Spring 2011
Spooktacular Sales! By Heather Johnson Durocher

The numbers speak for themselves. Last year, Halloween sales were forecast to reach $5.8 billion. As Halloween has increasingly become a social party occasion, that number has been steadily trending upward. And this means plenty of treats for your customer—and you.

In a testament to the increasing popularity of Halloween, consider this: Holly Kenny says the holiday has become so profitable that it is bigger for her than even Christmas or Easter.

The owner of the wholesale company, Groovy Holidays in Fairlee, VT, has a possible explanation for this. “I think people really get into [Halloween]. They’re making traditions of having neighborhood parties and block parties because it’s still nice out, and it’s more of a social holiday instead of Christmas which is more about family,” Kenny points out.

Dianne Bradley agrees. “Halloween is becoming more and more popular with adult—it’s no longer just a children’s holiday as multiple generations now enthusiastically decorate their homes and entertain around this occasion,” says Bradley, director of product training and communications for Enesco, a Itasca, IL-based giftware and home and garden decor company.

Buyers in their 30s and 40s in particular are doing it up big for this holiday, Bradley believes. “You can’t underestimate Gen-Xers and their eagerness to purchase decor items for entertaining. Friends are as important as family to the Gen-Xers and every holiday is a reason to celebrate,” she points out.

Doing the numbers

Over the years, marketing expert Pam Danziger has watched as Halloween has established itself as a stand-alone holiday generating plenty of decorating-oriented sales. “About 10 years ago, ‘fall harvest’ and Halloween weren’t much differentiated, but now they are,” says Danziger, of Unity Marketing in Stevens, PA.

Consider these statistics: Some 50 percent of survey respondents said they would celebrate Halloween last year by decorating their homes and yards, spending an overall $1.6 billion on such products. This was up from 47 percent in 2009, according to the findings compiled by BIGResearch, a research firm based in Worthington, OH, for the National Retail Federation.

The survey also found that Americans expected to spend $66.28 on costumes, candy and decorations in 2010, up from 2009’s $56.31 and comparable to the $66.54 average spend in 2008. Total spending for the holiday had been expected to reach $5.8 billion.

The uptick in Halloween sales in the past year is encouraging to wholesalers, who realize the slowly recovering economy remains at the forefront of many consumers’ minds. It just might mean they celebrate, but in slightly different ways.

“A lot of people, with this economy, they might not be going out as much,” says Dan Gullicksen, a member of the sales and marketing team for Chicago wholesaler Tag. “So it’s more about home entertaining and so they’ll have that Halloween party.”

Spooky finds

Given the growing popularity of this fall holiday, there is plenty to choose from when it comes to Halloween-themed products. Decorations in particular continue to be big sellers as consumers snap up not just costumes for the kids but clever and playful home items for their own entertainment.

Wholesale companies like Groovy Holidays are meeting the increasing consumer demand for Halloween decor with items like candy bags, banners and Advent-like wall hangings imprinted with the words “Countdown to Halloween.” While Groovy Holidays’ trick-or-treat bags are made for kids, they’re also designed for the home.

“The customer likes it because their kids can use it over and over again, and instead of a sack of candy on the floor, it can be on their dresser as a decoration,” she says of the different sized, box-shaped felt bags that retail between $7.75 and $16.50. “A lot of my customers (retailers) are monogramming them, too.”

Quality comes across in the Halloween designs by artist Jim Shore, says Bradley, of Enesco. One new line this year is Shore’s 4-inch tall Halloween “mini” figurines that retail for $12. “They have all the detailing and hand-carved look of the bigger pieces,” Bradley says of the Americana-style pieces; the larger versions retail for about $40. Enesco’s Jim Shore lines also include Disney Halloween pieces, such as Mickey Mouse dressed as a mummy. “He brings a lot of fun to the Disney characters for a holiday,” Bradley says.

Aurora, a Pico Rivera, CA wholesaler, also offers a more playful Halloween item in the form of its top-selling YooHoo & Friends plush product. These stuffed animals are dressed for the holiday, bearing the look of Dracula and Frankenstein, for example. “The original YooHoo & Friends character is based on Busch babies, which are an endangered species,” says Tina Waldmier, head of marketing for Aurora. “Kids are obsessed with them. They make sounds like a witch’s laugh or a spooky laugh.”

Another way kids and adults alike can enjoy Halloween at home is with practical yet fun kitchen items. Tag’s “Batty Child’s Apron” retails for $21.99 and is good for both boys and girls, Gullicksen says. Detailed with button eyes and embroidered mouth, it includes elastic wristbands so the wearer can create bat wings. Kitchen towels are another way Tag encourages the Halloween spirit in the home. Retailing for $6.99 each, buyers have used these towels as hostess gifts as well as hung them up in their own kitchens as cafe curtains or framed pieces of seasonal artwork, Gullicksen says.

More ‘Boo-tiful’ looks

Customers seeking Halloween decor are adorning porches and patios, as well as dining room tables, kitchen counters and fireplace mantles with witches, goblins, ghosts and pumpkins.

Wholesaler Demdaco, based in Leawood, KS, has a line of wall and door hangings that sells especially well, says marketing coordinator Katrina Stevenson. These decorations, made of metal-screen material, include smiling “stacked pumpkins” and black cats, as well as whimsical, friendly witches with wide-mouthed grins.

Looking for larger items to excite your Halloween shoppers? Anne Secoy, vice president of product development for Ohio Wholesale in Seville, OH, says one of the wholesaler’s top-selling items this year is something that could be placed in a home’s entryway or living room.

“It’s a giant banyan tree that’s mossy and gnarly,” Secoy says. “It’s just selling like crazy.”

At $215 retail, it’s pricier, she acknowledges, but consumers are responding well to it because they hang Halloween-themed ornaments and lights from it, similar to a Christmas tree. A tabletop version that’s 32 inches tall retails for $35. For the mantle or porch, shoppers like Ohio Wholesale’s string of jack-o-lantern lights that retail for $28.95.

Department 56 is known for its village—a series of architectural buildings which are illuminated and incredibly detailed, complete with every accessory imaginable. Enesco also sells a line of Halloween Department 56 items, which Bradley says is gaining attention from more retailers. A few even have features such as smoking cauldrons, adding even more intrigue to the pieces.

Treat your customers

To create a truly “spooktacular” Halloween display that would capture the attention of her customers, Pam Hammond turned to her local Goodwill store. The owner of the gift store Paddington Station, in Ashland, OR, bought a few bowls and spray-painted them in black. She then used the bowls to hold some of her smaller Halloween merchandise.

The bowls’ varied sizes and shapes all painted the same color helped pull together the display, which also featured bigger items such as witch figurines. “It helps draw your customer in, to come and touch it, when you have a focal point. They’re going to stop and pause—and buy,” Hammond says.

This year, Hammond expects to stock up on the trend of “feminine Halloween.”

“What I’m seeing is kind of more feminine, lots of tulle and sparkles,” she says. “It’s not so much scary stuff, but dressed up.”

To that end, Hammond plans to again have fun showing off products like jewelry and hats. She’ll likely drape a giant spider web decoration in her store that’s embedded with these items. She might even use a black lamp to cast an eerie light on the merchandise.

The display likely will include non-Halloween items, too, such as kitchen utensils that fit into the holiday “story” she creates. “This cross-merchandising also might have a black apron with cookie cutters or napkins,” she says. “It gets people thinking, ‘Oh, I am having a party and I need paper napkins.’ You want to inspire them.”

Another way to “trick” customers into checking out your Halloween merchandise: Hang up a “chalkboard bat” to display a spooky message. These $6 retail bats include jute chords for hanging and bags of chalk, says Tag’s Gullicksen.

Cynthia Sutton-Stolle, owner of Silver Barn in Columbus, TX, treats her customers to an annual Halloween gathering the first weekend of October. This “Brew at the Barn” or “Witch’s Tea,” as it’s been coined, introduces shoppers to her Halloween merchandise in a fun and relaxed way.

“I don’t put any Halloween decor out until the night before or that afternoon before,” Sutton-Stolle says. “We’ll have everything from headbands to necklaces for $3 to giant furry-looking cats that retail for about $40, that’s probably the most expensive thing we have.”

By creating a build-up to the event and what she’ll have in her store for Halloween, Sutton-Stolle can count on strong sales. “We probably average about half of our Halloween being gone in just one day,” she says. “Because I don’t bring it out [earlier], it’s all new and fresh.”

However, for Hammond, whose store is in a tourist town and therefore generates a ton of business months before Halloween, getting Halloween product before customers in the summer is a must. “I start as early as I possibly can, even in August,” she says. “It may not be front and center, but it has a presence. It’s a good idea to get it out.”

Either way, recognizing Halloween as a popular shopping holiday is critical, industry experts say. “I think it brings back the child in adults, the idea of getting dressed up and playing. Halloween is magical and mysterious,” says Secoy, of Ohio Wholesale. “It’s a great way to kick off the fall season. And once Halloween comes, the holidays are upon you and you get into that partying and celebrating kind of mood.”

Sutton-Stolle, who says taking the time to entice shoppers to her store with her annual Halloween party is well worth the effort, couldn’t agree more. “The market is just growing every year,” she says. “Years ago, you had five Halloween items. Now you have 10,000 items. You can get as elaborate as you want. It’s become a big holiday nationwide.”

Mouse over images below to view.

Heather Johnson Durocher

Durocher is a northern Michigan-based journalist who writes frequently about business for newspapers and magazines. She has contributed to USA Weekend, Woman's Day, Parents and American Baby. Visit her website at HeatherDurocher.com

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