Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to retrieve top secret documents before they fall into the wrong hands.
At least, that could be your mission, if you play one of the Exciting Escapes rooms.
Launched by brothers David and Pete Gale in 2016, Exciting Escapes has become one of the most popular things to do in Hampshire.
And in less than five years, the siblings have created rooms in Basingstoke, Southampton, Portsmouth and Croydon.
First up: What is an escape room?
Essentially, escape rooms are interactive experiences for teams of up to 6 players who must find clues, solve riddles and complete puzzles in a quest to accomplish a fictional mission.
You could be investigating a murder, preventing disaster or even tampering with Christmas presents.
The concept has grown in popularity over the past few years, but the pandemic has inevitably had a huge impact on businesses.
I spoke to David Gale about the early days of Exciting Escapes, what he’s learnt along the way and how things changed when Covid broke. Here’s what he had to say:
So David, where do the ideas for Exciting Escapes come from?
“Well – they’re all ours! I saw an article about escape rooms in the Sunday Times several years ago and it hit a bit of a chord with me because as a kid I was always into stories, games and this kind of thing.
“My brother and I run the business together. I’m the one who comes up with the ideas about the games, and he’s great at building things, putting it all together and bringing ideas to life.
“The idea of building a business around something that I enjoyed so much as a kid was really exciting”.
What’s been your biggest learning curve since you started out?
“Neither of us had any experience in social media. I’d only used Facebook a bit and neither of us had a Twitter or Instagram account. But we knew how important it was to get ourselves seen.
“There weren’t many escape rooms when we started. It’s been a rapidly growing industry so to try and stay relevant and physical in that, is important.”
“We needed to give people the chance to talk about us”.
How has Covid-19 affected the business?
“Obviously we’ve had to close which has been difficult, but the main difference has been in the content we put out online. Pete and I did a bit of blog writing at the beginning; we had some help with SEO and we learnt how that works, but we realised that blogs are less about writing a decent story and more about getting the right key words to engage people.
“One of our most successful blogs was one that broadened the topic out, so people searching for other things came across us and started learning about us.”
I noticed you always respond to Trip Advisor reviews, even if they are positive. Why is this important?
“One of the ways we measure our success is by how much people are talking about us, and Trip Advisor is great for this. We talk to our staff every month about the reviews and we’re constantly looking for ways to improve. I can count the number of negative reviews we’ve had on two hands, across 5,000 reviews, and I get a pit in my stomach when we get anything less than 5-stars, but every single one, even the 5-star reviews, tells us something.”
“We pat ourselves on the back about the 5-star reviews; we improve as a business with the 3 and 4 stars.”
And finally – tell us one of the best team names you’ve heard.
“There have been so many crackers! We used to put teams on the spot when they arrived but since Covid came into force we’ve started collecting information upfront. People are putting loads more thought into it now. I like the team names we see more than once, where the teams come and see us three or four times. Like The Quizzicals – they keep coming back and they put it all over their social media. It’s a lot of fun.”
Fancy giving it a go? Check out the Exciting Escapes website for the latest information about opening. Good luck!