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
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
"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.
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
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
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."