The Original Holiday Pop-Up: What Retailers Can Learn from Spirit Halloween
Holiday pop-up retail defies expectations. The so-called retail apocalypse has in fact claimed a lot of victims. Circuit City, Toys”R”Us, Borders are all resting peacefully in the graveyard of “shoppings past”. But amidst all of the passings, there’s one retailer that continues to defy the ashes, and, like a vampire, latch onto its lifeblood: brick-and-mortar.
As the air is getting cooler and the pumpkins are getting carved, it’s time for the ubiquitous Spirit Halloween banners to pop up around the country.Thriving for the past 30 years, Spirit Halloween is the granddaddy of holiday pop-up retail. So how did they do it? And how do they continue to thrive? Click To Tweet
In 1983, Joseph Marver noticed an opportunity in the market. His dress shop wasn’t getting the attention he wanted – but a nearby costume shop was. So for the month of October, he put away his dresses and displayed costumes instead. His idea expanded, and the next year he put up a display in a nearby mall. What resulted is the mammoth specialty retailer known as Spirit Halloween.
As a new shop, Marver’s creation didn’t have the name recognition or foot traffic of established chains like Sears and Walmart. So Marver decided to lean on the fame of the big boys.
This is a smart strategy for any holiday pop-up: ride the wave of traffic from nearby shops.
But it’s especially genius for a brick-and-mortar chain that moves around a lot. With an annual lifespan of 60 to 90 days, Spirit Halloween doesn’t have the benefit of location recognition. Plus, the shops move around, and just because one pops up somewhere one year, doesn’t mean the chain will be in the same place the following year. Each season, Spirit Halloween’s locations are opportunistic and strategic, but never engraved in (tomb)stone.
To get noticed, Spirit Halloween goes to where the people are – and that’s high-traffic areas. Swarms of customers are already shopping at malls or mass merchandisers. While they’re picking up toilet paper and home goods (often with kids in tow), they can stop in at Spirit Halloween next door to get their holiday garb and décor.
Bewitching business sense
Marver also realized that time was on his side. Halloween, like any holiday, is only relevant for two or three months, tops. There was no efficiency in dedicating a year-round business to marketing seasonal products.
Existing for only 60 to 90 days each year seriously cuts costs. Short-term leases, limited inventory, seasonal employees all reduce Spirit Halloween’s annual expenditures. Their inventory is also highly reusable – vampire teeth, witch’s hats and costume makeup are always in style for Halloween, so any leftover inventory can be saved for the following year.
And while the retail industry used to frown upon short-term leases, now commercial real estate firms are blessing them. We talked about how Spirit Halloween is opportunistic when it comes to selecting holiday pop-up locations. Just look at what they did in 2009 when Circuit City entered the retail graveyard: the specialty store took over 83 former Circuit City locations. And this year, you’ll see plenty of Spirit Halloween signs plastered over the telltale logos of Toys “R” Us.
Spirit Halloween not only gets to take advantage of the old retailer’s build-out, but also pays for just a temporary lease. At the end of the day, if Spirit Halloween chooses a “dead” retailer’s empty store, that’s money in the bank for the real estate agent – temporary rent is better than no rent. And that short-term rent money helps pay property taxes and utilities.
Shapeshifting adaptability, scary scalability
Planning and hosting one pop-up is hard enough, but 1,200 at the same time? It’s a beastly undertaking.
To do this, Spirit Halloween has embedded the concept of scalability into their bones. They keep an organized structure that is highly replicable, and practice a flexible business model that is highly scalable. On their site, Spirit Halloween highlights the ability to create a holiday pop-up shop that is anywhere from 3,000 square feet to 50,000 square feet – an impressively wide range.
After their busy season, Spirit Halloween spends the rest of the year analyzing data, assessing which locations were successful, which weren’t, which products sold, which didn’t, and so on. The following year, the brand can optimize and enhance their stores, working to give the consumer better experiences year after year. What costumes are we going to see survive this season? Will it be the Black Panther suit? Or the Handmaid’s Tale robes?
Ricky’s NYC, an iconic beauty store with locations across Manhattan and Miami, uses Halloween as a growth tool. The chain opens seasonal pop-ups to garner incremental sales (10 percent of their yearly pull) and cultivate data on customers and potential permanent locations.
Party City invokes the same strategy. If one of their Halloween City stores does well, corporate may decide to open up a permanent location in that spot.
Ghoulish, ghostly, goodie-filled experiences
The sweetness of candy corn. The eerie mists from fog machines. The familiar beats of Monster Mash. All of these things define Halloween.
Each Spirit Halloween store aims to channel these themes into an all-encompassing holiday experience. Many holiday pop-up shops include five or six haunted houses complete with lighting, music and animatronics. By creating a fun and spooky in-store experience, the retailer gets shoppers excited for the big night at the end of the month – and gets them to return year after year.
The market for Halloween supplies (or any other holiday products) has gotten competitive. Halloween City and Halloween Express are just a few brick-and-mortar options, but Five Below (one of our favorite Clients), Target and Walmart are also rising in popularity for Halloween and holiday needs.
Spirit Halloween recognizes that its in-store experiences are a great differentiator. After Steven Silverstein became CEO of Spencer’s Gifts and Spirit Halloween in 2001, he made a point to boost the experience, leading to an increase of over 1,000 annual stores in all fifty states.
Sense-driven in-store elements don’t have to be limited to just Halloween. There are plenty of opportunities year-round to excite through experience. Cadbury could host a pop-up experience for Easter, and partner with JOANN to have shoppers create DIY Easter baskets. What screams Easter more than pastels and chocolate?
The concept that Spirit Halloween pioneered has been shown to have wide-spread potential. Temporary pop-ups tied to holidays can be scalable, experiential – and generate monster revenue.
At Medallion Retail, we optimize holiday pop-up concepts and bring them to life. Get started today by reaching out Michael Decker or Chris Gordon at firstname.lastname@example.org.