Much like she did when setting up shop in Nixa last year, Questledge owner Debbie Moore again has circled spring break on the calendar for her family-oriented entertainment center.
March is the targeted period to finish creating a second escape room. Questledge currently has one space in the 3,000-square-foot building devoted to an escape room, but Moore is determined to meet her self-imposed deadline to complete a new one.
“Spring break is our biggest week,” she says, noting the company draws around 60% of its business from locals. “It’s the kickoff to the season, and we get swamped.”
Moore says Questledge was booked solid last year during spring break, and she expects more of the same this year. Visitors come to race against time to exit a locked room, get immersed in virtual reality games battling zombies and shooting archery, and play scavenger and treasure hunts to solving puzzles and find hidden objects.
The business operates in a more than 100-year-old building – formerly home of Nixa Hardware & Seed Co. The front portion is filled with VR equipment, most notably a pair of omnidirectional treadmill units owned by her son, Steven Donovan. The units, in which the user wears a harness and devices on their shoes to track their entire body movement, were originally for personal use, Donovan says. However, when Moore decided to move the business to Nixa, he provided the equipment to bring the new VR component.
Moore says revenue is about 50% higher in Nixa than when Questledge last operated in Ozark in 2017, though she declined to disclose annual figures. Back then, only treasure and scavenger hunts were offered.
“When I started Questledge in Ozark, I did not do escape rooms,” she says. “Nobody knew what escape rooms were back then.”
Today, those attractions are a little more common. According to an industry report from RoomEscapeArtist.com, there were around 2,300 escape rooms nationwide in mid-2019. Springfield has 417 Escape Artist and Springfield Escape Room, and others operate in Branson, including Escape Code and The Escape Branson.
At Questledge, Moore says the escape room – priced at $88 for up to four players and $22 for each additional participant – has caught on more than expected. She says three games, such as an auction house mystery, are offered in the room, with props and locks changed out.
“Surprisingly, the escape room is the bigger hit,” she says, adding it generates about half of revenue, while VR and the treasure and scavenger hunts split the other half.
When introducing VR at Questledge last year, Moore says she thought the high-tech offering would be the venue’s biggest hit. Not so.
“We have to educate everybody before we put a headset on them. It scares them,” Moore says, noting the intimidation factor has slowed interest.
She estimates the company invested $30,000 to set up the eight VR stations through purchases with her sons’ company, Avatar-VR. Donovan, who started working at Questledge last year, says the omnidirectional treadmill units, dubbed KatWalks, have a wow factor but they can be risky.
“People are scared of looking like a complete idiot,” he says, adding the KatWalk cost is $10 for 10 minutes. “Once they’re in there, they love it. It’s getting them out of that mindset that is a challenge.”
Chris Russell, president of the Nixa Area Chamber of Commerce, says he’s utilized VR gaming at Questledge for his staff on a couple of occasions.
“It was fun and team building at the same time,” he says. “One of the things from a standpoint in Nixa that we’re lacking is a little more entertainment. This is a great solution.”
Russell says anything that can keep residents from leaving town for entertainment is valuable.
Team-building opportunities haven’t been limited to the Nixa chamber. Moore says a Masterminds of Biz chapter has held several activities over the past few months, and she’s begun targeting other professional networking groups.
Whether it’s VR games in the front area or escape rooms in the building’s back half, Moore says staff members are maximizing the space they have and its usage. While some entertainment centers set up its VR stations in separate rooms, Questledge uses curtain dividers.
“We went simple because our whole thing is to get the most out of our space,” she says, pointing to Halloween decorations that were incorporated into a haunted maze for Nixa’s Creepin’ at the Crossroads event in October 2019.
Since December, the business has started renting out space for make and take art activities. It’s offered every Sunday afternoon at a cost of $40 for the vendor, with Questledge also collecting $1 per participant. Six sessions have been held thus far, Moore says.
In the future, she plans to convert the upstairs into extra escape room space and add a permanent haunted maze.
“It offers a reason for people to come back,” Moore says.
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