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Tween lines and toy properties lead a Halloween costume comeback charge

Following a scary 2001, costume vendors are hoping for a major rebound in sales this Halloween. An October 2001 survey conducted by the International Merchandisers Retail Association predicted consumers would spend 42% more on Halloween-related merchandise than they did in 2000. Instead, industry watchers say last year's Halloween sales dropped, as consumers showed scant enthusiasm for dressing up and trick-or-treating in the wake of 9/11.
March 1, 2002

Following a scary 2001, costume vendors are hoping for a major rebound in sales this Halloween. An October 2001 survey conducted by the International Merchandisers Retail Association predicted consumers would spend 42% more on Halloween-related merchandise than they did in 2000. Instead, industry watchers say last year’s Halloween sales dropped, as consumers showed scant enthusiasm for dressing up and trick-or-treating in the wake of 9/11.

Industry-wide Halloween sales were off 2000′s US$6.8-billion level by about 5%, says Steve Stanley, VP of San Diego, California-based costume manufacturer Disguise. Stanley says the terrorist attacks didn’t affect Disguise’s summer sell-in, but they did negatively impact reorders, which occurred in mid-September and early October. That the holiday fell on a Wednesday last year didn’t help matters either, since mid-week Halloweens have traditionally yielded smaller takes. However some bright spots shone through the doom and gloom of Halloween 2001–most notably, the growing importance of the tween category–and vendors will be trying to build on these positive shifts this year.

Tween lines represent the fastest-growing business segment at New Hyde Park, New York-based Rubie’s Costumes. The category doubled its share of total sales from 5% in 2000 to 10% last year. Hoping to piggyback on increased interest in rescue heroes and the military resulting from 9/11, the costumer’s 2002 tween product array includes a new stealth fighter jet costume, a fireman get-up and new special forces officers outfits that will be released under the company’s proprietary armed forces line–for which sales grew a whopping 70% last year.

For the fairer sex, Rubie’s is offering a stylish fire girl costume featuring a vinyl vest, bell-bottom pants and a fireman’s hat, as well as an army camouflage jumpsuit similar to the one Mariah Carey wore when she performed for U.S. troops. ‘We like to think of them as trendy, not trashy–[both costumes] look good on girls, but they’re not too revealing,’ says Rubie’s general sales manager Richard Tinari. He predicts sales of tween costumes will increase to 25% of the company’s total sales in the next two years.

Also for girls, Rubie’s has developed a line of music-inspired costumes. One outfit, geared to country music fans, comes with pleather pants, a cowboy hat and a white blouse with fringe. Another, for rock enthusiasts, features a glitter microphone and a big-hair wig. In its entertainment-based lines, Rubie’s plans to bring back its costume based on the Universal Studios movie Josie and the Pussycats, which was its biggest-selling girls costume last year. The company will also be doing outfits based on the anime-inspired characters of The Powerpuff Girls, which will be spun out as a feature film this July.

Many of the other new Rubie’s costumes that will appeal to both boys and girls are tied to licensed entertainment properties. In addition to get-ups based on Warner Bros.’ Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets, Rubie’s will create costumes modeled on characters from Star Wars: Episode II–Attack of the Clones; Universal’s The Scorpion King, starring WWF personality The Rock; New Line’s Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers; Warner’s live-action/CGI film adaptation of Scooby-Doo; and TV shows Yu-Gi-Oh!, Cubix and Justice League of America.

Like Rubie’s, Disguise has also noticed a nice bounce in sales for its proprietary tween and teen lines Hell Riders (primarily for boys) and D/ceptions (primarily for girls), which collectively grew by 10% last year. Both lines offer an edgy take on Halloween garb. Zombie Cheerleader, one of the company’s more popular D/ceptions items from last year, consists of a ghoulish-looking wig and a black cheerleader outfit with matching pom-poms. Hell Riders focuses on gear that’s reminiscent of The Matrix, featuring outfits with 3/4-length black pleather jackets, black pants and T-shirts.

With Pop Divas, Disguise is also doing its own music-themed girls costumes that are similar to the risqué fashions worn by teen pop stars like Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera.

For tween boys, Disguise is betting on a new Austin Powers pic, tentatively titled Austin Powers in Goldmember, as its major 2002 license. Last year, Disguise’s version of Powers’ trademark blue leisure suit was one of its top sellers. In addition to the Man of Mystery, Disguise is creating costumes based on Foxy, the female lead; the villain, Goldmember; and Fat Bastard. The company will try to bow with the Powers product this fall, but summer shipments are uncertain due to licensor New Line Cinema’s ban on shipping merchandise prior to the film’s release in July.

Disguise has also secured licenses for summer feature Spider-Man; Enterprise, the latest installment in the Star Trek franchise; and CGI series Butt-Ugly Martians, which currently airs in the U.S. on Nickelodeon.

Beyond tween offerings and screen property licenses, some vendors are also looking at non-licensed toy lines to find new costume ideas for this year. Disguise signed licenses for Hasbro’s G.I. Joe (a line of army-themed costumes) and Bratz, MGA Entertainment’s über-hip fashion dolls (four basic and deluxe outfits, replete with accessories such as beads, boas, headwear, jewelry and fashion tote bags).

Disguise’s Stanley explains that seasonal buyers check in on what toys are working before deciding which costumes to order. That way, retailers can cadge off awareness generated by the TV ad campaigns that toycos run in support of their lines, many of which kick off in mid-September and run over into October. ‘In today’s fragmented TV market, having kid-targeted commercials supporting a particular property is just as important as having a TV program behind it,’ says Stanley. ‘Part of the reason why G.I. Joe and Bratz are attractive to us is that both are based on proven toy lines, which will be heavily supported by TV ad campaigns during the back-to-school and Halloween buying seasons.’

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