Spring 2014
All Treats, No Tricks By Haley Shapley

Shoppers are getting into the Halloween spirit with fun décor and accessories that are increasingly delivering sweet treats to retailers.

Halloween may be a holiday of frights, but there’s nothing for retailers to be scared of — this is a great opportunity for sales. Consider that average spending on Halloween has increased 54.7 percent since 2005, with total spending estimated to have reached $6.9 billion last year, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF).

What makes it such a popular holiday? The fact that it’s fun is a good start. “People let their hair down,” says Beth Lorentz, VP of product development at Midwest-CBK. “They’re unabashed; the holiday gives all the permission to do that.”

For young and old (and furry) alike

BethanyLoweDesigns2Halloween is no longer a children’s holiday, but something everyone can love. Young millennials, especially, are finding ways to celebrate. “Halloween is the No. 1 holiday for young adults under age 25,” says Riann Henkel, seasonal trend director at Sphere Trending, a consumer and design trend intelligence firm. “The rise in popularity of Halloween among Gen Now is a clear indicator that they crave casual fun in a world where they feel pressured by other popular family activities.”

Adults in particular will be happy about the timing of the holiday in 2014. “This year, Halloween falls on a Friday, and that means adult parties, entertainment and tabletop pieces, and
bigger sales in general,” says Beth Strever, designer at Tag Ltd in Chicago, IL. “Traditional Halloween icons are always popular, but adult entertaining customers want more home décor products and party items. Many customers still are partying on Saturday, too, which just extends the celebration.” For those adult gatherings, Tag offers products like countertop display units with an assortment of Halloween spreaders, crow and pumpkin wine stoppers, black cake plates, large skull candles, crow taper holders, Halloween pattern flag banners and dish towels.

Humans aren’t the only ones getting into a celebratory spirit, though. The number of four-legged pumpkins, witches and princesses is only growing, NRF says, with nearly 14 percent of those people dressing up for Halloween last year also costuming their pets, to the tune of $330 million.

Extending the season

CreativeCoop12Many of the traditional symbols for Halloween, which are perennially popular, can be used far beyond the night of frights. “We have several new products for the season that intentionally cross over to fall in general,” says Kathy Phillips of Primitives by Kathy in Lancaster, PA. “Our sophisticated new palette blends perfectly with current home décor trends. We have introduced new pillows that invite holiday guests to relax and enjoy the season of hospitality, and new box signs that add festivity to the holiday.”

At Vanderbilt Gift Shop inside Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, TN, they start putting Halloween items out about six weeks in advance, but they include general autumn merchandise in that mix. “We try to tie Halloween into fall, so we’re more apt to buy pumpkin items rather than jack-o-lantern items,” says Myke Ondek, manager of the store. “We buy things that can pass for Halloween but that can be carried over to fall and Thanksgiving. We get black cat stuffed animals and tie an orange bow around them; then, after Halloween, we take the orange bow off and they’re just a black cat again.”

The dark side

ElizaKateHeadbands-copyHalloween has its fair share of friendly ghosts and smiling pumpkins, but one trend that’s been hot the past few years is a darker look.

“For design trends, we see a continuation of the Victorian curiosities theme — think snakes in a jar and covered glass domes containing unknown skeletons,” Henkel says. “However, we see a more light-hearted approach with brighter colors and more youthful design applications. It’s still creepy — after all, it is Halloween! — but just not as dark and macabre as we saw in 2013.”

Bethany Lowe Designs in Osco, IL, has found great success with their Dark Shadows theme, which features a black and cream colorway, vintage-looking skulls, and an Edgar Allan Poe sensibility. And just as this throwback theme has endured, so too will the items. “Our products are heirlooms to be kept and handed down to the next generation,” says Bethany Lowe, founder of the company. “They have a timeless quality; they’re not something you throw away.”

The Nevermore Collection from Gallerie II, a division of C&F Enterprises in Newport News, VA, also pulls inspiration from “The Raven” poet, with dark lace, smoky mercury glass, vintage elements, and, of course, ravens. “It’s a lot of borrowing from the past,” says Rebecca Freeman, marketing coordinator. “Any type of old postcard or antique print, we’re seeing a ton of that.”

Indeed, a black bird may just fly away with the hearts of your Halloween shoppers. “Customers love ravens and crows,” says Strever of Tag. “That continues to trend, and in some markets, it is now all year-round.”

Let there be light-up elements

FolkmanisIt’s not all about darkness on Halloween, though — in fact, light is pretty popular in its own right.

Midwest-CBK in Cannon Falls, MN, has an entire collection centered around light, called Halloween Shines. A new product they’re first to market with is an acrylic cylinder with LED lights that illuminate from inside, a metal handle on top, and a 4-foot metal chain attached. These lend themselves to easy window decorating and can be used indoors and out. Designs include everything from jack-o-lantern faces to spiders and spooky words.

For something that really makes a statement, Bethany Lowe Designs offers large, lightweight papier-mâché pieces that are 24 to 28 feet tall and light up. Examples include a skeleton wearing a party hat and an owl wearing a top hat. With a suggested retail price of just under $100, “they’re not terribly expensive for the size they are, but stores and people love them,” Lowe says. The company also has popular tabletop luminaries with graphic patterns of vintage artwork on them, meant to wrap around battery-operated candles.

In addition to décor, wearable novelty products with light are big as well. “We’re finding that especially witches hats that have some kind of special device — music, motion, lights that blink — are being very well received,” says Lorentz of Midwest-CBK. “Things that light up, that have motion, that are fun and decorative and spirited are the things that are tending to sell really well.”

One of those places where light-up, flashing necklaces are popular is at Vanderbilt Gift Shop, where nurses like to scoop them up to add a little cheer to their outfits as they’re visiting patients.

The little extras

GallerieII6-copyEven customers who don’t go all out with decorating their homes or dressing up might go for a little something festive, like the line of wearables from Midwest-CBK that includes witches hats, collars, headbands, and neckties — all easy dress-up costume accessories. “Our customers are telling us that consumers like the quick pickup costume that’s convenient, and they’re quite fashionable,” Lorentz says. They’re also offering a line of fabric collars that are decorative. “You tie them around your neck, and it adds a little extra to a costume,” Lorentz says. “It’s a new format that’s being well received.”

Hand-painted glasses are a quick way to add some spirit, sipping style. Top Shelf Glasses in Frisco, TX, offers a line of wineglasses with themes like “Mummy’s Sipping Cup” and “Diamonds Are a Ghoul’s Best Friend”; martini glasses that proudly proclaim “I’m Here for the Boos”; and pilsner glasses and beer steins with zombies, skeletons and wolves.

Scaring up some customers

GlobalVillageGlassNot only do you have the opportunity to delight current customers with your Halloween offerings, but you just may be attracting new customers as well. “One in five Halloween shoppers last year bought from a retailer they hadn’t shopped with before, according to Google,” Henkel says.

How can you draw them in? You might host an event — it could be as simple as offering hot apple cider and cocoa to shoppers, or as elaborate as throwing a costume party in your store with hayrides out back. Put people in the celebrating spirit, and they just may be inspired to buy.

Although Halloween isn’t a big seller in the Florida Keys, Waters Edge Cottage in Key Largo is always working on its window displays to get people to come off the busy highway and stop in the store. Last year, they created a “Boo” display with life preserver rings as the O’s — perfectly weaving in the locale with the holiday. “I was standing around waiting for my husband at the marine store and saw the life preserver rings and it came to life,” says Lillian Goodrich of Waters Edge. “I tied the B in with boat rope. Now how to hang? I used an oar we sell to hang the letter and hung the rings with fishing wire and there you go: BOO!” The whole display sold.

At Vanderbilt Gift Shop, they also work hard on window displays, often putting something big front and center. “Generally when we buy more expensive things, it’s to draw people in more than to actually sell the higher-priced things at retail,” Ondek says. If it hasn’t sold, they’ll then mark it down to at cost after the holiday. “We get the money back, and it serves not only as merchandise for sale, but it’s also seasonal décor for us,” he explains.

Ondek’s found the most success placing the holiday product in the front of the store, but wherever the display is located, make sure you give it that wow factor. “If your display is interesting enough, people are willing to take photos and post them, and it becomes viral,” Freeman says.

“It’s all about merchandising,” Lorentz adds. “Attractively position products in vignettes or themes and promote holiday décor and give consumers ideas of what [the products] can look like in their home.”

That doesn’t just mean throwing any and all Halloween items you can find together. “My advice to retailers is whether you choose my style or someone else’s, purchase enough to make a story — purchase enough to have this display make sense; don’t cherry-pick throughout market,” Lowe says. “You can mix and match, but make sure it all goes together and tells a story. You have to do a display that knocks their socks off.”

Or spooks their socks off, as the case may be for Halloween.

Haley Shapley

Haley Shapley is a Seattle-based freelance writer who 
specializes in retail, travel and health topics. Learn more at www.haleyshapley.com.

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