The owners of a Cypress-area escape room are themselves trying to navigate their way through the crushing effects of the coronavirus pandemic and keep their doors open, a concept contrary to the very nature of the games they offer at the business.
“We are still open but with reduced numbers of people using the rooms with reduced bookings so that we only have one group in each of our units,” said owner of Escape Now Houston Mike Roddie. With connecting units, it allows them to run one room at a time and keep customers safe.
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Groups using the rooms are familiar with each other and book the room together and there are no mixed parties of outsiders.
“That’s something we didn’t allow before the pandemic and still don’t today,” Roddie said.
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The facility has six rooms, two of them are identical, and they can host up to 48 people per hour at one time under normal circumstances.
“We also have a couple of mobile games where we can set up at a church or school facility as well,” he said.
There are no special requirements for the escape room, but it does require teamwork to solve the puzzles that lead to unlocking the door and mental acuity.
Roddie described the escape room experience as not only fun but challenging.
“A team will go through the instructions, the storyline for the game, the objective for the game as well as read the do’s and don’ts,” he said.
Then they are locked into a room. Each room has a fire exit in the event they need to come out. Their ultimate goal is to escape out the locked door within the one-hour time frame. It’s not easy.
“They work their way through some clues. One might open another object that helps them with another clue. It could open other things or give them clues to another objective that will take them closer to unlocking the door,” he said.
If they are successful, they will reach the final clue that will lead them to how to open the locked door and escape the room.
“It’s a great team building project. It teaches them to listen to each other, do some creative thinking outside the box, and use logic,” Roddie said.
Ordinarily the groups are made up of teachers, nurses, churches, friends, families, smaller and larger companies like Hewlett Packard who seek out the rooms for teambuilding.
The minimum size group is two people and the maximum depend on the size of the room they are playing.
“For some it’s a date night, family outing, or even a wedding party,” he said.
By executive order, they are required to enter the business with a mask on particularly when they’re interacting with staff and other guests. Once they’re locked in the room, because most groups are related or friends, they may remove the masks if they feel comfortable.
“We’ve also extended the time between games to give us time to wipe down and clean everything before the next group comes in.”
The business was on a good trajectory until they were affected by the shutdown on Mar. 17 like everyone else.
After weeks of no income and mounting bills, the business teetered on the edge of closing permanently.
“It has definitely been a struggle,” Roddie said.
While the building sat empty, they still had to pay rent, utility bills, and salaries.
“We’re personally not taking money from the business,” Roddie said, to keep the business afloat.
They reopened at the end of May and continue with the same hours, but with less games running at the same time for the protection of their employees and customers.
They used the one-time $1,200 grant and payroll credits to help lessen the debts, but that’s the extent of assistance they’ve received.
They took possession of the space at 3243 Jones Road in March of 2016 and it took them till May to build out the sets and decorate for each of the six game rooms.
The idea for the business was born out of their own love for playing the games with his wife Geraldine and their family.
“We played a lot of them before we opened,” he said, “around 100.”
They discovered there wasn’t one in the Cypress area and felt like it was something families would enjoy like them.
They researched and reached out to others in the industry for game design and built the props and scenery themselves.
Roddie’s flair for designing hinged upon his own abilities he had naturally and cultivated earlier in his life at art school.
“We’ve also done work in our own home and renovated houses as well,” he said.
Mike comes from a business background as the chief operating officer of a consulting firm and his wife from finance, so the couple had the DNA for running a successful business.
They have five themed rooms: Wizards & Dragons, Sherlock, Classroom Capers, Spy Alley and Superheroes Hideout. All rooms are challenging but family friendly.
Before the pandemic, they had a lot of customers who would return again and again to play each of the rooms, some coming from as far as Channelview and Beaumont.
“Some leave frustrated, but enjoy the challenge while others leave happy when they solve the clues and escape out the door. We have about a 30-percent escape rate, or about one in three,” he said.
Roddie said he feels the game rooms are a safe environment and hopes for better times.
“We don’t see any reason why people won’t comeback now, and in the future,” he said.
To learn more about the Escape Now Houston, visit their website at www.escapenowhouston.com.