able to successfully keep the Bates Motel and Haunted Hayride, a fresh, unique experience for customers each season? Every year we add more sets and props and upgrade or change older ones. This year we tore down the village scene and built a massive cave and canyon, complete with waterfalls and dinosaurs.
What other roles do you currently have in the industry? It is my understanding that you helped pioneer the modern safety laws governing haunted attractions. How did you help develop these guidelines? Every year I teach Haunted House code compliance at the Pennsylvania State safety seminars. I helped write the inspector’s test and also teach Hayride and outdoor events safety. I too am the chairman for the ASTM International committee for hayride safety. We hope to have a complete hayride safety document soon. Besides the haunt industry, I am an 18 year veteran of Edgemont Fire Company 64, Serve on the board of supervisors as well as the Delco Conservation District. I’m a founding member of the Haunted Attraction Association.
You have a growing “Escape Room” business in West Chester, PA. How did you get into this sector of the entertainment industry? What is your philosophy behind a good “escape room”? Several of my friends around the country told me that this is the latest and greatest thing. I love it because it provides year-round income. I think that a great escape room needs to be unique, highly detailed and lots of interactive devices instead of locks. Our Countdown! The room is high tech, with three computers running it as well as a surround speaker system and eight individual speakers for sound effects. Our room completely immerses your senses.
You have always been on the forefront of the haunted attraction industry. Where do you see the industry headed over the next five years? I see some growth over the next five years. We now have parents, who came here as children coming back and bringing out their kids.
What are the most significant challenges facing haunt owners today? Liability, rising costs, potential restrictions with building codes and enforcement.
Do you think that social media has played a decisive role in the haunt industry with instant access to reviews? Social media has helped some attractions and hurt others. If there is a great attraction out there, people know about it. We provide a survey when you purchase tickets online: How old are you, how did you hear about us and what are you scared off? Overwhelmingly the way they heard about us was from a friend. Radio was about 5%
Describe a basic operational night. 9:00 am: Build crew arrives to inspect the attractions, blow leaves off the hayride trail, put down gravel in the trail, and make any repairs necessary. 2:00 pm the makeup staff arrive and produce our custom appliances, wash costumes, and prepare for the night. 4:30 pm, the first wave of actors arrive to get makeup and into costume. Also, our tractor driver manager arrives to fuel all 12 tractors and hitch up to the wagons. 5:30 pm the concession staff arrive and clean the stand and prepare the batter for funnel cakes. All fryers are turned on, soda is loaded into the coolers, and all food is prepped. 6:00 pm, the concession stand opens as well as the gift shop, coffin rides, and mobile escape rooms. 6:30 pm, the “Bates Motel” opens for customers. 6:45 (or dusk) the hayride opens and after that the trail opens. Weeknights, the box office closes at 9:30 and all customers are finished by 10:30. Weekends end much later. On busy nights, we order 40-50 pizzas for the staff.
What is your strategy to prepare actors for the season? We interview and audition all actors during the summer. At several meetings, our lead actors brake off with smaller groups for training. We have managers who talk about hydrating, stretching and wearing the proper shoes and clothing. All staff is trained in the use of fire extinguishers, evacuation, and safety.
Any advice for those looking to get into the industry? Go big or go home! Seriously, you need to research local zoning regulations, follow building codes and plan everything out.