Retailers Get a Head Start on Their Ghoulish Inventory at the Halloween Show
November 2003 | Vol. II - No. 11 TDmonthly SEARCH
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November 2003 | Vol. II - No. 11

Retailers Get a Head Start at the Halloween Show

It might be the scariest trade show of the year, but in its five-year history, the annual Halloween show in New York City has become a must-attend event for many companies. This year’s show is scheduled for December 1-5 at the International Toy Center, and manufacturers of Halloween merchandise are once again looking forward to making contact with retail representatives, especially those from larger outlets.

The Paper Magic Group

Barry Shapiro, chairman of the Trade Show Committee of the Toy Industry Association and president of The Paper Magic Group, Fall and Spring division—which is in the Halloween and Easter business—has seen the development of both the show and the season.

"When I was in the Halloween business the first time (during the 1980s and early 1990s) there really wasn't a show, and we would start meeting customers in November," he said. "March is too late for most larger companies. December is about right. They have to see things early and plan early."

The show was created by the International Toy Center to formalize the traditional December start of the selling period. Attendance from both exhibitors and retail buyer attendees has increased each year as the children's entertainment and seasonal products industries have embraced the event. At the 2002 show, a record 88 companies showcased the latest costumes, masks, accessories and novelties to more than 500 retail buyers from 223 companies from around the world.

Pumpkin Masters

For companies, like Pumpkin Masters, that specialize in Halloween merchandise getting into those plans is essential.

"At first we would go to the toy show, but it's just so late, buyers started asking us to go near the end of November or the beginning of December," recalled Marketing Director Anne Zilvitis, whose company revolutionized jack-o-lantern carving with its innovative stencil designs. "By the time February rolls around, the seasonal buyers pretty much have all their decisions made."

"We know in March what films are coming out for the year. For example, in 2003 we knew to look for Hulk and Pirates. You start taking a guess as to what's going to sell or rent in your store."

This long-range planning is a testament to how much the season has grown in retail terms. Shapiro traces the development of the holiday to tragic events in 1982, when an unknown individual laced bottles of pain reliever with cyanide, resulting in seven deaths in Chicago. The resulting fear inspired new levels of safety packaging for a wide range of products and heightened parental concerns about, among other things, Halloween candy.

"You could no longer drop a handful of candy corn in a bag," observed Shapiro. "It had to be a sealed Hershey bar from a store."

Parents also began organizing home parties, or accompanying their children on their trick-or-treat rounds, which inspired them to dress up as well. Today, Shapiro says costumes for adults and teenagers account for approximately 65 percent of the market. Most of that market features licensed characters from television, movies and popular culture. Working almost a year in advance has its problems, though, especially if a hot item breaks late.

"If something breaks too late, sometimes you lose it," noted Shapiro. "Hollywood is getting better at understanding that they have to schedule their releases better."

National Costumers Association

Gary Broadrick, president of the National Costumers Association, says predicting the hot item isn’t complete guesswork. Movie release schedules come out well in advance, and anything that hits theaters by early summer is possible fodder for costumes.

"We know in March what films are coming out for the year," Broadrick said. "For example, in 2003 we knew to look for Hulk and Pirates. You start taking a guess as to what's going to sell or rent in your store."

However, if something emerges late, it is often the independent costumer who takes advantage. "Depending on the trend, the first year it will benefit the small guys because we can't bring in the inventory for the large guys," said Shapiro.

"If something breaks in the news, we just try to fill the need," agreed Broadrick. "You start taking a guess as to what's going to sell or rent in your store. A lot of that comes down to how you display. In Florida in October, you aren't going to rent very many costumes with four layers of wool. Conversely, in Oregon in October, you aren't going to rent many caveman costumes."

Long-range planning for Halloween is a testament to how much the season has grown in retail terms.

Research conducted by TIA has indicated modern innovations still can't replace events like the Halloween Show. "The most important thing we asked was ‘In this complex age, is the trade show still viable?’ and the unanimous answer was ‘yes,’ because the buyers have less time to meet with all the manufacturers," Shapiro noted. "It makes sense that the December date would be better because the larger retailers order so early."

Given that the next few years will enjoy a weekend night for trick-or-treating, something those in the industry say has an impact of the level of retail sales, Halloween may rebound from a few flat years to reach new heights.

"I think this year we are going to see the purchase and rental of more medium-priced merchandise because of the economy," said Broadrick. "That said, I think this is going to be a big, phenomenal year. I think this will be the biggest year this industry has ever had."


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