TWIN FALLS — You’re trapped in a room with a chained zombie.
Every few minutes, the chain lengthens and the walking corpse comes nearer. You’ve got an hour to figure out how unlock the room and escape before you’re infected with the virus.
Will you make it?
That’s the scenario for Edward Ford’s next phase of the Twin Falls Escape Rooms. Since the startup business opened in December 2016, he’s recouped his initial $50,000 investment and plans to keep the business going.
Escape rooms are a fast-growing business trend across the nation. Participants go into a fictitious, game-like scenario where they have to figure out how to “escape” from a room in the given time using a series of clues and puzzles. In reality, Ford explained, the room has an emergency exit.
While they’re popular now, Ford doesn’t expect these businesses — including his own — to last more than two or three years.
“It’s kind of one of those in-the-moment things,” he said.
Still, there’s a lot of other new startups out there. The Idaho Department of Labor recently reported that Idaho has a higher rate of private sector startups than the national rate.
Surviving in the real world, however, is much harder than in a game. About 23 percent of Idaho’s new private businesses fail within their first year (based on 2015 data).
Those that do make it boost the economy. The U.S. Census Bureau reported this week that in 2015, the nation’s 414,000 startup firms created 2.5 million new jobs.
But while Idaho’s startups accounted for more than 11 percent of businesses in 2016, job creation is declining.
“If this trend continues, job creation in Idaho will become increasingly dependent on existing businesses which are by nature less innovative,” wrote Regional Economist Esther Eke in the department’s blog, idaho@work.
Be that as it may, here in south-central Idaho, there is no shortage of success stories. Here are just a handful of local startups that have pushed through their first months in business.
1. Twin Falls Escape Rooms, 826 Blue Lakes Blvd. N.
The Twin Falls Escape Rooms bested its competition early on. A similar business, Escape Twin Falls, had started up in September 2016, three months before Ford’s.
But the Boise-based, older company pulled out of Twin Falls this spring.
“They did well until we came,” Ford said.
Twin Falls Escape Rooms continues to see steady business. People come up from Nevada to give it a try, and other businesses use the rooms as a teambuilding exercise for employees. It took Ford only eight months to recoup his investment and bring in supplemental income.
The key to his success over Escape Twin Falls? Lower rates, a more visible location, and limited staffing hours. Twin Falls Escape Rooms employs local teenagers, including Ford’s sons. It opens after school on Thursday and Friday evenings, and on Saturdays. The business also opens Monday through Wednesday for private bookings only.
Right now, participants can join in “The Silver City Bank Heist” or “The Neighbors” themed rooms. The zombie apocalypse room “Going Viral” won’t be available for a few months.
Information: Find the business on Facebook or book online at twinfallsescape.com.
2. Betty B’s Kitchen and Diane’s Delights
Rick Maritt knew his food truck’s first year of operation would be rough.
He’s been trying to find a more permanent spot, but the city permit process has been challenging. His truck has also been inspected by the health department at various events seven times since it opened in March. And it seems like new restaurants are opening every day and drawing away his customers.
But having put most of his retirement account into the business, he has no intention of calling it quits.
“I’m in it pretty deep,” Maritt said.
Since many of the other food trucks in town serve Mexican food, he figures his diner-style food has a good chance of making some money in the next three to five years.
Still, there have been cutbacks. Maritt had to lay off his summer help.
“We’re keeping our head above water, that’s the main thing,” he said. “That’s about all you can ask for the first year.”
While the upcoming fall and winter could slow business, Maritt plans to expand his catering. When summer returns, events will once more boost his business. In time, he and his wife hope to open a small bistro.
Information: Visit facebook.com/bettybskitchen or call 208-280-8698.
3. Redeemed Décor, 243 Fifth Ave. S.
“It was just going to be me. It was just going to be my little hobby.”
That’s what Shaunna Coit originally planned for her retail and custom furniture business, Redeemed Décor, when it opened Sept. 1, 2016. But that isn’t what happened.
Within three months of opening, business took off much faster than she’d expected.
“We had to find a bigger spot and more décor on the retail side of the store,” Coit said.
She hired three employees and four contractors to help out.
Most of her business comes from woodworking classes she hosts three or more days a week. As of Wednesday, Redeemed Décor was averaging 200 to 300 participants a month.
And 99 percent of the attendees are women, Coit said.
The business has grown largely through word of mouth and Facebook. Online giveaways draw a lot of traffic to social media pages.
Coit is a retired sheriff’s deputy from California, and said she’s impressed by how Twin Falls supports its small downtown businesses.
4. Crystals EnLight, 132 Hansen St. E.
Char Bamesberger opened her “rock shop” on the autumn equinox in 2016. On Friday, she’s celebrating her business’ one-year anniversary.
“We’ve grown, and we’re very grateful for the people that are persistent in finding us,” Bamesberger said.
The Main Avenue construction has hindered foot traffic, Bamesberger said, and she’s looking forward to the work being completed. Yet she still managed to succeed in expanding her business with a message therapy-healing center two doors down.
Like other entrepreneurs, she’s relied heavily on Facebook and word of mouth to bring people downtown. Since her online store didn’t take off, she chose to take it offline until next year, when she will have a new marketing plan.
Crystal EnLight’s anniversary reception takes place from 4 to 7 p.m. Friday with giveaways, specials, food and cider.
“We’ve had our good days and our days that aren’t so good,” she said. “I’m really proud of what we’ve achieved in a year.”
Information: Visit facebook.com/CrystalsEnLight or call 208-595-2474.
5. Fashion 15 Below, 143 Main Ave. E.
Erin Rigel’s downtown shop for inexpensive clothing opened back in February 2016. And when she had passed the 1 1/2 year mark, Rigel decided to expand.
The business launched its online ordering several months ago but didn’t have the space for pick-up orders and extra warehousing. So Rigel took over the building next door as well, beside the future downtown commons and city hall.
Now, staff will have an easier time finding online orders for pickup, she said. All orders are made through a private Facebook group, which now has nearly 21,000 members all over the U.S., Rigel said.
Information: Call 208-595-4063 or visit facebook.com/Fashion15Below.