Ginger Flesher-Sonnier is the Owner & CEO of Escape Room Live. The company currently operates Escape Room Live DC near Glover Park and Escape Room Live Alexandria. They will be opening a second Escape Room Live DC location in Georgetown later this summer, and their Alexandria-based games have been some of the most wonderful room escapes we’ve encountered.
West Texas Investors Club is a television show on CNBC. As described on the CNBC website, “Self-made multimillionaires Rooster McConaughey and Butch Gilliam invite ambitious entrepreneurs from across the country to come down to West Texas and make their case.”
“Escape From West Texas” (Season 2, Episode 10) aired on June 14, 2016. The episode features Ginger pitching for a $4 million investment in her escape room business. She accepted $800,000 for 40% share of her company and their help expanding her business into corporate resorts.
We recently spoke with Ginger about her experience on the show and where her company goes from here:
Room Escape Artist: Tell us about your experience on Escape From West Texas. For context, when was this filmed?
Ginger: Mid-February, 2016.
How did this all come about?
They actually reached out to me and asked if I would be on the show. I had seen their show after Shark Tank one night last summer and really enjoyed it – so much more than Shark Tank, surprisingly – so I agreed to go through the casting process. They had 10,000 applications this season so I am honored to have actually been approached by them.
What was it like seeing yourself walk off a private airplane in slow motion?
Surreal! But fun. The whole experience was amazing.
How much of your experience in West Texas do viewers see?
An extremely small part! Imagine boiling down about a week of filming to mere minutes. My pitch actually lasted 3 hours. Same with the negotiations, which wound up taking place into late Friday night (hence my puffy face… it was an exhausting week). The entire ride with Gil never made the show, nor his serenade at the end.
In the episode, the investors play one of your games. How long did you have to design and fabricate the room on the show?
All I can say is that I did have longer than one day! That would have been impossible. But I can say that we did construct it from scratch completely ourselves (my husband and I).
What specific design considerations went into this game?
I really wanted to create something that spoke to their West Texas heritage, so we decided on the West Texas Jail Break. It was much more appropriate than my Edgar Allan Poe room would have been!
Were you worried that these guys were going to be terrible at your game?
Ummmm…. they were.
In their defense, they had no idea what the heck to expect. Editing, editing, editing! The game was so much longer than that what viewers see, with many more puzzles. They edited it down to two or three. They even mismatched puzzles and their endings with editing… it was surprising but looked fine.
The investors weren’t too keen on your restaurant & bar concept or locations in Vegas, Disney, or Times Square. What do you think of their assessments?
They are dead on about the low profit margin of restaurants. We ARE adding bars to our locations wherever it is possible, though. I still disagree about being in a place like MGM in Vegas and that is still not off the table.
The investors pushed the importance of the corporate client and you’ll be using their connections to open in corporate resorts. When should we expect to see these resort games opening?
We are meeting with Hyatt and Hilton in the next couple of weeks. A television show is also in discussions. Things have been crazy, especially with us opening this new location in Georgetown complete with a liquor license.
The good news is, we have paired up with Larry Kirchner from The Darkness, a haunted house in St. Louis, to build all of our rooms and he is AMAZING! You will be blown away by the Titanic, Ghostbusters, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Friday the 13th, and Mummy rooms. They have CGI, lighting effects, sound effects, and incredible theming. They aren’t cheap though, and all in all will come in at about $100,000 apiece.
Larry’s ability to build multiple rooms quickly in his warehouse from the ground up, disassemble, ship, and reassemble onsite has opened up a whole new world. Getting consistently themed rooms into resorts now seems much more feasible.
We are also working with a professional and seasoned puzzle designer who has vast experience in designing for the best puzzle hunts in the world. He is local to us and we work extremely well together.
What new design considerations do you see as factors for resort-based games?
Simply put: more automation, including automatic reset of the games. This is in addition to the increased immersion through true set design and special effects, of course.
How will you handle quality control in these diverse locations?
Our Director of Operations and his VP of Operations are gearing up to be mobile. They are very excited.
What overlap or conflict does this deal have with the partnerships you’ve formed with movie studios?
In the negotiations, you counteroffered with $800,000. That was a very specific number. How much time did they allow you to research before giving them this number?
No time. I replied immediately.
If we do the math, you valued your company at $2 million. Given that you’ve grossed $2.3 million in 15 months, help our readers understand why you took the deal.
I agree that the valuation was not good, especially since our gross receipts for 2016 should be over $4 million. Here was my thought process, although things are still fluid in the deal: These guys have far more connections than you can even imagine – in Hollywood (Rooster is Matthew McConaughey’s brother, after all), New York, Wall Street – so the growth potential here goes beyond anything I could do myself. Given that fact, as an example, 60% of $100 million is a lot more than 100% of $10 million, don’t you agree?
And are you happy with the outcome?
I love these guys. I love creating. And I really love being a successful entrepreneur. I’m happy as hell.