Why Leeds escape rooms firm Tick Tock Unlock is resetting its business model

An escape rooms business is pressing the reset button on its business model as the country begins to open up following various lockdowns.

Samrien Hussain, right, with business partner Ali Khan.
Samrien Hussain, right, with business partner Ali Khan.

Leeds-based Tick Tock Unlock at one point had four different sites across the North but has shut them all to focus on a new site in the city centre.

Tick Tock Unlock is now in talks to take on 9,500 sq ft of space in Leeds city centre as it looks to introduce a new concept with immersive theatre to its customers.

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Samrien Hussain, founder of Tick Tock Unlock, believes there’s a lot of pent up demand that the business can tap into.

Speaking to The Yorkshire Post, Ms Hussain said: “We’ve closed all of our sites now due to the pandemic. Before the pandemic, we were supposed to open with our new concept, which we’d been sitting on for two-three years.

“Then the pandemic hit so we put a stop to it then. Now’s the right time because people are wanting to do more activities and socialise.”

The new concept is due to open in two phases. Tick Tock Unlock is looking at launching the first phase by September with fantasy and adventure themes. Magical and horror themes will be added as part of phase two.

“What we have done is we’ve added immersive theatre with escape games and Crystal Maze type puzzles,” Ms Hussain says.

The pandemic has been tough for the Leeds-based business with Tick Tock Unlock having to refund bookings and not knowing when it would be allowed to open.

Ms Hussain added: “It’s been hard for our staff. We’ve had to lose some staff. Our team has always been very close, from management to our games masters.”

Tick Tock Unlock had between 20 to 25 people on staff before the covid-19 outbreak. That number is now down to seven with the majority of the core team still on furlough.

However, the escape games business hopes to employ between 10 to 15 staff with the new site.

Prior to the pandemic, escape games were riding the crest of a wave with more and more people taking to it as an activity.

Ms Hussain believes that the industry will be able to pick up from where it left off. She said: “People are wanting to go out, have fun and just have a little bit of normality.”

Even though the business has been unable to take bookings, it has been “full of enquiries”, says Ms Hussain.

“There is definitely a demand out there whether it’s corporate or family and friends,” she added.

In addition to Leeds, Tick Tock Unlock used to have sites in Glasgow, Manchester and Liverpool. It has had to shut those sites down but Ms Hussain wants to franchise out to different cities in the future.

She said: “For us it’s not just about doing something and sitting on it. It’s for us to take our customer feedback, improve and create bigger and better experiences.”

Leeds remains the heartland for the business. Ms Hussain, who is from Keighley, says the city is home for her.

When the new site is launched, Tick Tock Unlock has plans to open an “immersive art installation”.

“We’re looking to work with local artists around the Leeds area and to get them involved,” Ms Hussain said.

She added: “This is something that we could have very easily opened in London and we could have had a lot of traction but Leeds for us is home and our main aim is to bring people to Leeds and see what a fantastic city it is.”

The entrepreneur believes it’s important that independent hospitality and leisure businesses are supported as the country emerges out of lockdown.

“As a small business, you put your heart and soul into everything,” she says.

Bringing escape to Yorkshire

Samrien Hussain was previously a sports development officer and worked in schools promoting sports.

It was when she was working in China that she noticed that the escape games concept was taking off.

She noticed that aside from London there wasn’t much in the way of escape games in the UK. Ms Hussain said:“It was a pilot when we first started, just to see if it was going to work and then it organically grew for us.”

One of the initial challenges for the business was “people not knowing what the escape games industry was” and getting them familiar with it.

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