Escape room industry grows for three consecutive years

by Jennifer Joyner ([email protected]) 976 views 

Escape rooms have grown in popularity during the past three years, including in Northwest Arkansas.

According to Room Escape Artists, a New York City-based company that has looked since 2014 at industry data for escape rooms, there were 22 puzzle room-themed companies in the U.S. at the end of 2014 and more than 1,800 at the end of the second quarter of 2017.

The data show there were about 100 escape rooms as of mid-2015 and 450 by the end of that year. By mid-2016, there were more than 900, and by the end of that year there were more than 1,400.

Escape rooms started popping up in Northwest Arkansas in 2015. Locations include Bolt! NWA of Bentonville, Escape Room 13 of Eureka Springs, NWA Escape Room and Ozark Escape of Fayetteville, ClueMasters Escape Room, Escape Artists and the Fort Smith Escape Room of Fort Smith, The Escapeopolis Project of Tontitown and Escaping Rogers.

Lance Lewsader, owner of Bolt! NWA, said his business saw more than 10,000 visitors in 2016 and is on pace to exceed that for 2017.

He is looking to franchise what he says is a unique concept in the escape room realm.

“Escape rooms are becoming popular worldwide,” he said. However, Lewsader believes the number of establishments are dwindling, based on information he put together about the industry. He said his numbers include each individual location, as opposed to just the companies, like the REA data.

“The market got flooded with people looking to cash in on what they saw as an easy business model with quick cash,” Lewsader said. “Even today I participated in a discussion online with some folks who are looking to open thinking that it’s a low-investment business model. I warned against that as the growth of the industry has made it much more costly to get into. I firmly believe we will see the number of companies in business by the first quarter of 2018 will be back to the 1,000 range.”

Lewsader has an information technology background, but it was a hobby that led to his career as an escape room owner. “I personally spent many years growing up playing a variety of role-playing games, games oddly enough my family said were a waste of time and money that now help in the development of puzzles and themes,” he said. “We now employ several folks who have or do work in the IT field and create some amazingly challenging puzzles and challenges. We also branched out and have now hired theater majors who are helping us with making our theme’s stronger and more immersive.”

The majority of escape rooms in the U.S. — almost 1,500 of the 1,883 — are single-location operations, according to REA. There are 31 escape room locations in Arkansas.