Michael Hendrick is the owner of Escape The Old Post, an intriguing escape room experience in the small community of Harriston. Located on the third floor of the historic former Harriston post office in the city’s downtown core, the business embodies Hendrick’s vision of reviving The Old Post as a vibrant community hub. “For years, the building had housed local dollar stores which were successive failures,” says Hendrick. Acquired in 2015 with his wife, Sue, their investment not only includes the escape room, but also houses an engineering company, the local Member of Parliament’s offices, and a cozy café. In the coming months, Hendrick is planning the launch of Clockworks, a second escape room on the lower level, signaling an exciting expansion.
Escape The Old Post distinguishes itself as a unique and personalized experience by its thoughtful design and one-to-one relationship with the Game Master. Every part of the experience has been carefully curated, Hendrick notes, “We’ve had people come who’ve done [hundreds] of escape rooms […] all over North America and say ours is in their top five.” Yet, being situated in a small community poses a challenge, attracting players from outside the city to sustain the business. “If you look at the demographics [of our players], they’re mainly from afar, beyond 50 kilometers away, so they’re not local participants,” notes Hendrick. He even jokes that the hardest puzzle isn’t found in the escape room, rather, it’s coordinating a road trip to Harriston for a large group of people.
Given his rather remote location, key among his challenges was how to leverage digital marketing to effectively communicate the uniqueness of his escape room experience.
Hendrick’s discovery of the Digital Main Street’s Digital Transformation Grant (DTG) Program through the Economic Development Officer at the Town of Minto proved pivotal. The DTG initiative provides brick-and-mortar small businesses with a digital assessment, online training, and a $2,500 grant to implement their Digital Transformation Plan. The grant enabled branding enhancements through a website revamp and a structured social media strategy that amplified Escape The Old Post’s visibility and success. The investment paid off and prompted Hendrick to create a second escape room called Clockworks. As Hendrick began designing the physical space, he knew a second distinct online presence would need to be carefully crafted. “Tony Hale, the fella who designs the rooms with me is very artistic. So there’s a lot of work transferring what is sort of hard copy into a digital copy, and not losing the effect,” he says.
As the design of Clockworks took shape, Hendrick was informed that he was eligible for a second DTG. He seized the opportunity to invest in email marketing, social media outreach, and SEO to extend the promotional reach for this new escape room. During round one of the DTG application process that included online training modules, Hendrick learned about the power of these marketing channels and was excited to implement these strategies to see what they could do for his business.
Engaging a designer to assist in the development of Clockworks online presence, Hendrick also had the designer train his staff to be empowered to handle social media posts, email newsletters, and blog updates. “[Our staff] can now take great initiative without leaning on others. So it gives us a chance to be more independent and self-sufficient,” remarks Hendrick.
- Hired and onboarded designer
- Worked with designer to develop Clockworks website
- Purchased CanvaPro license and set up brand assets within platform
- Trained staff on how to create social media posts and update blog
- Set-up MailChimp to begin email marketing strategy
- Greater independence and cost savings. Through training, staff has become self-reliant, eliminating third-party vendors to tackle digital marketing.
- Created buzz and anticipation. “Every week, we have contact from people who are waiting for the [second] room,” says Hendrick. “We’re [even] doing a draw to see who’s going to be the first test group.”
- Ability to cross-promote. With email marketing set-up and social media profiles in place, Hendrick and his staff now have the opportunity to cross-promote Clockworks to players who have completed Escape The Old Post.
Hendrick credits the DTG Program with helping to create a strong foundation and set his second escape room up for success. He hopes to create a more integrated experience with both escape rooms, event space gatherings, and agricultural tours which would provide a packaged holistic experience for visitors. Now that Hendrick has cracked the code on digital marketing, Escape The Old Post and Clockworks stand poised for growth; an exciting chapter in their journey!