Business Highlight

To promote the sharing of ideas, support, hope, and recovery, we’ll be highlighting a different Stony Plain businesses’ pandemic story every month. What has worked, what hasn’t, and how they’re managing. If you’d like to share your business’s pandemic story, please email our team at ecdev@stonyplain.com.

Everyone Wanted An Escape From The Pandemic – Our Family Created One All Could Enjoy

Written by: Brandon Kessir, Hourglass Games

We came to Parkland County more than 12 years ago, looking for a family-friendly place where we could be comfortable raising our children, the oldest who was just about to start grade one and the youngest who was still a year away from kindergarten. Living in Stony Plain has been a real blessing for our family, and as our oldest daughter is now finished high school and the youngest is approaching the end, we are entering that familiar place parents know when everything is changing, the moments you have together are more precious, and life gets busy.

The pandemic drastically altered the plans we had for 2020: cancellation of a graduation ceremony, discarded vacation plans and disrupted post-secondary enrollment. We were grateful to have kept our jobs when so many weren’t working and to have our health when so many didn’t, but we felt the same sense of being trapped familiar to all who wanted more out of the year. Some things are beyond your control, some are within it, and with that in mind, we decided to open an escape room, Hourglass Games. Instead of staring at the same four walls of your home, you could share an adventure and real hope for escape.

Starting a business is always a challenge. We’ve all heard the statistics about how many new businesses fail and how long it takes for new businesses to start making a profit. There are SO many things to consider and SO many big and little tasks that need to be accomplished. We knew we were taking a risk starting our business when the pandemic was still looming large, but we felt it was a measured risk, as escape rooms typically thrive during the holiday and winter seasons and when there are fewer competing entertainments available. We decided to start small, both in our venue and our offering, and hopefully appeal to families, friends and businesses who longed to get out of the house and just do something.

It turned out that the timing was about perfect. Perfectly wrong. We opened at the beginning of December 2020 and welcomed several groups to play our escape room that weekend, and the next then had to close it entirely for an undetermined time. As the opening day had drawn closer, we saw that it was coming, so there wasn’t any use in investing a lot in marketing or exposure. We hoped it would be only a month but knew realistically it would be longer. It turned out to be three whole months before we could open the doors to groups again, and for now, just to households. We looked into government grants, but as a new business with no revenue before the pandemic, we didn’t qualify for any of them. We thought we’d have to sit and wait.

Thankfully, the escape room operator community is a very sharing and generous group. Like the games they run, they are creative and clever in critical thinking and problem-solving. Escape room operators created many ways to keep going, including portable games, remote-led games and digitizing their escape rooms so people could enjoy them online. We found one particular operator that not only had his physical escape rooms converted to an online format, but he was willing to license those games to other operators so they could generate revenue as well.

In early February, we started offering online escape rooms, and they were an excellent addition for us because they gave us an outlet to share escape room experiences with our community and beyond. Where our physical room lets single households play, the online escape rooms have an authentic escape room feel, challenge and reward. They are “pandemic-proof,” and participants who aren’t able to be in a social setting together can share the laughs, discovery and team success that make escape rooms so satisfying. We’ve had participants join from across the county, across Canada, and even from other countries – as far away as New Zealand! It’s thrilling for our customers and us because even outside of the pandemic restrictions, people who live far apart rarely have that kind of fulfilling shared experience together.

The most satisfying and fulfilling part for us has been the response of our customers.

“I’m telling everyone I know. They gotta try this!”

“You’re going to be so busy once I share this on all my social media!”

“We’ll be there right away when you open your next room!”

“We played all 3 of the online escape rooms over the last 4 days.  Let us know when you have more!”

The encouragement from our customers, online and in-person, gives us so much excitement. Because of it, our primary focus right now is investing in marketing, brand awareness and refining the whole experience to make it the very best.

As we get to the other side of the pandemic, we look forward to sharing our in-person rooms with other social groups like teammates, friends, colleagues and clubs.

But right now, for larger groups of family, friends and connections, our online escapes can accommodate all sizes and types of groups, and the pandemic can’t stop you! We are here in Stony Plain to give you a great escape experience, and isn’t that something we could all use now more than ever? To find out more about our offering or to book an escape room anytime, please visit www.hourglassgames.ca, or check out our Facebook or Instagram pages @hourglassgamesalberta.

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