Spotlight On: Louis Wittenburg Halloween & Party Supplies
Louis Wittenburg at forefront of growing European Halloween tradition
With 115 years of history and just four owners, the Louis Wittenburg party store in Amsterdam has established longevity and stability. However, when Francesco Tijnagel bought the store in 1988, he wasn’t afraid to take it in a new direction based what he saw as a coming trend.
“In the first year of owning the business, I was talking to some U.S. costumers who couldn’t find anything for Halloween,” Tijnagel said. “That was my trigger point.”
While it’s still not totally like the United States, the practice of celebrating Halloween has been on the rise in Europe over the past couple of decades. Located in a busy shopping district in the heart of Amsterdam — one of the cultural epicenters of the continent — Louis Wittenburg Halloween & Party Supplies has been at the forefront of the movement.
“When I started, we were the only one offering original Halloween products,” Tijnagel said. “From the start, I wanted to be different and go for quality. We could build up a good costumer base and as we go for quality and service people are coming back to our store. The increase is shown in the number of Halloween parties and more companies who put Halloween-related merchandise on the market.”
The three-story shop offers about 3,300 products most of the time, with the selection ballooning to roughly 4,000 during the Halloween buying season. Despite often being told by naysayers “there is no market” for such products, Tijnagel began dedicating much his inventory to Halloween products. He had to start from scratch and, like whenever someone is doing something that hasn’t been done before, Tijnagel encountered more than a few naysayers.
“I did some research on Halloween and the backgrounds of it. That was a lot of fun,” he said. “You start at your local wholesalers and they were asking if I was absolutely crazy, as ‘there is no market for this.’”
Being a self-described “stubborn” person, Tijnagel turned to the U.S., where he began attending trade shows like the Halloween & Party Expo and Halloween Attractions Show. Louis Wittenburg also is a member of the Party Club of America.
While some of the traditions are different — trick-or-treating, for example — Halloween costume trends in Europe often follow pop culture, like they do in the U.S. As in America, zombies and vampires are huge, with hit shows like “The Walking Dead” and “True Blood,” which means makeup is a big seller. For Halloween, Louis Wittenburg customers tend to stick to horror-themed or scary costumes, Tijnagel said.
“In the U.S., you see a lot of friendly costumes with Halloween,” he said. “In the Netherlands, we have Carnaval (a spring tradition similar to Mardi Gras), when we to go friendly.”
Louis Wittenburg originally opened in 1901. The business moved to its current location on Raadhuisstraat in the mid-1960s. Tijnagel is just the fourth owner in the store’s long history.
- What: Louis Wittenburg Halloween & Party Supplies
- Where: Raadhuisstraat 16 – 1016 DE Amsterdam, Netherlands
- Store Size: 2,200 square feet
- Staff: Two full-time and three part-time employees; staff increases to 10 during Halloween season, including a doorman
- What They Sell: Party decorations and supplies, costumes and accessories, balloons, makeup and body paint, fireworks
- Online: www.louiswittenburg.nl and Facebook
Quick Q&A with Francesco Tijnagel
PPR: What are the Halloween traditions like in Europe?
“The tradition in the EU (European Union) is a little different the in the U.S. (There is) hardly any trick-or-treating, but more adult parties. Themes vary per organizer. … They always keep us posted on their themes, and that helps us to adjust our stock level on specific items.”
PPR: What changes are you noticing in the tastes and wants of your customers?
“There are more DIY from our customers. Especially in makeup, there is a growth.
Since the popular TV series as “Empire of the dead,” “The Walking Dead” and “True Blood,” vampires and zombies are the most popular items.”
PPR: Are licensed products big in your market?
“Think Cinderella, Snow White and Red Riding Hood for the ladies, and any type of zombie character for men. The rest of the licensed costumes sell better trough the rest of the year.”
PPR: How are accessory sales? It seems as though a lot of people are looking to either make their own costume.
“Accessories have always been a great seller for us. The trend we see is that people buy a costume this year and will use the same costume the next year, but alter it with accessories and makeup.”