The Escapologist in Selby, North Yorkshire is a wonderful mix of ‘Escape Rooms, Artisan Kitchen & Themed Bar’ and has been brought to life by a family group who have an inspiring entrepreneurial spirit and a wonderful family outlook on providing their service.
I have always wondered why escape rooms don’t make the customers more comfortable. So many rooms have sparse reception facilities, nothing by way of comfort or hospitality and in some, you’re even lucky to get a clean loo. So my visit to The Escapologist was an absolute delight.
I am enjoying the company of Nicola Mooney, one of the trio of directors of this new company. Seated in the upstairs escape room waiting area, my afternoon is brightened by The Escapologist’s surroundings and wonderful theming. It had only been open some 6 weeks at the time of my visit, and it is clearly a sophisticated and welcoming social offering for both the locals and the tourists that visit the town.
Nicola has created the business together with her sister, Ellie, and Ellie’s husband, Ollie. They make a very strong team. The combined experience of this trio is considerable, with accumulative years in hospitality, leisure and tourism. They are putting that experience to very good use. “The formula is working for us,” explains Nicola “we all have our own natural aptitudes. Ellie is our decision maker and I’ve taken responsibility for the Escape Rooms. It’s been a bit of an up-hill battle, and I’ve had to learn a lot of DIY.” She laughs as she regales me with some stories of the set-up.
The Escapologist was built around the escape rooms as primary focus. Currently there are two (a pirate theme and a wizardry offering), with plans for a third currently underway. It had to prompt the question…. why not a steampunk themed room? “We are saving that,” explains Nicola “we have exciting plans for how we develop and expand the rooms.”
As we chat about the business, it is clear that Nicola and her fellow directors have a very clear vision of how to progress their business. They appear very content with the creation and in my opinion, so they should be. It’s a sophisticated, boutique style premises that has been gloriously decked out in steampunk visuals. It embraces you from the moment you walk through the door, and certainly, the welcome is warm and intriguing.
Whilst Nicola and I are chatting we are seated close to a family about to enter their first escape room, and the excitement in the young ones is tangible. Their imaginations will have already been ignited by the strong decoration of the bar and restaurant areas they walk through to get to the rooms upstairs. It’s been designed and built very well indeed, with strong focus on the customer and their leisure time needs. The family are comfortable in the few minutes they wait for their gamemaster, and they know they can settle down for a meal together when they come out. Making a lovely social evening for everyone, and certainly extending the value of their investment in the 60 minutes of the room play.
Nicola talks about the extensive business research she has done on the Escape Room industry and its potential. Themselves, they have only experienced about 15 rooms. But they have identified the gap in the market for customer comfort and secondary spend.
Nicola explains that they outlined the design for their rooms and then had them built by a provider. They acknowledge that room build and puzzle development may not be their own strongest personal aptitudes. My sense is that direction and leadership is a strong point for them, and so employing a contractor is a very workable solution.
However, it is the nature of the set-up of the hospitality functions within the business that now offer them an ideal format for corporate and team building work. They have the catering facilities on site with their restaurant, and a splendid meeting room to facilitate leadership interaction.
They have also identified the need within the corporate potential for escape rooms to have the team-building process assessed and supported by a qualified individual. They have already made contact with an experienced practitioner who can provide bespoke assessment services. This element of the business is managed by Ollie, as his background is within corporate hospitality and team building.
I ask Nicola what they found most difficult in setting up and launching. “Mostly issues with the property and getting things right with the games and puzzles” she explains, mentioning also certain minor restrictions they had to agree to regarding potential late-night noise in the local vicinity. The overall view is one of positivity though. They have a strong business philosophy, “you put the effort in and you reap the reward” Nicola says. “We are committed to supporting our local community and the local economy.” That offering is extending also to supporting local charities.
I am impressed with the strong business principles of this family group. They are obviously skilled and experienced, and having come together as directors, it is working very well for them. They have gained the support of a financier and this is enabling them to already be planning their second venture. “We have aspirations” says Nicola “and we want to fill the need”.
The business model of providing the social and restaurant elements alongside the escape rooms is a bold step. The escape rooms are the main attraction for customers using the other services. It is a model that is working well at present, and even in these early days there is strong enough evidence for them to be planning the second location along the same formula.
My sense is that this is a strong foundational platform for them with a business model that can easily be adapted and expanded upon. I certainly wish them every success in helping to mould escape rooms into the social and family-friendly offering it so rightly should be.