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Posted Date: 01/11/2016

Ghoulish Galas & Spirited Soirees

Hope Winsborough, Contributing Editor

For years now, Halloween has been about much more than costumed neighborhood kids collecting enough candy to fund your dentist’s luxurious retirement. In truth, Halloween has become  party-time. Literally.
According to the National Retail Federation, of the 157 million adults 18 and older who celebrated Halloween in 2015, 31% planned to either throw or attend a party. Halloween get-togethers have been on the upswing for the last four or five years, motivating consumers to buy more and keep celebrations in mind. Experts cite a host of factors behind the trend, from the changing national zeitgeist to a burgeoning do-it-yourself movement to the influence of social media.

“I think it’s because Halloween is a holiday that allows adults to get a little crazy,” says Melinda Seegers, marketing liaison for Department 56, who’s noticed growth in “the edgy stuff that has a greater impact that’s really out of the ordinary.”

Nancy Bauman, director of marketing for Wally’s Party Factory, points to a broadened retail base and changing social media use. “There are very few retailers who aren’t carrying at least a small assortment of Halloween-related items,” she explains, “so the availability of Halloween product, as well as competition for consumers’ dollars, has increased dramatically.”

At the same time, social media shapes behavior more and more, with customers using Pinterest and similar platforms for do-it-yourself (DIY) inspiration to create their own parties, find costume ideas, and discover new products. “They’re [buying] traditional party supplies, but they then are using them to create unique items, such as paper plates tied together using a ribbon to make their own garland,” Bauman notes.

Getting Crafty
While the broadening of the retail market isn’t necessarily helpful for specialty retailers, Bauman believes the influence of social media is a positive thing. “Our customers are coming into our stores with more ideas, which leads to full shopping baskets,” she says.

B. Shackman marketing director, Julianna Castro understands the appeal of DIY; the entire B. Shackman line is grounded in the 117-year-old company’s archive of authentic period artwork. Best-selling products begin with hours of archival research, often followed by serious restoration work, and then reconfigured into fresh takes on nostalgic themes.

Whether lighthearted or darker-themed, motifs and products that invite adaptation have become crucial to the Halloween party market. For example, at B. Shackman, perennial items such as palmistry sheets and party masks were strong — as were specialty-packaging items.

“It used to be that we had two or three items that did well,” says Castro, “but in the last three to four years, even things like gift-tags — which are a nice addition to packaging, say to take candy to teacher at school — have been doing well.

Building on Success
For 2016, Halloween party suppliers are refining what works. At Wally’s, where licensed brands dominate the kids’ party supplies and costumes category, Day of the Dead-themed products have strong sell-through, according to Bauman. “Customers love it because it’s both kid-friendly and appeals to adults,” she explains, adding that Wally’s plans to carry Day of the Dead-themed products year-round.

Maureen Day, VP of creative development at Betallic, says Day of the Dead offers the versatility to carry over to mainstream. “Sugar skulls translate to everything from fun party favors to high-end home décor,” she explains.
At Burton + Burton, variations on traditional themes carry over to 2016. Look for products with recognizable flourishes such as witch hats and witch boots, as well as attention-getting pieces such as their popular new life-size, animated Grim Reaper.

Colors that translate to both lighthearted and darker, adult-type themes also continue, says Steve Rose, creative director for Burton + Burton, noting that purple, lime, and even magenta now serve with orange and black as “standard” Halloween hues. “What was a lime green several years ago has morphed into a slightly warmer green on some products,” he asserts.

In addition to a broader range of trends and offerings, party retailers will benefit from the continually expanding shopping season. Halloween used to be an afterthought, a last-minute impulse, says Shackman’s Castro. “People didn’t plan ahead,” she muses. Thanks to the current emphasis on decoration, she’s receiving orders much earlier in the season.

R.C. Ike, owner of Party Time in Horseheads, NY, capitalizes upon what he views as three distinct sales opportunities: “First there are those few days when the weather dips down to the 40s. Next is, ‘Oh, it’s October!’ And then there’s the Columbus Day weekend — when all the haunted houses open, and so on.”
A prolonged season also helps mitigate the impact of bad weather, says Kim Dean, merchandise manager at Wally’s. “A nasty ice or rain storm that hits at the wrong time can be devastating.” Extending promotions and store events throughout October incentivizes customers to shop sooner and more often. “If everyone waits until the last three days of the season, you are much more vulnerable. So we do what we can, through marketing, to spread things out.”
Another plus that retailers believe helps sales, is that the actual calendar date of Halloween matters less and less. Halloween falling on a Monday in 2016 won’t change the fact that there will still be weekend parties, states Dean. “Halloween is simply getting too big for the day of the week to be as much of a factor as it once was.”

Ike even expects 2016 sales to increase. “They [now] have the entire weekend to celebrate — two reasons to party: Friday and Saturday it will be all about the adults, and then on Monday, kids will dress-up for school and go trick-or-treating,” he predicts. “Next year is a good year for parties in general!”

Biz Tips for Party Retailers
Retailers looking to benefit from the ever-expanding Halloween party season should remember the following bits of advice.

Expand Promotions. “I’m an advertising junkie,” says RC Ike of Party Time in Horseheads, NY. “I always say I can advertise my business or advertise that I’m going out of business. Take your choice.”  To promote Halloween, he does it all — including postcard mailers, local TV spots, and live radio remotes. He updates social media frequently with coupons, jokes, videos and tips on things like customizing costumes.

Offer Experiences. Products shouldn’t be the only draw — especially if you’re after Millennials. Consider offering in-store activities such as demonstrations, giveaways, and charity promotions. Ike does two charity-related Halloween promos, a Blood Drive (how apropos!) and another with the local SPCA. “We sell a lot of pet costumes, so we dedicate 10% of pet costume sales to the SPCA during the promotion.”

Ship For Free. According to the National Retail Federation, 47% of holiday shoppers rank free shipping or shipping promotions as a key factor in deciding where to shop during the holiday season.

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