Costume Party Progress

The economy may be in the doldrums, but people still want to have fun, and one way they’re having fun is through adult costume parties. Costume parties are still popular and it’s a viable market that party and paper retailers can serve.

Trisha Battles, general manager of Features Costumes in Tampa, Fla., said adult costume parties aren’t just for Halloween.

“Our customers do a lot of 1920s parties,” she said. “They also do 1970s parties and a lot of murder mysteries with costumes. All of those parties take place any time of the year.” Tampa also has seasonal adult costume parties that center around the annual Gasparilla Festival the last week of January.

“The number of parties has been affected by the economy,” Battles said. “We haven’t had as many customers come in for those kinds of costumes this past year as we have had in the past, but we still get customers for at least a couple of parties a month.”

If you’re paying attention to what your customers are buying, you already know what kinds of adult costume parties are popular in your area and which festivals and events have parties associated with them. When customers come in looking for party goods and costumes — sexy and otherwise — it’s up to you to capitalize on what you know and maximize your sales to these customers.

Qualify Customers
The more you know about what your customers needs, the better you’re able to serve them. The first question is whether or not they’ve been invited to a party or if they are the host/hostess. If they’re hosting it, you can then supply paper goods, party favors and any necessary game accessories (in the case of murder mysteries). Either way, you have an opportunity to provide a costume that will make them the star of the show.

The next thing you need to know is what kind of a party it’s going to be and what kind of costume your customer needs.

“We start by asking what kind of a party the customer is going to,” Battles said.

“They’ll usually tell us if they want to go as a particular movie star or other famous person.”

Once your customer indicates an interest in something, it’s time to find out exactly what she needs. Don’t sit on your chair behind the counter and talk to her; walk with her over to whatever she’s asking about.

“The key to this part is to remember that the customer needs to do all the talking,” said Tom Shay, president of Profits+Plus in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Ask who they want to be, if they want a really sexy costume or something tamer and what kind of accessories they might want. Remember that you need to listen more than you need to talk.

“A person can hear at the rate of 500 words a minute, but he can only speak at 150 words a minute,” Shay said. “So if you’re talking, the customer is going to get bored. But if the customer is talking, you have time to think about how you’re going to respond.”

When you’re selling to a couple, the woman may be the more important customer of the pair; many men will just go along with something that’s easy, while the woman wants every detail to be just right.

“The key to selling to a couple is selling to the woman,” said Joe Derian, owner of Party Warehouse stores in Montebello and Whittier, in southern California. “Men are generally talked into a matching costume by their significant others.”

“Most of the time they have their minds made up what they want when they come in,” Battles agreed. “But sometimes, if I know someone else who is going to the same party and has the same idea, we have to help them come up with a different idea.”

Derian said that sometimes a “matching” set is actually a woman’s costume from one company and a man’s costume from a completely different company.

“There’s a lot of parallel design in this industry,” he said. “Often I’ll pull something together from two completely different companies to make a pair of costumes that go together.”

Help Your Customer
Once you’ve zeroed in on what your customer wants, they may say, “I’ll take it,” and head for the register. If they don’t, then it’s time for you to close the sale.

At this point, a sale may stall because of objection or resistance. How you handle them is similar, but may have a different outcome. An objection is a specific reason for hesitating. It may be price, size, color or one of many other factors related to the costume your customer is looking at.

Resistance, however, is not specific. In this case, the customer seems to really like the costume, but just doesn’t commit to buying it. Both of these reasons for stalling often can be overcome the same way: by providing the customer with more information about the costume.

If a customer has an objection about a product, you can address that with more information and by answering any questions the customer may have. Or you may determine that your customer has a valid objection and that the particular costume just doesn’t do exactly what she needs.

Resistance is harder to address, because the customer just isn’t moved to the point of making the decision yet. At this point it’s time to start asking questions again. The questions you ask at this point will be much like the qualifying questions you began with, only in more detail.

One thing you really have to do is listen between the lines. Many people, if they’re just hedging, may tell you an objection, but if you’re really listening you can tell that that’s not the real objection that’s holding them up.

If you can identify one or two specific objections that are causing the sale to stall, you’ll be able to address them. Listen carefully to exactly what the objection is and respond directly to it. Turn the objection into a selling point by showing the customer how this particular costume — or a similar one they have looked at — will address their specific objection.

Once you’ve answered the objection or objections, hopefully you will have provided the customer with the buying information that will get them “over the hump.”

Remember, overcoming objections and resistance isn’t a matter of manipulating the customers into buying a costume they really don’t want; it’s about meeting their needs. Ultimately, this whole process is about meeting the customer’s needs and developing a long-term relationship so they come back to you the next time they are invited to another party — or decide to host one themselves.

Originally posted Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2010