Murder Mystery Company puts on about 5,000 shows per year, with about 60 percent of them being private events. Courtesy Scott Cramton/Murder Mystery Company
(As seen on WZZM TV 13) Grand Rapids-based Murder Mystery Company is the third largest theater company in the world in terms of performances, with only the Royal Shakespeare Company and Cirque du Soleil putting on more shows per year.
Scott Cramton, company founder, said that 11 years ago when he started the company, he had no idea it would become as successful as it has — or even that it would be profitable.
“I never thought at the time when we started it that it was going to be anything more than just a Grand Rapids thing,” he said.
In its initial years, the Grand Rapids troupe performed shows at the former Drink Ultra Lounge. The cast was lucky to make $20 a piece. Then one day Cramton took a call from McDonald’s Corp. inquiring about the cost for a private performance. He was so surprised by the call that, in addition to throwing out an absurdly low price, he forgot to include himself in the cost.
But the performance was a success and additional private performance requests followed. Cramton eventually realized people were finding out about the company through its website and said he became obsessed with search engine optimization, trying to attract even more visitors to the page.
In addition to Internet searches, Cramton linked up with Groupon around 2010. That relationship provided a huge boost to the business.
“There are two major things to use Groupon for — one is advertising; certainly, that is a big function to get people interested in shows,” he said. “The major function of our public shows with Groupon customers is to make them aware of our private shows.”
Today, thanks to Groupon, Murder Mystery Company has grown to 17 troupes located all across the country and 25 public show venues, with 5,000 performances given each year. The company employs nearly 800 people and has made more than $4 million.
Of those 5,000 performances, 2,000 are public shows and the other 3,000 are at private events.
“We’ve grown exponentially every year,” Cramton said. “Last year we were at about 2,500 shows, and the year before that at about 1,000.”
Here in Grand Rapids, Murder Mystery Company offers weekly performances at Pietro’s, where the shows change every three to four months.
Cramton said people love the shows and he often sees repeat customers. The reason for the shows’ success, he said, is because of the unique experience and the opportunity to participate.
“We want to create something where the audience truly is part of the show, where you don’t just see something, you actually experience it,” he said. “You walk out and you feel like you were kind of a part of it — not in a scary way by any means. We don’t get you up there and give you 20 lines or something, but you actually get to solve the crime.”