Ever Hear of 'Escape Rooms'? This Millennial Entrepreneur Is Capitalizing On the Trend.

Jordan Brawner of Little Spider Creations is profiting off the love millennials have for experiences, rather than just products.

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By Peter Gasca • Jun 15, 2018

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What do Amazon (shopping), Home Chef (cooking) and StitchFix (clothing) have in common? Beyond the products and services they deliver, all three companies (and many more like them) offer something far more valuable to us: time.

Related: What KFC's Goofy VR Escape Room Taught Me About the Power of Storytelling in Communication

So, this begs the question, what are consumers doing with all of this additional time saved by avoiding stores, lines, parking and all the other toils of shopping?

When it comes to millennials, the answer is simple. Studies by the Harris Group and EventBrite found that three out of four millennials surveyed preferred experiences over things; and given these young consumers' buying power of $600 billion, businesses should be paying attention.

One small but convincing indicator of this trend is the rapid rise of escape rooms, a business model in which customers are locked for an hour in a room where they urgently solve riddles and puzzles to get out.

For more insight on this fascinating industry -- and how entrepreneurs can capitalize on the experience economy in general -- I spoke with Jordan Brawner, CEO and creative director for Little Spider Creations (LSC), a company that's been creating and fabricating escape rooms for the past few years. LSC is a family-run business which, for 25 years, produced custom props and themes for clients and only recently became involved with the escape room frenzy.

Be hypersentitive to trends.

While Brawner knew of that industry through his work with theme parks, he saw early that it was a clear and compelling trend to explore. The numbers, he reasoned, simply did not lie.

According to RoomEscapeArtist.com, the U.S. industry grew from roughly 22 escape room companies at the end of 2014 to almost 1,800 by the second quarter of 2017 -- and those numbers didn't include rooms set up for temporary purposes (a popular trend itself).

Moreover, this growth is not unique to the United States. Consider Beijing, which currently operates 181 venues, one for every 63,000 people, while New York City operates 51, or one for every 167,000 people.

What's important is that the escape-room trend shows no signs of slowing.

Related: How To Make Money In Trendy Businesses-And Survive When The Trend Ends

Know when to pivot.

Although LSC operated for decades as a designer and fabricator of custom theme projects for clients (think: towering figures throughout a theme park), the idea of pivoting to a new business model actually came easy. "Our previous direction no longer seemed sustainable," Brawner told me, "so pivoting was necessary if we wanted to continue, and entering this new market was the only way to do it."

Granted, Brawner is relatively young (a millennial himself) and has worked his way up through his family's business, but he was on target when he said that, "Pivoting is the lifeblood of entrepreneurship.

"As I began to see the curve of where the industry was going," Brawner said, "I made adjustments to our focus, with the escape room industry to handle the shift. That is just what entrepreneurs do."

Embrace uncertainty and change.

Like any new business or industry, the future of escape rooms is uncertain. The current industry is fragmented and fairly unpredictable, and companies will need to remain spry while constantly creating new experiences to accommodate customer expectations.

"The escape room [companies] that will survive will be those that evolve," Brawner speculated, adding that he is already looking to the future. "This evolution looks like it will include more advanced technology to enhance interactive gameplay and more immersed theming to create a more realistic feeling."

And, like the evolution of most industries, Brawner admitted, "As the escape rooms evolve -- or at least those that can afford to evolve -- the lesser entry-market escape rooms will be acquired or be faced with going out of business. These are harsh realities most business need to face."

At the moment, though, the future looks bright for the industry, and LSC appears to be in a good position to lead. Like any entrepreneurial story, Brawner's was not easy, so I asked him what advice he would give to aspiring entrepreneurs in his position.

Related: 4 Gamification Platforms That Show Why You Can't Afford to Ignore This Trend

"Seek and you shall find," he responded. "The best I can advise is to keep seeking what opportunities exist that can align with your vision and business. Be open to them, and be willing to act."

Are you involved with "the experience economy"? Please share your thoughts with others in the comments below.

Peter Gasca

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Writer

Management and Entrepreneur Consultant

Peter Gasca is an author and consultant at Peter Paul Advisors. He also serves as Executive-in-Residence and Director of the Community and Business Engagement Institute at Coastal Carolina University. His book, One Million Frogs', details his early entrepreneurial journey.

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