By Molly Fleming

Published June 11, 2019

Mike Gipson and his family want to lock people in a trailer with their co-workers, then have the group figure out how to escape. Gipson, his dad, Mike Gipson, and his brother Andrew Gipson own and operate The Escape-branded puzzle rooms. The company started in 2014 and now has locations in Oklahoma City; Tulsa; Little Rock, Arkansas; and Branson, Missouri.

Son Mike Gipson said the company previously had a small, storage cube-size game, Escape Crate. The crate was taken to events and festivals. People could solve the puzzle in about 15 minutes. The pop-up escape room helped show people the concept and drive traffic to The Escape’s stores, said Gipson. The crate is gone, but the concept never left.

In 2017, the Gipsons started working on The Escape at work. It cost about $60,000 to construct, including the trailer cost.

The 32-foot trailer can be brought into a company’s parking lot where groups of four to six people can try to solve the problem aboard the nuclear submarine. The 45-minute game makes it easy to schedule one-hour time blocks, Gipson said.

The concept was tested for about six months before launching. It’s been especially popular with businesses that work in mission-critical-type fields, such as military contractors.

“Companies are loving that we can come out and not have to take their entire staff off-site for team building,” he said.

While this could keep some companies from coming to the The Escape’s site on NW 23rd Street, Gipson said he’d rather compete against himself than someone else. He said the company has already seen a return on its investment, with people coming to the 23rd Street location after trying the concept at work.

“Once they try the game, then they learn there are six other games they they’d like to try,” Gipson said.

Team-building experiences help employees learn more about each other, said Steve Puckett, corporate human resources director at Express Employment Professionals.

Within its own departments, the company is trying to incorporate more team-building activities. In August, Express did an employee survey at the corporate office on Northwest Expressway. The 250 employees at the corporate office responded collectively that there was a lack of team-building activities.

Puckett said in a focus group meeting, one department’s employees said they didn’t feel like their boss really knew them. Building those relationships is important, he said.

“In my opinion, developing those relationships helps with employee engagement,” he said. “The more employees feel engaged, the more likely they’ll want to stay employed.”

Puckett said his department is visiting an escape room this month since the department staff said it would also like more team-building activities.

Gipson said The Escape company has heard a lot of positive feedback from companies that have used the game. He said one customer’s office is still talking about the experience and it’s been six months since the employees played the game.

He said at the companies where they’ve taken the trailer, people have been good sports. No one has ruined the puzzle for the next group.