Escape rooms have become increasingly popular in the United States. Guests have an hour to solve puzzles that lead to their freedom from themed rooms — adventure, horror or even prison. Jim Niehoff, president of Escape Reality USA, says 2017 was a great year for his company and expects 2018 to be even better.
Do you have any recent news you’d like to share?
Our escape room experiences have been well received, with a lot of guests coming back to play multiple times. We’ve donated more than $5,000 to 14 charities in Las Vegas and Chicago, and supported many others with donations for auctions. In 2018, we will continue to expand in the U.S. and abroad. We are working on some great new room designs and expect to have virtual reality additions in the summer.
What prompted you to make Las Vegas your corporate headquarters?
Las Vegas is synonymous with fun. What better place to call home for our U.S. headquarters and flagship facility? There are great residents plus lots of tourists and corporate teams coming in all the time.
How was your business concept conceived?
Escape rooms have been popular in Europe and Asia for more than 10 years. In the U.S., we have seen growth over the past few years. We saw an opportunity to provide friends and family with a fun and immersive experience that promotes teamwork, collaboration and communication.
How does the escape experience here compare with other venues around the world?
Our seven rooms are inspired by popular movies, TV shows and video game culture, and are designed by an amazing team in the UK who come up with all of the stories, puzzles and props. We then spend a significant amount of time and money theming the rooms so you really feel immersed in the environment. We use electronic props that offer “wow” moments as you work your way through our escape room experiences. We also take the extra step of ensuring our lobbyies are large and well-decorated to give you space to hang out before or after your experience, and allow us to accommodate large groups for team-building or corporate events.
How many people are on your staff and what is your management style?
At our Las Vegas headquarters, we have five full-time and eight part-time team members. This includes our corporate team and the team that runs our escape room facility. Along with our rooms, our customer service sets us apart and the majority of that is driven by our general manager, Maggie Swearingen, and assistant manager, Casey Keene. I let them do what they do best, and I just give general guidance and set goals and strategy with them. I don’t micromanage, but instead let my team learn and grow.
What is your favorite room?
I like all of our rooms, as each has a unique story and puzzles. But my favorite room is Alcatraz. The players are split into two teams (one in each cell) to start and have to communicate without being able to see each other to escape their cells and move on in the experience. This creates a fun dimension to the immersion of being in prison and trying to escape.
What is the best business advice you’ve received?
It’s not so much advice as a quote that inspires me and resonates with what we do at Escape Reality:
Tony Robbins said: “If we’re going to build a business, we not only need raving fan clients, we need a raving fan culture — culture meaning everybody on your team works to create raving fan experiences. You’ve got to create raving fans if you want to be successful.”
You’ve said you are considered a nerd. What sort of nerdy things are you passionate about?
Of course there is the entertainment side: “Star Wars,” “Star Trek,” the Marvel Universe. But I’m also still an IT guy, so all things tech. I’m spending a lot of my off hours playing with virtual reality and augmented reality, and reading about artificial intelligence.
What is your biggest pet peeve?
People who don’t use their turn signals when driving. It’s not difficult and makes driving much safer.
What’s your favorite place to have fun in Las Vegas?
My wife and I enjoy trying new restaurants, and we hit the casinos once a while. I do seem to find myself at Axe Monkeys often with friends and my staff. Throwing axes is surprisingly therapeutic.
What is your dream job outside of your current field?
I worked for more than 20 years in corporate America as an employee and consultant. I enjoyed the experiences, but those were jobs. As an entrepreneur, I don’t really see what I do as a job but rather working to improve and expand ventures I’m passionate about. So being an entrepreneur really is my dream job.
If you could live anywhere else in the world, where would it be?
My family and I go to Playa del Carmen, Mexico, almost every year. It’s one of the few places I really relax and unwind, with a steady supply of drinks and a beach cabana. I would live there, or really anywhere that could deliver the same relaxation level and the Caribbean ocean.
If you could change one thing about Southern Nevada, what would it be?
Mandatory driving tests every eight years. I’m originally from the Los Angeles area and I thought the drivers were bad there …
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
For Escape Reality, we hope to be a vibrant and successful company with many locations around the world that our guests think of first when they want fun and unique experiences with their friends and family.
What is something that people might not know about you?
I’m a certified bartender. I had always wanted to go to bartending school and I had a few months between projects when I was a consultant a few years ago, so I signed up and had a blast.