These Niagara Entrepreneurs Know That Time Is Money
By: Jill Tham
One of the most gratifying aspects of being a writer for Rev Publishing is the opportunity to showcase Niagara’s finest. I have had the sheer pleasure of interviewing musicians, food bloggers, diner owners and Olympians. The perseverance of the exceptional individuals in our community never ceases to amaze me. For this series (On the Inside…), I was swept away by the passion, business minds and good old-fashioned values of the entrepreneurs we will be featuring.
To work diligently and build a successful and original business is commendable; not to mention the stories of adversity. From the high school drop out to the entrepreneurs currently sleeping in their closet while their business undergoes renovations, these owners truly know what it means to get their hands dirty, chose quality over profit, and work exceedingly hard for every dollar they earn. What else can I say? Read on and experience another one of my proud Niagara stories. Each upcoming issue of Business will feature new innovative entrepreneurs, and I start the series here, with Sarah Fenn Thomas owner of Escape Room in Niagara Falls and Adam Murphy of Five Star Racing Products.
Sarah Fenn Thomas of Room Escape
You see it all the time, a group of friends or a family sitting together perhaps sharing a nice meal and a few laughs, but what are they doing? They are sitting there engrossed in their cell phones, texting or surfing the web. When was the last time you saw a family or a group of friends put down their devices and share in some quality fun? “Playing games together brings people together,” states Sarah Fenn Thomas, Owner of Escape Room Niagara.
Can you get out in 60 minutes? This is the burning question that is asked of participants when they arrive at Escape Room Niagara, an interactive game where participants follow a series of clues that will ultimately lead to a key hidden somewhere in the room that will open the door to the outside world.
This new wave of entertainment has existed in Europe and Asia for many years, yet it had not made its way to North America until recently. Fenn Thomas spent 14 years in Europe and Asia working as a producer and content writer in the gaming industry before returning to Niagara Falls to raise her son.
Getting her business off the ground was a challenge in the beginning for Fenn Thomas. “It was a hard sell. I had been in Hong Kong and wasn’t able to access funds, so I started the business with a lot of my husband’s savings,” says Fenn Thomas. The next step for Fenn Thomas was to apply for financial support. She received a small loan from a company to help with marketing and supplies. “They said I should meet Doug Fraser, community advocate and entrepreneur. I think they sent Doug to find out exactly what I was doing,” laughs Fenn Thomas.
Fraser was immediately impressed with Fenn Thomas’ creative approach to business and they became business partners. “I call her silver tongue Sarah, she is quick as a gazelle and doing very well. It usually takes 10 years for a business to break even, I think she will do it sooner,” states Fraser.
Escape Room Niagara opened its doors in June of 2014 with its first theme “The Attic,” which is ideal for a group of three to eight participants. Since then, their bookings calendar has been sold out, which has led to an expansion of the business to occupy a second location on Queen Street in downtown Niagara Falls. This larger venue is equipped to host larger groups and corporate events with its two rooms, “The Castle” and “The Bunker.” “We have hit a perfect balance. Originally we could guarantee ‘The Attic’ was sold out every night and now it is split evenly three ways. They all cater to a different group,” says Fenn Thomas.
Some escape rooms across the province have a darker feel to them and although Fenn Thomas is not overly conservative in her selection of themes, she is conscious of her market and the reputation she would like to hold in the community. “With customers ranging from eight to eighty years of age, we make sure our games are stylish and fun, and playable by all people,” says Fenn Thomas.
A large portion of Fenn Thomas’ clientele is corporate team building. To better serve her customers, Fenn Thomas formed a partnership with Event Coordinator Amy Duffy from Amy Duffy Meetings and Events Inc. “I work a lot with the hotels and plan corporate team building events when businesses are in town for a conference,” states Duffy. “The teambuilding opportunities that Escape Room Niagara offers is mentally challenging and very accessible; it’s like being in a board game,” adds Duffy.
When Fenn Thomas was working in the gaming world she didn’t always get to select her team. “We have eight local geniuses on our team now and everyone gets to put their spin on it. It becomes a collaborative process,” she explains. “We all get to play games for a living.”
Fenn Thomas finds a great deal of joy enabling people to experience something new. “It almost sounds cheesy, but we have the ability to bring people together and watch them have a fantastic time. It is gratifying,” states Fenn Thomas. “We are really conscious of the fact that we are getting a group of people together. We want to thank people for coming in and we don’t want to rush people in and out. We are not a turnstile,” states Fenn Thomas.
With the quick rise of the popularity of the activity in Canada, Fenn Thomas is realistic about the sustainability of the program. “It has not peaked, we haven’t seen the turnover yet. Everyone in the escape room industry in Canada is less than one year in business. When we started planning there was only two rooms, now there are 39 escape rooms,” explains Fenn Thomas. “It is becoming its own genre.”
What will keep the program running is a creative edge which Fenn Thomas and her crew seem to have an abundance of. With movable walls and hidden trap doors throughout their games, it is easy to see why they are rated the number one attraction in Niagara according to Trip Advisor. “My clients are looking forward to what Fenn Thomas, Fraser and their team comes up with next,” states Duffy.
Choose your team wisely, put down your devices and take the challenge. You may not find the hidden key in 60 minutes, but you will find something that seems to be lost nowadays – good old fashioned fun.
To book a game visit www.escape and be sure to them on Facebook.
Adam Murphy: Five Star Racing Products
The allure of stock car racing is something that intrigues both the spectator and the participant, yet very few people can relate to the adrenaline rush of putting together the perfect lap around a race track. “Racing is full of hazardous situations and you have to make rational decisions in a matter of seconds or split seconds. Basically, you are always on the ragged edge while driving at top speeds of 200 kilometres per hour,” states Adam Murphy, Owner and President of Five Star Racing Products in Niagara Falls, ON.
Murphy, a graduate of Architectural Technology who spent his youth at the race track in Thorold, began racing mod-lite cars in 2005 after his window tinting company, Solaris Tint, began generating enough profit for him to pick up the sport. “My first year I bought a second hand trailer and a used race car,” recalls Murphy who immediately experienced success in the sport.
The following year, Murphy competed in various racing events throughout North America. He drove to Tennessee to purchase his first chassis, the internal frame on which the body of the car is mounted, and recalls thinking it was quite the hike to get what he needed. “At the time, no one in Canada was building frames. The racing market in North America was healthy, so why not start building my own sprint and mod-lite chassis?” says Murphy.
In 2007, Murphy built his first chassis, a prototype, and started purchasing components for his frame from various suppliers in North America. “The border was always an issue when ordering parts from the United States. When the parts arrived, they look like they were just thrown in the box,” recalls Murphy. The answer to Murphy’s problem was simple – he began manufacturing his own parts and selling them along with his frames. Murphy’s parts are no more expensive than other manufacturers, but he sets himself apart from the competition because of the service that comes along with parts: he makes quality and presentation a priority. “I want the customer to know they are getting their money’s worth,” states Murphy.
Five Star Racing Products takes the time to bag, label and anodize their parts, the process where the raw aluminum is treated to prevent corrosion and enables dyeing, which is always the colour “Five Star black.” This is an added expense that Murphy doesn’t eliminate compared to some companies who send out raw materials. “Anything that is welded steel or chromoly is made in house at the shop in Niagara Falls, ON.
Machined air craft aluminum parts are outsourced,” he explains. “Everything is made as if I was putting it on my own car.”
Murphy’s first client, a 20 year veteran of the sport, raced to a second place season finish in Murphy’s frame, a mere four points behind the first place racer. With another successful year behind him and a solid reputation in the racing community, Murphy began to focus more on the geometrics of the cars he was building. “I had a few ideas of my own on how to modify the front end geometry of the frame. When you start altering those variables it changes how the car reacts on certain tracks,” he states.
What makes Murphy’s cars highly innovative are his geometrically altered front ends and the adjustability that is built within the chassis; resulting in a more consistent ride. “Most frames are 100 percent welded and have fixed shock locations. I can modify the frame with bolted in components and clamps making my pick up points adjustable. No other manufacturer has done that,” explains Murphy.
“I liked the look of Adam’s products, but what impressed me the most is that he acted like a pit crew chief to everyone,” states Jason Corless, mod-lite race car driver. “Adam helped me with driving hints, parts and set up. He taught me the functions of the car and how to adjust it, but what impressed me the most was that he helped me before I was running his product,” states Corless. “The sale is always second with him.”
Murphy worked diligently to custom build a race car for Corless that was designed to win. From moving the location of the car’s radiator to increase air flow to adjusting the location of Corless’ seat to provide him with more leg room and head clearance, no detail was overlooked. “You are always looking for the competitive edge,” states Murphy.
“With his assistance and products, I was winning races,” states Corless. “He asked for my input when he was trying to put it together. He is very receptive.” Corless reflects on his relationship with Five Star Racing Products, “Without Adam’s help I couldn’t have done it. He likes to go fast and he likes to help others go fast. He has never steered me wrong.”
There is a lot more to racing that just pressing the pedal to the floor and making turns: driving a race car takes technique, physical fitness and an ability to follow your instincts. “What you see outside is different from what you see or feel inside. It is nice to get both perspectives,” states Murphy. His experience on the track gives him the first-hand knowledge that he puts it into practise when building a race car.
Murphy ensures that his products always live up to the “Five Star” rating and his efforts in the racing community have not gone unnoticed. In 2012, he took home the award for Mechanic of the Year.
Five Star Racing Products is the only supplier of sprint car chassis in Canada and since 2007 his company has built more than 45 frames, with his biggest customer located in Australia. Murphy’s future goal is to see one of his frames running with a World of Outlaw Team.
For Murphy racing and building cars is more than a dedication, it’s a way of life. “It takes a lot of time, determination and sacrifice to succeed and do well. I have won races, but I always get more fulfilment from putting other people in my frames and watching them succeed. When I start out with a piece of raw material, bend it, weld it and then watch someone competing in my chassis, it gives me a sense of gratification and accomplishment. I get goose bumps every time,” explains Murphy. After three years off the track, this summer Murphy will get behind the wheel once again.
To follow #28 and his racing season visit fivestarracingproducts.ca or follow him on Twitter @5StarRacing.