I’ve known the owner of Seven Floors of Hell, Rodney Geffert, since the days when he posted on the Hauntworld Message board forum on a daily basis selling all kinds of cool used stuff. He had the knack for finding and re-selling so much used equipment that I knick named him ‘Fred Sanford’ from the popular television show. I talked to Rodney often, but back then his haunt was located in Akron, and some years he would say his attendance was up and other years it was down. After reading this article you will realize it wasn’t until Rodney, moved his attractions to Cleveland that he finally made it in the haunted house industry. Through this article we’ll explore what it took for Rodney to create Seven Floors of Hell from his early days in Akron, Ohio. So grab your pitchfork we’re going to HELL and back again!
HauntWorld: Rodney, we’ve known each other for a long time. It seems like you’ve gone through a lot of different haunted houses, cities and locations to get where you are now. Tell us about how you got into the haunted house business and what you’ve gone through.
7 Floors of Hell: First off, let me thank HauntWorld for coving our event. I started off working at many haunted houses when I was in high school and loved Halloween more than anything, I actually worked for Tom Goddard before he decided to sell off his property, Haunted Hill Farm Haunted Hayride, located in Copley, Ohio. After that season I wanted to open my own haunted house, but financially I was broke had no money, no credit cards, nothing. There was no one I could borrow the money from to get started. So, I started planning and came up with just a few thousand dollars and found a location. I don't like to think about that first year from a business perspective, but it was a start and more than anything it was fun. I only had a few thousand dollars invested, and I didn't make any money that year, but I sure didn't lose any either. After our first season, we moved on to a new location and did much better. Not knowing too much about the industry at that time and not knowing any other haunters, it was truly a struggle trying to learn and do everything on my own. But, every year I would put 100% of what I made back into the show to keep taking it to the next level. We operated in the Akron, Ohio area for 8 years.
HauntWorld: Why did you make the move from Akron area to Cleveland?
7 Floors of Hell: After running our event in the Akron area and not being able to reach the attendance numbers we wanted, my wife Melinda and I had to make a tough decision…Do we stay in this market or do we look for another area and move our event? The Cleveland Market was saturated with haunted houses but was really the only market within reasonable traveling distance. Cleveland was a huge decision. First, we had to find a great location and the main question in my mind was…How can we compete with haunted houses that have been in the market for 20+ years? Well most of the events in Cleveland were small shows with only 1 haunt and sq.ft of around 4000. Most of them were charging admission price between $8.00-$10.00. We knew we had to come up with a huge event and market it as such to even compete. I found a prime location at the Cuyahoga county fairgrounds located just minutes from downtown Cleveland and right off a major highway. I wasn't big on moving to a fairground, but a good location was very hard to find, and where the fairgrounds were located was probably one of the best locations in all of Ohio.
HauntWorld: So tell us why did you picked the name "7 Floors of Hell’?
7 Floors of Hell: As a young child, I loved haunted houses and each Halloween we went to every haunted house in the area. The one thing we would always hear standing in line was about a haunted house in Cleveland known as the ‘7 Floors of Hell’. It was supposed to be so scary that no one had ever made it through. It was talked about more than any haunted house. Well, it wasn’t real; it didn’t exist. I gave it much thought and determined this would be the right name for my event. I just knew that with the location I found, the name would be perfect.
HauntWorld: A name like that can be risky. So many haunted houses have moved away from ‘Hell’, ‘Satan’, and things of this nature. Has it worked out for you? Have you seen any backlash?
7 Floors of Hell: The first year we opened, it was a huge hit. People came from all over to see the haunt they had heard about since kids. The only backlash from the name was with sponsors. At first it was very hard to get sponsors to work with us. Finally, after several years, sponsors started knocking at our door and wanting to be part of our event. Teenagers love the name, and it's a name they will never forget. And year after year, the crowds get larger and larger. Years ago, the name might have been offensive but not today.
HauntWorld: How many different haunted houses do you feature at ‘7 Floors of Hell’?
7 Floors of Hell: Seven. (1) Black Out: 2800 sq.ft. of total darkness with a Scarefactory ‘house of the dead’ facade in front. (2) The Cemetery: 7000sq.ft with over 100 tombstones. This house has over 30 animations. It's like walking thru an old cemetery from start to finish. The facade is a mausoleum with lots of rod iron fencing and statues with a Scarefactory ‘scissor serpent’ out front. (3) Insane Asylum: a 4800sq.ft. prison-themed haunted house. Distortions Unlimited custom built the facade with a shake and bake electric chair out front. (4) The Crypt: 4800sq.ft. haunt with over 3000 skeletons and bones to detail the walls. You must pass under a Slayer before entering this house. (5) Psycho Circus in 3-D: 4800sq.ft. of crazy clowns. The facade is a 14' tall evil clown to walk thru and enter the Vortex tunnel. (6) Our most popular house, The Butcher Shop: 4400 sq.ft. of nothing but blood guts and gore with over 100 Unit 70 Studios gory bodies. The facade is an old butcher shop with 3 Ghost Ride kicking pigs hanging out front. (7) The House of Nightmares: 8000sq.ft. with over 30 rooms and 100+ animal heads. It’s very detailed. The facade is an old looking house with a Demon Knight that comes out.
HauntWorld: How much of your event do you change each season?
7 Floors of Hell: The one thing we have found is that customers want to see changes; they don't want the same show year after year. If we only change a room here and there, who would ever notice? So to stay on the cutting edge to bring our customers back year after year, we change over 50% of our event every year. It's a lot of work, but it makes a difference. We just don't change a room here and there; we will bring in three to four new shows the following year. We will do whatever it takes to keep the show fresh. A few years ago, we purchased a Distortions Beast inflatable just to use for one season.
HauntWorld: You’re known for TONS of animations in your show, so tell us exactly how many you do have, and why you have so many.
7 Floors of Hell: I have always loved animations. I feel it's something the customers just don't see every day, and if their used in the right areas, they do a great job. Our goal is to use at least one animation in every room of every house. Some rooms have as many as 5 animations. In total this season we had over 100 animations. In the 2006 season, we had 160+ animations.
HauntWorld: Do you think animations are more effective than actors? Have you seen any backlash to more animations than actors?
7 Floors of Hell: Animations do their thing and actors do theirs. Would I say one is better than the other?... They both have their pros and their cons. With animations, you have to set them up, mount them down, run air lines, air compressors, and there's maintenance on them too. Did I mention air compressors? It takes twelve 80 gallon air compressors to run all of our animations. This all takes time to deal with. We use a lot of actors in our event, but it just never seems like enough. It's very hard to run 7 haunted houses at 1 location. We have to keep our 7 houses spread apart just to handle large crowds, and when you have 100+ actors spread out, it's very hard to manage. We have a great crew. But, every season there’s a hand full of actors that are like animations… Sometimes they work and sometimes they don't. This is a work in progress which, we are going to get right this season.
HauntWorld: You have more of a ‘theme park’ style operation. Explain to us what you offer and how you guide your guests through the park. In other words, how does your attraction operate?
7 Floors of Hell: We have to be more of a theme park operation. We have Cedar Point just 70 miles West of us and Six Flags just 60 miles East of us. So from day 1, we had to have the theme park atmosphere. From the time customers pull in and park, they can see all of the 7 haunted houses and the elaborate facades. As customers enter, they make their way to our ticket booth. Once a ticket is purchased, they can go thru any haunted house in any order. Just like a theme park, you pay admission and you’re free to go to any attraction. We offer full concessions from 8 different food venders and a Halloween merchandise shop.
HauntWorld: What kind of que line entertainment do you offer?
7 Floors of Hell: Customers can spend several hours outside of the haunts, so we entertain them with 1 animation in front of every house to fit the theme of the house. We also have 1 actor in front of every house in full makeup and costume to fit that houses theme. Also, 6 actors roam between the houses. For this year, we have decided to step up our outside entertainment. At the IAAPA convention we sat down with Lifeformations to custom build us several audio animation characters. One of the pieces is a custom Dr. Backtolife figure that will be on a stage with a full light show and sound system programmed to sing 35 songs. These are very expensive pieces, but they will do their thing and entertain our guest.
HauntWorld: You have received a lot of national press, and from what I understand, you are breaking all kinds of attendance records. How does the large crowd impact operations at your event?
7 Floors of Hell: The one thing we have that helps out is that we have so much room. Our houses are spread out over 20 acres. Customers can go to any house in any order. We have found this is how Universal Studios does it, and it has worked out great for us as well. Speed pass is something we just started a few years ago, and it's a hit. We have separate lines for this and it makes a difference. Friday and Saturdays are starting to get very crowded. We use local police offices to monitor the event, and we have a great staff that oversees the event and is ready to deal with any problems that may occur. Each year our attendance has gone up and this is also on our list to deal with this season as well.
HauntWorld: What is your philosophy on scaring guest on those busy nights and how does it differ from your slower nights?
7 Floors of Hell: There's no doubt that Thursdays and Sundays are the best nights for customers to come out and see the event and get a good scare, but it doesn't happen that way. It just seems that everyone would rather come out and wait in the long lines on Fridays and Saturdays. This is definitely something we are working on this season for improvement. On Fridays and Saturdays, there are so many people at the event, we are forced to rush them or they will never get to see the entire show. We have increased our crew to over 100 workers on these busy nights, but it still seems like we are under staffed some nights. This season we have decided on the busy nights to up our crew to 125+.
HauntWorld: As you’ve made your way through the haunted house industry, and tried to gain knowledge and experience have any haunts or things you’ve seen in the industry inspired you?
7 Floors of Hell: Well it's much different now than when I started 13 years ago. Back then, it was totally different. I didn't have the money to travel. Now, that's what I try to do every season. It's very hard to break away from your show but you just have to do it. I have traveled all over the country and have seen hundreds of haunted houses, and I'm always inspired to see what others are doing different. This year was the first year in 8 straight years that I didn't make it down to see your show, Larry, but the one thing that I would have to say inspired me more than anything was the first year I saw The Darkness inside the old baby carriage factory. Your show was the largest that I had ever seen. You personally gave my wife and me a tour. I’m not sure if you remember or not, but I destroyed my ankle earlier that year and was on crutches. I was so amazed, and about 30 minutes into the tour, I was so exhausted I had to just stop and sit down. I remember asking you how much longer is it? You said we are about half way! I still get a laugh out of that. It was the longest haunted house that I had ever seen, and I was so amazed by the rooms and sets.
HauntWorld: I know you’ve seen a lot of different haunted houses in this industry, which ones are your favorites and why?
7 Floors of Hell: I have seen a lot of haunted houses and again The Darkness has always amazed me. My wife and I loved Terror On Church Street in Orlando. In its early years, the detail was amazing. The Beast and Edge of Hell in Kansas City have always stood out in my mind as my favorites with 2 huge buildings with multiple floors and a show that is nothing but amazing. I have been there 4 times, and I'm always impressed.
HauntWorld: Tell us how your MAJOR publicity event happened (Haunted Wedding) and what was the impact of that PR on your show?
7 Floors of Hell: Two of my workers Tina Milhone, make-up artist, and Rob Seifer, my right-hand man for installing the haunts, decided to get married and approached me early in the season to ask if they could get married at the event on a day we’re closed, Wednesday the 24th. I really didn't think about the wedding getting lots of attention or anything like that. A few days before the wedding, they asked me a few questions and I had a few crazy ideas. They wanted their haunted wedding to take place out front of our Cemetery haunted house, and everyone invited were asked to come in costume. I offered to deliver the groom to the wedding in the back of my 74 Cadillac hearse in a coffin. Six pall bearers would then remove the coffin and carry it to the alter where he would await his bride. The colors were Blood Red and Black and the theme was "Love Never Dies.” The night before the wedding, I decided to send out a few emails to local news stations and local newspapers with all of the details of the wedding. The next day about 1 hour before the start of the wedding I pulled in, and my jaw dropped. There was every news station in Northeast Ohio there with about 5 vans of antennas 40' in the air. Every newspaper was there as well, even the Associated Press. I'm still in shock! This made news coverage for 5 straight days in the Cleveland market, plus it was seen around the world in almost every city in the United States. It was seen on MSNBC, USA Today, The Today Show, and on the front page of Yahoo for a day. We got so much coverage from this, that every day until the 3rd of November was nothing but a mad house at our event. It was truly an amazing wedding. To show our thanks to Rob and Tina, my wife and I provided them a honeymoon trip to Universal Studios - Halloween Horror Nights.
HauntWorld: Is most of your event tore down every year? How long does it take you to install the event and tear down the attractions?
7 Floors of Hell: It's the one thing that stresses me out more than anything, setting it up and taking it down. 100% of our event has to come down each season. We start set-up in the middle of July and work 7 days a week14 to16 hours a day to get done in time for opening. Tear down goes much faster. We have to get the event down as soon as possible. We are located in Cleveland just about 15 miles from Lake Erie and weather and lake effect conditions aren't too friendly in November. Tear down takes about 12 days. Everything is packed in our fleet of 27 semi trailers.
HauntWorld: In the ever changing media world, what are your best marketing tactics these days? What are some of the effective ways you have promoted your attraction to the public?
7 Floors of Hell: We do a lot of advertising. Radio is our #1 source, billboards, newspaper, and coupons distributed with our sponsors. The one thing that has really made a difference is the sponsors that work with us. We print 2.5 million coupons for our sponsors to pass out. T-Mobile is my biggest sponsor. They have over 800 locations in Northeast Ohio that distribute our coupons on their counters. As well, we have other sponsors: Marco's Pizza (48 locations), Hollywood Video (26 locations), Popeye's (19 locations), Spencer Gifts, Spirit Halloween, and Pepsi.
HauntWorld: What changes are you making? What new attractions are you adding for 2008?
7 Floors of Hell: We will be adding several pieces from Lifeformations for outside entertainment. On the haunted houses, we start to make these decisions right after Transworld Haunt Show. We want to see what's new to determine what we could use in our event. We have sold off 3 of our haunts from the 2007 season, and are deciding what to replace them with. One of our new shows this year will be some kind of old campground with a forest and lodging quarters. This season, we have decided to cut back on some of the animations and really up our actor crew.
HauntWorld: I heard you have some exciting news…You built a new house just down the street from a Famous Cleveland resident. Who would that be???
7 Floors of Hell: After 13 years in the business, we were finally able to buy a piece of property in the nicest area in Ohio. We built our dream home with a 4000 sq.ft. shop right in the backyard. It’s just down the road from Lebron James’ 8 million dollar mansion.
HauntWorld: Over the past couple of years, you’ve held a MAJOR haunted house auction in Ohio. How did that come about? How did it turn out and will you do any more in the future?
7 Floors of Hell: The reason for the auction was to sell off lots of our items from one season to the next. We change our show so much that every season we have trailers and trailers full of props and animations that just sit there. So I decided to have an auction and sell these items to other haunters. The first year the auction went very well. I was very pleased. Some items even sold for what I paid new. So I decided to have another auction the next season too. That was a bad idea. I feel that with the first auction doing so well, no one wanted to come back the following year. Everything went very very cheap. I didn't mind selling the items. It was just selling the items for pennies on a dollar that made it hard.
HauntWorld: You have a MAJOR reputation among haunted vendors as a BIG spender. How much money do you spend every year on props and when you walk into a vendors booth do they stand at attention? LOL. What kind of props do you look for from haunt vendors?
7 Floors of Hell: I feel that it all goes back to 12 years ago when I first attended Transworld. I didn't have a dime to buy anything, and it was very hard walking around seeing all of the cool items but not being able to buy one item. That's probably my problem