Zombies aren’t as exciting to customers this Halloween season as werewolves and the ghostly character of Bloody Mary used to be. That insight jumped at Elizabeth Penn and Amber Michael over the winter as they and their team planned ways to keep fans happily screaming. Penn is sales director at Kersey Valley Spookywoods, a haunted attraction in Archdale, N.C. Michael is the ghoulish company’s creative director.

“People take for granted that what is hip and current now will be trendy for a while, but it is always changing,” Michael told IBD.

Awareness of what customers are going to like — and having the guts to carve your market — is key for keeping your company tops, they believe. “By the time the other haunted attractions have started things we have done, we move on to the next thing,” Penn said.

More tidbits from top American haunted house creators on keeping your company fresh:

Feed. It takes year-round work to set a new standard of scare at great haunted houses. Each time a customer startles, the firms have to crank up their innovation again, Penn and Michael explain. It’s not as easy to grab that second scream.

To thrill clients, keep your creative-idea engine running at high volume. Michael draws on a background of art history, peering at paintings and listening to tales spun years ago that she injects into a modern context to give customers the chills.

Marcus Poulin, creative director and manager at Indy Scream Park, starts with antiques.

He likes to find old hospitals as they unload their gear. A couple of years ago he scored an ancient — and creepy looking — mortuary table for his Indianapolis haunt. “It took four people to move it,” he said. And it was worth its weight in gory inspiration.

Stay alert. You never know when a great idea will jump out.

“I am always looking and it never gets turned off,” said Dwayne Sanburn, owner of the 13th Gate haunted house in Baton Rouge, La. “I am on vacation somewhere and we can be in the remotest place and my wife will say, ‘I can’t believe you just found catacombs or a haunted house or a cave to go look in.’ No matter where I am, I can find it.”

React. Live actors who inhabit Sanburn’s haunted house refine the pacing of their actions and style of delivery by the minute to maximize shock value.

Sanburn often tours with groups to give his staff feedback. “If customers are screaming inside and laughing when they walk out the door,” he said, “then I know we did a good job.”

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