Escape Manor started four years ago, after my business partners and I heard about how much fun escape rooms are. They were growing in popularity around the world, so we decided to bring the trend to Ottawa.
At first, we weren’t sure how it would be welcomed by the nation’s capital, a city with a sleepy reputation. But, to our luck, it seemed the city was waiting for a new form of entertainment, and we opened with great success.
Today, we have a business and a brand that we’re really proud of. We’ve expanded to other parts of Canada and even have a location in Brisbane, Australia. But expansion didn’t come overnight. We built our brand one step at a time until we were ready to take it internationally. Here are my tips on growing a global brand:
1. Establish great partners
From the beginning, we leaned on other businesses in Ottawa to help promote our brand. Early on, we partnered with museums in Ottawa, and those partnerships still exist today. Canada’s Cold War Museum—the Diefenbunker—and the Museum of Nature thought our escape rooms would work well with their business strategy. The “night at the museum” scenario, in which escape rooms are set up in the museums after hours, is one that people love. It’s a win-win for everyone: we’re able to offer more locations and variety for our customers and the museums benefit from attracting people who might not otherwise visit.
We were lucky enough that our partners saw value in what we were doing and decided to come to us, but I would recommend developing a value proposition before you approach a partner for support. Think about how you can work together and why your company is the right fit.
2. Ensure brand consistency
When we were expanding our Ottawa locations, then opening one in Regina, we really wanted to ensure our brand was consistent at every location. We felt a cohesive experience was important, no matter where our guests visited us. We’ve taken that approach with our international location too.
I went to visit our Brisbane location recently and it’s surreal being on the other side of the world and walking into a place that seems so familiar. We ensure every location has the same colour palette, logos and some of the same pieces, but with a unique flair. And, no matter what, the iconic Escape Manor compass has to be visible.
We also feel it’s important to do as much as we can in-house. Nobody knows the brand like we do, so instead of outsourcing, our employees develop scripts, design rooms and set escape room scenes. This ensures everything has the voice, tone and look we want.
At the same time, as much as we’re growing up, we stay true to our roots. As one of the four owners, I can say we’re still very much involved in the day-to-day operations. This helps us to reinforce the same vision and values we’ve had since day one, while allowing our employees to develop fresh, creative ideas.
In addition, have clear procedures and processes to help keep the brand consistent. As we grow, so does our staff, and we realize we can’t have everyone in the same room at all times. Having documents in place helps to ensure everyone’s on the same page.
3. Invest in employees
When we started growing, we didn’t want to lose sight of our people. One of our key goals is to be recognized as a top employer. As much as we’re trying to wow and amaze guests, its equally important for us to make sure our employees are happy, enjoy coming to work, and feel respected and empowered.
We’re always working on our systems and processes to help find ways for our staff to grow personally and professionally. We also can’t forget succession planning and think about future management for the company.
Ultimately, we want to create this awesome workforce that can go on exchanges to our locations anywhere in the world. Having these moving pieces benefits our team and gives our employees worldly experience.
4. Focus on social media
There’s no question that any well-established brand should have a social media presence. To keep our brand consistent, we have Social Media Champions at each location and a Marketing Coordinator who signs off on all of our content to make sure it has our voice and tone. We try to be pedestrian, yet witty and smart.
We also leverage our customers for social media success. We always offer our guests the opportunity to take a group selfie at the end of each experience. They will often post them and share with their audience, generating some great engagement.
Another way to get social traction is to develop fun, interactive opportunities that also become part of your marketing strategy. Last year, we set a Guinness World Record by hosting the world’s largest scavenger hunt. In conjunction with the Canada 150 celebrations, we had almost 6,000 people take part. They had to complete 150 tasks related to Canadian facts and history, and in doing so, tagged us in nearly 32,000 social posts. That event put a great spotlight on us and was a ton of fun.
5. Give back to the community
Whether it’s a charity run, volunteering at a soup kitchen or raising money for hospitals, it’s always been important for us to give back to our community.
Ottawa is the city that got us started, so we’ve raised lots of money for local charities. In fact, each year each partner raises $10,000 for a charity that means something to them. We also contribute to the community by donating gift certificates for various causes for auction, and so far, that initiative has raised $250,000.
In giving back, we contribute to our community that has helped us succeed and also showcase our brand. As we continue to expand, we plan to give back to each market we enter.