For retailers looking to cash in on America's love of Halloween, there are no tricks, even in a down economy. Despite the recession, spending on Halloween treats, both edible and otherwise, is on the rise. In fact, total Halloween spending in 2010 broke a record, topping $5.8 billion, according to the National Retail Federation. That's up 22 percent over 2009's $4.75 billion. Web Wholesaler spoke with some key seasonal product distributors about the economy and the latest trends in Halloween merchandise that are sure to scare up even higher profits in 2011.
Steven Levinson owns Amglo, a holiday decorations company selling primarily inexpensive imported goods, and he notes that Americans spent $1.63 billion on Halloween decor in 2010. "We're in the seasonal business," he says. "We're in Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, and after that we're also in Valentine's, St. Patty's, Easter and USA merchandise." Moreover, Levinson is always keeping his eyes open for hot products. "We bring in new products every year from China," he notes. That expertise, plus 30 years of experience in the business, lets Levinson keep his finger on the pulse of the latest price trends. "They're raising the prices in China right now," he says. "You can get goods, but prices are going up, and the customers will pay more this year." His advice for retailers considering Halloween stock is, "Don't delay. Buy a good assortment of basic items now, then speculate a little, but make sure you have the basic line." Levinson predicts that tighter margins are going to really affect dollar store merchants, who will find it harder and harder to sell items that only cost one dollar.
As for specific Halloween trends, Levinson reports that he has heard big inflatable decorations are doing well, although Amglo does not carry them. He says that generally the cute Halloween decor is selling more than the scary items, explaining that regional variations make a difference, and this trend is greater in the warmer states. "You're limited in the South, as they really don't like that scary stuff," he notes. "To be safe, you're better off with a more cheerful look." Levinson expects the Internet to continue to grow in importance as travel becomes more expensive and troublesome. "It is getting harder and harder to travel to shows," he says. "The airlines are making us more uncomfortable, with higher rates, and if you miss your plane you could be stuck. So the web is really going to be the place to go," he adds. "Fewer people are going to the shows now. My daughter just went to a show in New York, and she said it was dead." He says that he refers Amglo customers to the website to see the catalog, since it costs $2 to ship one, although some customers prefer print. "A lot of buyers still want the catalogs," Levinson notes.
Robert Greenspan, the president of R.E. Greenspan Co., also has a long history in the wholesale business, and has been importing seasonal items from Asia for more than 35 years. "We began in 1974, so we've been in business a long time," says Greenspan. "All our manufacturing is in China, although originally it was in Japan, then Taiwan, then Hong Kong, and then Korea." Greenspan also has a veteran's perspective on how retailing has changed here at home. "When we first started 37 years ago, the country was loaded with independent stores of all kinds, especially toy stores, and there were wholesalers all over the country who serviced them," he adds. "We had salesmen who called on the wholesalers. So first the wholesalers got knocked out. Now it's even difficult to get a salesman to call on individual stores." To its credit, R.E. Greenspan has stayed out of the big box business. "We've chosen not to sell to Walmart and other stores," he says. Instead, the company found other ways to survive. "The secret is fewer employees, and now we rent space," Greenspan observes. He also talks about finding niche markets. "For instance, there are companies that adapt toys for handicapped children, putting special switches in that are much easier to operate. We have a nice line for that market."
Greenspan has also specialized in a particular kind of item, that is, decor items that make noise and move on their own. "For Halloween, we have a motorcycle guy, all in black. His bike rocks from side to side like a motorcycle would, with a headlight that flashes, and with sound," says Greenspan. Another product is a chimp with clanging cymbals, a traditional toy character, and if you tap its head, it screams, shows its teeth, and pops its eyes. "We're having great luck with that. It's a tremendous item for us," Greenspan notes.
MDM Distributors vice president Matt Redfern says that Halloween is one of the biggest categories at MDM, a closeout party supplies wholesaler that does the bulk of its business over its website. He says Halloween puts a lot of goodies into the company's treat bag. "As far as Halloween goes, party decor and supplies are the biggest sellers," Redfern says. "People are willing to spend money on the decorations." Redfern sees the trend in Halloween merchandise moving away from the grotesque and more to the fun. "The companies are going toward a more generic type of product, trying to stay away from the scary skulls and making it a little more cartoonish. We still usually put out a few patterns that are more adult," he says, "but the trend is toward the more comical for the kid parties."
MDM's best selling Halloween items include "Universal Monsters," 9-inch plates and matching Mylar balloons. A cute bat-theme mini favor bag is also doing very well. "We mainly sell over the Internet," says Redfern, and MDM has designed its site for ease of use, including publishing all its wholesale prices online. "If a lot of people are like me, they want to see the prices up front," he notes. "Put your product out there, put your price out there. If you have a good price, and I think it's a good price, then I will register and I will buy it." He also mentioned other strengths that make the company stand out, such as very small orders, customer service and a personal touch.
Nick Marra started Groovy Candies in 1999 in order to sell packages of retro candies to Baby Boomers. "Our beginnings really focused on nostalgia candy offerings, like wax bottles, candy cigarettes and candy buttons, and it was geared more toward packaging them up in retro collections, which we did by decade," he says. Over time, the company's product variety has grown. "We have a very broad offering of products that covers about 2,000 items," Marra notes.
Groovy Candies has expanded its warehouse space from 13,000 to 18,000 square feet, and is "continuing to add new products," says Marra. "Halloween is big," he adds. According to the National Retail Federation, Americans bought $1.78 billion worth of Halloween candy in 2010. "We have hundreds of products. It's just a lot of fun," he notes. Marra says that for his retro candy products, there is both an adult and a corporate market. "It's something that consumers and businesses prepare for," he explains. "The costume side is big, and getting even larger." As for specific candy trends, Marra says that the more tart the treat, the more sweet the sales. "The candy itself is the super-sour stuff, a little edgy, but not dark," he says. "That's really where it's gone."
The following were interviewed for this article:
PO Box 12722
G Street & Erie Ave
Philadelphia, PA 19134
Toll Free: 800-692-6456
Email: Use the online form at amgloinc.net/contact.php
R.E. Greenspan Co.
2100 Byberry Road
Philadelphia, PA 19116
Toll Free: 800-333-0180
610 N. Pershing St.
Energy, IL 62933
Toll Free: 800-289-6361
7480 Brookpark Rd.
Cleveland, OH 44129
Toll Free: 888-729-1960
Email: Use the online form at groovycandies.com/pc/contact.asp
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