BY JONATHAN MCFADDEN
Mylene Labrie can recite her business model in less than 10 seconds: “We lock people up in a room and give them 60 minutes to get out.”
Relax, it’s not as creepy as it sounds.
Labrie, 48, owns Exit Strategy, a Charlotte-based company that offers “escape the room” games for families, friends, couples and companies looking for team-building exercises.
The 6-month-old business, she said, taps into growing interest in the escape room genre – pioneered in Japan and just making its way to the U.S. in the last two years.
The concept: Players are locked in a room and have to use their wits and follow clues to find their way out.
Labrie’s twist: Customers pay $25 for an hour in one of two theme-designed rooms (a psychedelic 1970s room or more ominous “Cabin in the Woods” room) and solve a series of puzzles and answer trivia to make their exit.
After playing an escape room game on vacation, Labrie and her husband, Jelani Patterson, created their own when they couldn’t find any in Charlotte. Since then, the business has generated about $90,000 in sales, Labrie said, and drawn customers from 16 countries and several states.
“Children like to play tricks on other kids; we get to do that for a living,” she said. “It’s a scavenger hunt for adults.”
Here’s how she’s marketing her unique concept:
Getting listed: Look up things to do in Charlotte on travel website TripAdvisor, and the first thing that pops up is Exit Strategy, ranked No. 1 of 79 activities travelers can enjoy on a trip to the Queen City.
It took Labrie about six weeks to get her business listed there for free. When Exit Strategy first started, she offered potential customers a Groupon, where she said the discounts were marketed incorrectly. She pivoted and tried TripAdvisor, which displays customer reviews of hotels, restaurants and other travel-related amenities.
“TripAdvisor was the game changer,” Labrie said. “For the first couple of months … 80 percent of the people we had visiting us were from out of town.”
Setting a price model: There are two ways to book Exit Strategy’s rooms. Customers can either go to the website and pay $25 a head, or a larger group pays a higher fee if they want to bring a crowd. Players who can’t find a way out of the room in an hour but want to keep trying pay a little more for an extra hour, she said.
Promising more rooms: This week, Exit Strategy will move from a 1,200-square-foot facility to a 5,500-square-foot building on Stuart Andrew Boulevard. The new digs, Labrie said, allows for the debut of a murder mystery room later this month. By March, she hopes to open a fourth room: “Lost in Space.”