Spotlight on: Torrance, Calif.
A permanent presence of temporary stores
Although the Halloween Illusions stores Sean Alarid owns and operates are temporary, retail has been a permanent fixture in his life in one way or another for as long as he can remember.
Growing up his parents owned a retail tool store, arcades and operated a handful of Christmas tree lots each season until 1993 when Halloween Illusions LLC in Torrance, Calif., was founded. Dealing with customers for all those years prepared them for the ins and outs of doing business face-to-face with customers today.
“Our last year in the Christmas tree business was our first year in the Halloween business, and today Halloween and a new limousine business I started up again in 2011 called Limo4Rent.com are my main focus,” Alarid said. “We will be celebrating our 20th Halloween season this year and continue to work year round to provide our customers with a complete line of costumes, masks, make-up, props, decorations, wigs, and accessories at affordable prices.”
Prepping for Profits
Halloween Illusions operates one year-round warehouse in Los Angeles and two to three temporary stores in Los Angeles and Orange County. With more than 3,000 people on their mailing list and 2,000 on their email list, they draw customers from all over the area and are open for business September through October each season.
They occupy 5,000- to 20,000-square-foot buildings in strip centers, malls and free-standing buildings and most stores are on streets with a traffic count of at least 50,000 cars a day. All stores are family owned and operated and require approximately two weeks for setup and one week for takedown and cleanup of the building and parking areas.
“Outside the stores are pretty basic with our full color logo on banners and sometimes painted windows with artwork,” Alarid said. “The stores are set up with black grid wall fixtures and the interior décor is usually a rock wall or stone wall wallpaper we’ve used for most of the 20 years in business. We use posters, standees and color signage with our logo throughout to dress up certain parts of the stores.”
Alarid said securing retail locations for the upcoming Halloween season and the limitations put on signage or exterior displays have always been issues over the years.
“It’s always been a problem trying to decorate the exterior of the stores with the cities not allowing us to do so,” he said. “But working with prior leasing agents and landlords from the past has helped a lot over the years.”
They start preparing for the season in January after visiting a trade show or two and orders are then written in March though the beginning of May. Advertising is put together around July each season and then ads start to go out at the end of August and continue until the middle of October.
“About 80 percent of our customers are women, so we carry a lot of women’s products like costumes, petticoats, leggings, wigs, shoes, hats and costume accessories and do most of our marketing towards them,” Alarid said. “In addition to purchasing for themselves, women also often purchase the kids’ and husband’s costumes.
“In terms of trends, today nearly 70 to 80 percent of our women’s line is sexy costumes and accessories compared to about 20 percent just six years ago,” he continued. “Licensed merchandise has become a big part of the costume line for all ages and genders as well.”
From opening day until Halloween they try to keep the stores looking the same way in regards to organization. Alarid said organization is one of the customer’s biggest complaints about other Halloween stores, so they put out 100 percent of the inventory so they know exactly what they have and where it is.
All the costumes are organized by gender, style and size — the smallest being on the bottom and largest on top of the racks. The costumes also have their own section and aren’t mixed with the rest of the store inventory.
“As for the rest of the categories (accessories, masks, make-up, wigs, tights, decorations and props), those also have their own sections and the aisles are marked with signage to direct customers to what they’re looking for,” Alarid said. “The newest items are usually displayed in or near the front of the stores, with older or closeout merchandise near the rear and clearly marked with colored discount stickers.”
They have two year-round employees, and depending on the amount of stores, they will usually have about 10 to 15 part-time employees per store that rotate between the locations.
“This is a must so they’re familiar with what we have available at another location,” Alarid said. “This also makes it easier when someone can’t make it in or calls out sick, as we can just pull someone from another store.”
Just as employees have changed throughout the 20 years that Alarid has focused on Halloween, so have the products that people buy. The high-end décor they used to sell has been replaced by décor at a much lower price—and sometimes lower quality.
“Today people also don’t care about quality as much as they do the price,” Alarid said. “A few examples of that are the fog machines made of metal and good parts with a 90 day warranty that we used to sell between $150 and $300. Today we sell fog machines from $49 to $199 that are made of plastic instead of metal with little or no warranty.”
He added that animated props ranged in price from $199 to $499 used to sell better as well, as today similar items sell from $49 to $199. With technology changing so fast the last few years, people expect more out of the decorations and props they carry. If it doesn’t do things like move or light up they won’t buy it. Alarid knows that in order to stay successful for two decades, you have to give the people what they want.
To celebrate their anniversary, they will be having a 20 percent off sale their opening day, along with offering email and mailing list customers 20 percent off their entire purchase. They will also try to use $20 off and 20 percent off certain items all season long to reward their loyal customers.
“I have made many friends over the years thanks to the Halloween business, whether it be landlords, sales reps, customers or employee,” Alarid said. “After 20 years in the Halloween business, I look back and am very thankful for the many businesses my parents had while growing up that prepared me for the business I’m in now.”