HUTCHINSON — A business venture that requires four walls and a roof actually works pretty well on the road, said Laura Sorrell, who owns The Room with husband Matt.

With success at their Hutchinson and Wichita locations, the Sorrells put the escape room concept into a mobile unit and unveiled it at the Kansas State Fair this year.

“Getting it ready for the fair was a little last minute, but we have always had plans to do a mobile unit. We haven’t had the time with our other businesses,” Sorrell explained. “Our contact at the fair recommended it because a mobile escape unit was a big hit at the Sacramento fair in California. That was the first of August, so that didn’t give us much time to plan, design and build it, but we got it ready in time for the fair.”

The concept of an escape room is simple — participants have to solve puzzles and find clues to “unlock” the door within the time limit. At the fair, participants in the air-conditioned unit needed to find the antidote and escape in 30 minutes. No worries, though — the door isn’t actually locked and the Sorrells are able to give hints as needed.

“It’s just fun. We have so much fun developing the rooms, and designing them and throwing ideas off each other. It’s so much fun to watch people have a good time,” Sorrell said. “It’s so exciting to see how different’ people think and how also some people always think the same thing. Every group is different and it’s always fresh and new.”

The Sorrells hold several escape room firsts under their belts. They opened the first escape room businesses in Kansas, Arkansas and the first mobile escape unit in Kansas as well.

“When we opened (The Room in Hutchinson) two-and-a-half years ago, the closest places to do an escape room were St. Louis, Denver or Oklahoma City,” Sorrell said. “When we first opened, no one had heard of escape rooms in the midwest area. A week after we opened, an escape room was featured on “The Big Bang Theory’, then it was on Conan and Ellen and all over TV when we opened. It kind of explained what they are. A lot of people were initially saying, ‘I’m not going to give you money to lock me in a room,’ so the exposure made it an actual business.”

The Sorrells design different scenarios for each room in their locations in Hutchinson, Wichita and now the mobile unit. Other businesses might purchase escape scenarios, but the Sorrells prefer to devise their own so customers know they won’t have to solve the same scenario twice.

“What we’re finding is that people have already done that room, not knowing it was purchased from the same company. All of ours are original ideas so that way, you know that when you come to our location that it’s completely fresh and new,” Sorrel said. “We start with a concept, or an idea, or sometimes I’ll find an object and think, ‘This would be cool in a pirate-themed room,’ and we design the room from there.”

The resulting escape rooms push participants to work together to complete tasks in time.

“We don’t make you do anything that isn’t part of puzzle, but everyone turns everything in the room into a clue and thinks its a red herring. There’s enough to do that we don’t want you to have to mess with other stuff,” Sorrell said. “We set ours up to have a little bit of everything in each room, that way, everybody has a chance to shine. Usually somebody is good at math, somebody’s good at riddles and somebody’s good at working the locks.”

Scenarios are also build to be reset in five minutes or less, which cuts down on waiting time between groups.

Sorrell explained that the team-building nature of escape rooms has made the mobile unit popular with a number of groups.

“It’s really great for us to take the unit directly to companies for team building or other company events. We also can go directly to schools, we’ve been getting a lot of requests for after-prom,” Sorrell explained. “You put the electronics down, you’re talking, and you learn a lot about each other and what you know. You get true interaction, which is something you don’t get when you watch a movie or play a video game.”

With a mobile unit, The Room can partner with businesses and offer another element to events held on-location.

“For example, we could partner with Taco Bell, and if you get out in time, you can get a free taco or something like that,” Sorrell said. “We’re looking at adding more locations, and now that we have the mobile unit, we can test market areas. We’ve gotten a lot of requests to build ones in Salina and Great Bend.”

For more information or to request a mobile unit event, visit https://www.theroom-mobile.com, https://www.theroom-hutchinson.com or https://theroom-wichita.com.

Contact Cheyenne Derksen Schroeder by email at cderksen@mcphersonsentinel.com or follow her on Twitter at @MacSentinel.