Britney Racine opened Escape Oshkosh in May 2017, and she continues to expand her unique small business. The escape room facility offers games and themes that customers cannot find anywhere else because Britney creates them herself instead of purchasing them. She is proud that she and her staff do everything from design concept to buildout. “I began my escape rooms with key locks and word locks, but now I also use fun electromagnetic sensors and other electronics as part of the escape solution,” she said. What started as a one-woman business has now grown to employ four additional staff members, and Britney just recently expanded into the lobby of the building to create a fourth escape room space.
When asked what makes the most compelling part of her journey, Britney said, “I started with no business experience, but I wanted to leap in after seeing a friend start her own small business. I learned what I didn’t know through lots of community resources.” She started at the local Chamber of Commerce, who referred her to the Wisconsin Small Business Development Center (SBDC). Colleen Merrill, a consultant at the SBDC, helped Britney with financials as well as with questions on everything from taxes to hiring. “Colleen was super helpful and had answers to nearly everything. On the rare occasion when she didn’t have an answer, she always had a resource to help me find it,” Britney shared. “After my business was up and running, I was thrilled to come back as a guest presenter at an Entrepreneurial Training Program (ETP) offered by the SBDC.”
THE COVID PANDEMIC
But it wasn’t always easy on the path to small business success. When COVID-19 hit, the facility was forced to close from March until August 2020. Britney was thankful for the SBDC’s assistance in explaining federal funding that was available such as the Economic Injury Disaster Loans and Paycheck Protection Program loans.
Thanks to some federal funding and creative solutions, Escape Oshkosh was able to safely reopen. The start times used to be the same for all four escape rooms prior to the pandemic, but those start times were switched to be staggered throughout the day so no two groups of people would overlap. Britney also moved to private events only in which all participants arrive together as a group, and no strangers are paired up in a room together. She also incorporated additional time to clean and disinfect the rooms between visitors. Britney is very confident in the business saying, “We will survive the pandemic. We will just change and adapt as needed.” The escape room business has already expanded twice in the three years it has been open and looks forward to even more success.
Part of the business’s support comes from Britney’s community involvement. She is the treasurer for the Business Improvement District which is comprised of about 30 local businesses and promotes downtown initiatives. “One project involved partnering with local artists to design murals to be placed on buildings. Another project sponsors an Easter bunny hunt in which bunnies created by Fire Escape, a local pottery studio, are placed in the windows of businesses. Community residents can be awarded a gift certificate if they locate all the bunnies,” Britney explained.
Britney also partners with Fire Escape on an annual event for younger kids. The children get to build their own escape room models at the pottery studio and then come to Escape Oshkosh for an escape room adventure experience.
The community cannot wait to see what Escape Oshkosh does next. Britney is excited to be offering a submarine theme escape room called “Submerged” opening in November 2020. And she said she hopes to expand to another location some day in the future.