Halloween Business Nothing To Be Scared Of: Spirit CEO

Reports of the death of Halloween seem to be pretty much exaggerated this year.

At least that’s the not-so-scary take on the business of the holiday from the CEO of the country’s largest dedicated retailer specializing in Halloween merchandise.

Steven Silverstein, president of privately owned Spencer Gifts, the novelty gift retailer that also operates some 1,400 Spirit Halloween seasonal stores is feeling good about business this year. “There’s no doubt in my mind we’re going to see Halloween this year and we are expecting it to be comparable with last year” in terms of the retailer’s business.

“But of course it’s going to be different, we’re spending a lot more time in our homes and a large component of Halloween this year is going to be celebrated at home.”

Silverstein compared the upcoming holiday to an earlier occasion, school graduations, that was significantly altered in the way people marked the event. “We saw how people found different ways to celebrate graduation, whether it was signs outside their homes, drive-by tours or in their homes. People will devise new ways that take into account the heath guideline compliance measures we now have.”

The fate of Halloween was briefly thrown into question earlier this month when the city of Los Angeles announced it was cancelling the holiday due to the pandemic. It quickly walked back that ban and now says that while it still disapproves of door-to-door visits it has no problem with local household celebrations.

Spirit is somewhat unique in the retail pantheon. Its stores are only open for 60 to 90 days, usually occupying vacant retail spaces in strip centers. The stores range from 7,000 to 10,000 square feet and with slightly more doors this year than in 2019 Spirit is by far the largest dedicated Halloween retailer. Other more traditional retailers from Party City PRTY to Walmart WMT also do significant Halloween business as well.

Silverstein said the real estate pickings were in the company’s favor this year with all the bankruptcies and liquidations the pandemic has caused but he said these tended to impact larger footprints than Spirit normally occupies. About two-thirds of its stores are located in the same strip malls year-over-year.

Spirit does stay open year-round online and this year is working with Instacart on local deliveries of goods as it does not have BOPIS (buy-online-pick-up-in-store) capabilities yet.

The stores themselves have been put through a thorough regimen to adhere to health and safety guidelines including capacity limits and mandatory mask usage by both customers and employees. “We’ve made a significant investment to meet all of these requirements,” he added.

The same goes for the 680 namesake Spencer stores which were shut down for much of the spring and are now largely back open. “There’s no playbook for dealing with all of this so we have learned a lot,” Silverstein said. “But we’re performing significantly better than we expected. I think the world has turned into our advantage,” noting the whimsical and novelty mix of a typical Spencer store. “We are like comfort food, relieving stress. Sales of products like lava lights and fleece blankets are doing really well.”

Not surprisingly, Silverstein said, Spencer mask sales are brisk too and the best-selling costumes at Spirit include doctor and nurse uniforms as well as hazmat suits. The company moved early on when the pandemic first hit China in January to make sure it had its supply chain in order.

Given what’s happened to the world and U.S. retail, Silverstein said the company was in a good position. “We are kinder and gentler this year, but so is the customer. Halloween is going to happen, people still want to be rewarded with candy.”

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