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On a 55-acre farm outside High Point, N.C., Wohlgemuth, who was born in North Carolina not long after his family emigrated from Switzerland, has built an ever-expanding “agra-entertainment” business known as Kersey Valley.
Wohlgemuth launched his company in 1985 with a handful of his teenage friends. Back then, it was a haunted house set up in a small deserted property on his family’s farm, and they charged visitors just $2 to take a turn through it.
Today, Wohlgemuth runs Kersey Valley with his wife, Donna, but this is no mom-and-pop operation that rolls out for a few weekends in the fall. What began as a seasonal haunt and side business while Wohlgemuth worked as a systems engineer now spans multiple attractions, many open seven days a week from April through December.
“The haunted house started it all, and over the last 25 years, it has allowed us to invest in other events,” Wohlgemuth says.
To watch a video detailing Kersey Valley’s point-of-sale system, go to BizTechMagazine.com/video/
Kersey Valley’s Spookywoods component now includes not only the house, but a tram ride into a ghostly forest followed by a romp through a zombie-infested corn maze and a dozen theatrically inspired horror scenes — all amped to full creep by a cast of 225 actors.
The property also features a 10-acre corn maze (separate from the fright maze); a pumpkin patch; a gem-panning sluice and fossil dig; and a brand-new, mile-and-a-half-long zip line that lets riders traverse the site day and night via 14 50- to 100-foot towers. Kersey Valley also is home to several small storefronts and snack shacks, and in mid-November, a winter wonderland complete with sleigh rides and a tree farm transforms it into a holiday attraction.
Ingenuity and industrious effort obviously drive the Wohlgemuths’ business, but much of what makes Kersey Valley tick is the use of behind-the-scenes technology.
Wohlgemuth and senior engineer David Rundberg are highly trained techies, after all, who also happen to enjoy a good fright. They have deployed technology not just to enliven attractions — think computer-activated pneumatic ghouls and robotic voodoo babies, for example — but also to make the business as efficient as possible.
Wohlgemuth willingly admits that shoeboxes served as the first cash registers. Today, a point-of-sale (POS) system means there’s almost no wait because tickets are timed, helping Kersey Valley staff better manage the 3,000 to 4,000 visitors who come out on Fridays and Saturdays in late October.
“Originally, it was almost a four-hour wait to get tickets and another three- to four-hour wait to get into Spookywoods,” Rundberg says. “As we doubled our volume, we had to make things more expedient.”
People can buy tickets online or at the ticket booth. To speed transactions at the front gate, the sales team relies on five PCs with Elo TouchSystems touchmonitors, integrated credit card readers, MMF electronic cash drawers, barcode printers and Datalogic barcode scanners.
The Spookywoods rating on HauntWorld Magazine’s listing of America’s top 13 scariest haunted house attractions for 2010
POS devices also are in use at retail venues on the farm, and the captured data feeds a Microsoft SQL Server database. “That’s where reporting comes in,” Rundberg says. “If we’re getting low on inventory, it notifies a manager and allows them to be prepared for the next opening weekend and to stock those supplies.”
And there’s plenty of inventory. Kersey Valley stocks more than 2,500 different items. “The alerts allow us to keep the customers happy by having a full stock,” says Donna Wohlgemuth, who manages the storefronts for Kersey Valley.
While the POS devices, plus sales and inventory reports, provide accountability, Kersey Valley also has deployed Axis Communications IP surveillance cameras to keep watch over areas where money changes hands and at entry points, for added security.
“If the POS shows a constant drop in cash, we can then use the surveillance system to check what’s happening at the drop point,” Rundberg says.
He also has deployed a Linksys Voice over IP telephony network at Kersey Valley. It routes all the attractions’ calls from various numbers into one system so phones identify the specific attraction.
It might seem like a little thing, Rundberg says, but it means that whoever picks up a call can quickly help the customer. “It always comes back to efficiencies,” adds Tony Wohlgemuth.
As seasoned haunt professionals, few things give Wohlgemuth or Rundberg the willies.
“When you’re out here scaring people for years and your business partner in the IT industry also scares people in the dark, you really lose that sense of fear, and it becomes a game of who can scare who,” Rundberg says.
But that doesn’t mean he’s fearless. When it comes to IT and the business, “I’m definitely scared of losing data,” says Rundberg, adding that a backup strategy is a must for all businesses — no matter their size.
For Kersey Valley, Rundberg uses RAID backup onsite. Additionally, Kersey Valley’s SQL database server fails over to a second SQL database server located at Wohlgemuth and Rundberg’s other business, an IT consultancy in High Point. The pair of servers provides redundancy and assures access to data for both businesses.
Ultimately, says Donna Wohlgemuth, the evolution of technology coupled with the evolution of the attractions at Kersey Valley has been instrumental to the business’ success. “We’ve come from cardboard and plastic to a full-blown operation that’s ranked among the top haunts in the country,” she says.
There are no signs of Tony Wohlgemuth stopping expansion any time soon: “It really keeps evolving,” he says. “It’s not a job; it’s fun. I just have so many ideas.”