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Unconventional businesses catching on

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Escape rooms and cat-cafés are only two of the unusual themed businesses to hit the streets of Melbourne. They are part of a growing number of businesses that seek to turn a profit by offering consumers an out-of-the-box experience.

The Escape Room is a joint project between Owen Spear and partner Ali Cheetham, in which a group of two to four people are locked inside a confined space furnished in typical 50s style. Once inside, the group must find their way out by deciphering a number of cryptic puzzles hidden in otherwise everyday objects.

The room is so popular, Dr Spear told Dynamic Business it was already booked out until September on weekdays and until December on weekends. Prices vary from between $33 per person for a team of two to $24 per person for a team of four.

The couple became interested in the concept after experiencing an escape-room first hand while travelling in Budapest last year. “It was quite exciting walking into this room,” said Dr Spear. “There’s something a bit magical about it. The fact you’re taking part in it is quite thrilling as well”.

On the plus side, overhead costs are minimal once the room has been properly tested with Dr Spear saying the construction costs were minimal.

“The whole thing cost about $6,000 to build. And I mean we’re pretty resourceful buying things from second hand stores and getting old stuff from parents. We just happened to be lucky,” he said.

The quick success of the Escape Room and large booking numbers have surprised both owners, with more rooms currently in development — including one planned for an old school bus.

Another unusual idea taking off is the concept of the cat café. It’s a craze which has taken hold in a number of cities around the globe including London, Munich, Vienna, Tokyo, Paris and Dubai.

A new cat café is scheduled to open in Melbourne in July, with the opening of the establishment drawing the attention of global news organisation CNN. Owner of cat café Melbourne, Anita Loughran told the broadcaster that she was inspired to open her own café after she ventured to Japan about 18 months ago with her partner.

“Going to a cat cafe was an amazing experience and we decided to open our own in Melbourne,” she said. “It’s a place where animal and cat lovers can mingle, socialise and be comfortable in a quiet environment that reflects their interests.”

Another trend being trialled in Melbourne is the concept of the lunchtime rave whereby office workers pop down to their nearest nightclub for 45 minutes of hardcore dancing before returning to finish off the day’s work.

The Toff in Town on Swanston Street trialled its “lunch beat” sessions in May after the concept took off in Sweden back in 2010. The trend has also taken a foothold in New York where office workers can be found brandishing foot-long glow-sticks on the dance-floor during the daylight hours.


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