Opening Night Mayhem
When Heidi Dunfield opened Fear Factory in 2011 with her family, they were immediately thrown in the deep end. After receiving a lot of press anticipating the new haunted house in town, they finally opened their doors to the public on October 25, at the very end of haunted house season. What they didn’t expect was that everybody would read about them and show up all at once. They closed the first night with many negative reviews and a huge line through the haunted house. She felt like it had been such a disaster, she was worried the business wouldn’t be able to recover.
Heidi’s father in law ran a haunted house in Holladay in the 1970s. Her husband grew up in the haunt. When the recession hit in the late aughts, a visit to a haunted house renewed the family’s interest in opening one of their own. Heidi thought it would be a fun side business. She was a stay-at-home-mom for nearly ten years.
Their first hurdle, after finding an old factory in the granary district, was getting the city to let them use it for an attraction that would bring in thousands of people. When they finally got the necessary permits and opened their doors at the end of that first season, the first night left Heidi unsure if they could recover from all the negative reviews.
Changing Their Fate
The following season they reopened, but Heidi felt like she was playing catch up to fight all the negative reviews. In 2013, she and her husband met Dan Farr, founder of Salt Lake Comic Con. Fear Factory became a sponsor for the event. As she sat at the sponsor table, people came up to her telling her how much they wanted to visit Fear Factory, how they had heard about it and couldn’t wait to check it out. Heidi felt a shift in her mindset as she realized how much potential there was to make her business work.
Another realization that came from Heidi’s work at Salt Lake Comic Con and her conversations with haunted house consultants: she needed to think of her business as an event. She worked Comic Con to gain experience, eventually becoming their Director of Events for two years. She took that experience and began refining and improving Fear Factory at the end of each season.
The haunted house industry is very male-dominated. She goes to the big convention with her husband every year and people often regard her as just “the wife.” Men will tell her, “if you’re lucky maybe you will be able to stay home with the kids again.” For her, that’s not the goal.
When she needs to unwind, Heidi takes a warm bath, but she’s still answering emails. As a business owner, she is never fully unplugged, even on vacation. If you want to have a good business, she says, you have to go all in.
Heidi’s advice for future female entrepreneurs: believe in yourself. There’s always going to be a hurdle but you’re always going to be able to get over it. There’s nothing that’s too big to get in the way if it’s a strong business idea.
Visit Heidi at Fear Factory, 666 W 800 S, Salt Lake City, UT 84104, and http://fearfactoryslc.com.