Escape game business appears in Lakeland

Escapology Lakeland of Polk County

Marcus Ruggiero always new he wanted to own his own business. While working as a car salesman for 12 years, ideas constantly popped into his head, but nothing ever came to fruition – until escape games came on the scene.

“This is something totally unique and different and it was something that grabbed my attention right from the beginning the first time I heard about what escape games were,” Ruggiero said. “It was that instant clarity that that’s absolutely what we need to bring to downtown Lakeland. It just promotes camaraderie. You’re building organizational and critical thinking skills and it’s just a lot of fun. It was a no-brainer for me.”

And so, Escapology Lakeland was born. It features four themed escape game rooms in which guests have 60 minutes to search the room, find clues, and solve riddles and puzzles to win the game.

While Ruggiero took it upon himself to learn everything he could about the escape game business, he sought outside assistance for the business end of things.

“The theme of any business of course is creating your business plan so getting some help with that side of it,” was what brought him to the Florida SBDC at University of South Florida, located at the Lakeland Chamber of Commerce, he said.

Ruggiero needed a business plan in order to land a bank loan to get his location up and running in downtown Lakeland. After working with his business consultant at the Florida SBDC at USF, Ruggiero took his plan to Center State Bank, where he landed the loan he needed to get the building ready for opening.

“The biggest challenge was renovating a 100-year-old building which had some obstacles along the way, but we had a great contractor for that,” Ruggiero said of getting started. He added that the City of Lakeland was very much on board from the start, and that he’s met many people in the community who’ve been helpful. That was exactly what he expected of Lakeland.

“When I moved here, it was starting to grow and it was vibrant and there was a great enthusiasm in the air for young entrepreneurial people and that spirit was around and it was always kind of a dream of mine to be able to do something on my own for myself and my family and this was home.”

Ruggiero plans on continuing to grow his roots in the Lakeland business community and hopes to continue to meet new people through memberships with organizations such as the Lakeland Chamber of Commerce. That is, after all, a great way to keep learning.

“I am not an expert and I love talking to people that I can gain insight from,” he said.

“There’s never a reason not to try to learn every day and get better. Reach out to anybody that you can that you think will help you gain insight and ask the questions. Don’t worry about if you think it’s not the right question.”

Ruggiero is already working on expansion plans into the Tampa market, and will continue to utilize resources such as the Florida SBDC at USF moving forward.

“If you’re a young entrepreneur – a young business owner – and you have those questions, reach out to the SBDC,” he said. “There’s so many different people and groups that are out there to help you succeed.”