Retailers hope to make killing in Halloween sales

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The Halloween Express location at the Wisconsin State Fair Grounds is one of seven in the Milwaukee area

The Halloween Express location at the Wisconsin State Fair Grounds is one of seven in the Milwaukee area

Many Halloween-themed retailers expect to make a profit this year, despite the current economic state.

With less than two weeks until it becomes excusable to dress in almost any possible attire, Milwaukee area stores are in the final stages of prepping for Halloween.

Halloween is both a business and a holiday for retailers. There are some retailers that specialize exclusively in Halloween items, while other stores have different Halloween sections as part of their displays in advance of the big day.

Skully’s Halloween Express has seven locations in Milwaukee County. Owner Jon Majdoch estimates having more than 10,000 Halloween items in stock. The business’ most recognizable location is its large inflatable pumpkin store located at Wisconsin State Fair Park, 640 S. 84th St. in West Allis.

“We have 100 percent of our store devoted to Halloween, while a lot of others more or less dabble in it,” Majdoch said.  “We want to make sure our selection is unparalleled.”

Majdoch said sales are down slightly compared to last year, but he expects they will be up by the end of the season.

“It has less to do with the economy, but more to do with when the date falls,” Majdoch said.  “Since it’s a Saturday this year, it pushes all sales back a week.”

He dispelled the myth that seasonal businesses like Halloween Express, which is only open two months out of the year, do not work year round.

“Budgeting is really the tough part,” Majdoch said. “The trick with seasonal retail is not looking at a bank account on Nov. 15.  You have to be very budget conscious.”

He added that work for next year’s Halloween planning begins with vendor meetings later this month. Halloween Express begins ordering products for next year in the same time frame.

“The trick is that we don’t open up unless we are able to be profitable,” he said. “A lot of retail businesses spend eight to 10 months losing money. Instead of losing money, we just close our doors.”

Steven Crane, associate professor of economics in the College of Business Administration, said a purely seasonal store will likely have lower operating costs on average, while a store operating year round will have fixed costs that can be spread over a wider range of products.

One business that keeps its doors open year round is Savers/Value Village line of thrift stores. It has three locations in Milwaukee County, the closest to campus located 1.7 miles away at 729 S. Layton Blvd.

Savers spokeswoman, Kaitlin Goodall, said the store still has a healthy number of sales despite not solely featuring Halloween items.

“Business has been strong and Halloween has always historically been one of our busiest seasons,” Goodall said. “More people than ever are turning to thrift to accommodate new budgets, so we’re seeing new shoppers entering our stores every day.”

Goodall said the store’s main competitors are specialty Halloween retailers and other thrift stores. But she added having more thrift stores helps as it can attract shoppers of multiple thrift stores.

Both Majdoch and Goodall said the most popular costumes for this year include Michael Jackson and vampires inspired from the “Twilight” movie and book series.

Goodall said an Oct. 14 Savers survey showed “Twilight”-themed looks were most popular, with 44 percent of pop culture-themed sales. Majdoch said Halloween Express’ variety draws customers to search for originality, rather than all picking one particular item.

Noreen Lephardt, adjunct associate professor of economics in the College of Business Administration, said consumer income is likely to determine where customers will shop for their Halloween items this year.

“I would suspect that people who use specialty Halloween stores tend to have a more inelastic demand for participating in Halloween, and be willing to pay higher prices,” Lephardt said. “People who use thrift stores like Goodwill or Savers are much more sensitive to prices.”

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