Beginning in 2016, Katie and Gregg Dufort ran a golf cart taxi service that took people from bar to bar in Old Town Scottsdale and Downtown Historic Prescott. Tens of thousands of locals and tourists used the free service each year and the Duforts relied on advertising revenue to keep the business running. After a year, they had found their footing and the operation was running smoothly in both cities. Fast forward to March 2020 and, just like the rest of the world, Ride Scottsdale and Ride Prescott golf cart taxis came to a screeching halt as the coronavirus pandemic ramped up.
Fortunately, Katie is not one to sit still. She’s an historian, a lover of interesting facts, a problem solver and a sucker for mysteries. As the pandemic played out, Katie was all in where it came to finding a solution to get her wheels spinning in Arizona again, literally. At this point, it was acceptable for people to participate in outdoor activities with those they had been in quarantine with. In fact, family and friends were dying to get outside to do something fun. It was around this time that the Duforts decided to pivot their golf cart taxi business into mobile escape room-style scavenger hunts called Puzzle Rides.
Puzzle Rides is an adventure game where players are taken on a scavenger hunt via golf cart and must use teamwork, along with elements of the route, to solve a series of puzzles before time runs out. Like an escape room, players have only a limited amount of time to reach their final destination. But the adventure is much more than a game. Katie’s background led her to include historical facts about Scottsdale and Prescott in the clues, so locals and tourists learn something new about each of the cities.
Supporting Local Businesses
The Duforts didn’t stop there. They went one step further. As a mom-and-pop operation themselves, they felt first-hand the economic blow of the pandemic and the nonexistent tourism season that year. They knew their fellow local business owners were suffering as well. How could the Duforts bring new people and potential customers through the doors of those who had supported their golf cart taxi business through advertising all those years before? Well, there was no better way than to include more than 20 local businesses on their Puzzle Rides routes.
From family-friendly adventures to adults-only rides, participants specifically in Scottsdale find themselves searching for hidden clues at The Spice & Tea Exchange, Giligan’s, The Rusty Spur, The Museum of the West, Rack Pool Hall, Taj Mahal, Zoolicans, Philadelphia Sandwich Company, Boondocks, Bevvy, Kelly’s at Southbridge, RockBar, Wasted Grain, Scapegoat Beer & Wine, BS West, Craft 64, Coach House, Goldwater Brewing, Porter’s Western Saloon and Pattie’s. The same model has been established in Historic Downtown Prescott.
The partnerships have proven to be wildly successful and continue to evolve. When Puzzle Rides launched in July of 2020, only four signature mobile escape room-style scavenger hunts were available. Today, Puzzle Rides offers more than 13 rides, and new adventures are being added at every turn. Signature favorites include Hijacked by Science, where a mad scientist must be stopped from unleashing a powerful weapon; Pirate’s Treasure Adventure, where participants swashbuckle their way through town; and the Wild West Heist, where riders must find loot hidden by bank robbers back in the day. Puzzle Rides Pub Crawls include the Classic Rock Crawl, the Cactus League Crawl and Murder at 30,000 feet, where adults must “think to drink.”
Team Building, Too
Most recently, the Duforts implemented Puzzle Relays as a team activity. The Relays are team building events where up to 90 people participate. Those 90 participants are also taken to a handful of local businesses to discover clues, often filling bars and restaurants to the max. Food and drink isn’t included in the Puzzle Relays’ ticket price, so the local establishments reap the benefit as groups of employees use the entertainment platform to brush up on their team-building skills and create lasting memories. Management stakeholders are then treated to an in-depth team review at the end of every Relay, where Katie, who was once a professional sales trainer, breaks down what worked well, shining star employees and potential problem areas that may need to be addressed. The “executive summary” has been noted as the highlight of the event for HR professionals and their accompanying C-suite participants.
The future of Puzzle Rides is bright. While the Duforts continue to expand offerings in Old Town Scottsdale and Historic Downtown Prescott to support their fellow small business owners, they are also planning to franchise in other cities. An expansion in Arizona is underway for 2022, while California and Florida are next on the list. The Duforts would eventually like to boost small business partnerships across the nation by launching their mobile escape room-style scavenger hunts in every state.