Jan 13, 2015
Bits and Pieces for Profit
Abby Heugel, Party & Paper Retailer Contributor

Accessories can not only enhance, but also create a costume

More and more, people are wearing costumes or accessories for various occasions – not just at Halloween – which means shoppers are looking for pieces they can reuse instead of one costume to wear once or twice.

Not only is this economical, but it also helps the shopper to personalize their look by switching out one or two things and adding that personal touch. That’s where retailers can help them create the perfect costume, with the proper tools, of course.

Multi-Purpose Merchandise

Every princess needs a tiara and no clown is complete without makeup, so what should retailers have in their stores?

“We carry wigs, makeup, hats, items for the decades (’20s, ’60s, ’70s, ’80s), medieval, pirate and a few other categories year round,” said R.C. Ike of Party Time in Horseheads, New York. “We’re now the go-to place for costumes the other 10 months of the year and our costume shop accounts for 10 percent of our sales almost every month.”

Warren Berkowitz of Forum Novelties said certain accessories lend themselves to multiple characters and even fashion outfits. For example, neon color leg warmers, tutus, gloves and jewelry overlap into today’s fashion as well as the punk era, rave and clubwear. Other items such as white or black gloves, hats, beards and moustaches, spats and belts can be for period dress up such as Victorian or Colonial, as well as current Steampunk and gothic.

“Women are even dressing up for ‘last night out’ and bachelorette parties,” Berkowitz said. “It is not unusual for the women to buy boas, hats, sashes, etc., to wear all year round.”

Building off the DIY trend, Kevin Johnson of elope said they’re continuing to offer more items that allow people to create their own costumes, such as iron-on patches, temporary tattoos and hard-to-make headwear. The thinking behind this is that people want to be original, but some costume accessories are simply too difficult to make on their own.

“We have a tri-corner hat that has flexible wire that can turn the hat into musketeer, a bicorn or matador’s montera,” Johnson said. “Pirate gear is easily interchangeable with Steampunk, a robin hood can be transformed into a Peter Pan or renaissance squire. Transforming one costume into another is all in how you accessorize.”

According to Johnson, animal horns flew off the shelf, as dressing up as an animal or a primitive with animal horns allows for more creativity to be brought into the costume with custom face painting and fur accessories.

“In addition, our raven and bat skull replicas are a great accessory to add authenticity to an evil witch or vampire costume,” Johnson said. “The skulls look realistic and can be pinned on or worn as a necklace. Costumers increasingly prefer to look like the real McCoy versus someone who looks like the pulled a Halloween costume out of bag.”

Lar Hovsepian from Dreamgirl said that hosiery is a great year-round seller and can be purchased at a low cost to be sold at higher margins, and that they have seen great success with their ready-to-wear/starter dress, top and skirt styles.

“We also had a great year with our new category of headpieces and are developing even more styles that are key add-on pieces for several costume themes such as goddesses, fairies, queens, flappers and beyond,” Hovsepian added. “For 2015, we’re also offering additional mini costume kits. They’re a good way to offer a couple key accessories in one package to help embellish a DIY costume nicely.”

At California Costumes, Alicia Brockwell said they’re introducing new innovative Ani-Motion masks, Sleeping Hallow licensed axes, shepherd’s crooks to go with their historical and biblical costumes and the “Pope” scepter that coordinates with their Pope costume.

“We are also offering new 3-foot wing sets, several women’s wigs with a unique DIY factor and lots of weapons for Vikings, medieval and horror,” Brockwell added.

Accessory Avenue

Having the product is one thing, but successfully displaying the product is another. Just setting it on a shelf or a hook won’t bring in those extra sales.

At Wally’s Party Factory in Ennis, Texas, they created a department called Accessory Avenue merchandised by color so the customer can easily see all accessories available in each color, which means they may add an item they hadn’t necessarily thought of, like a mini hat or fun glasses.

“We also display images in our department that show examples of how to combine accessories and we utilize social media such as Pinterest to create themed boards showing creative ideas and combinations by theme,” said Kim Dean, merchandise manager. “The customer can pick and choose for a unique DIY look.”

In addition to having store staff accessorize their uniforms or costumes and merchandising accessories near the appropriate costumes, retailers can also include sections of “similar themed” costumes near each other.

Instead of keeping all the accessories, for example hosiery, glasses or props, in one designated area, Hovsepian suggested dispersing it throughout the store where it can pair well with one or several costumes. Black satin gloves can work well for a cat costume or a period piece, such as a flapper, and, if space permits, placing the gloves near both costume areas can maximize sales. A consumer might not always be able to visualize what types of accessories may look best with the costume until it is actually showcased alongside it.

“When I went into a well-merchandised store in search of owl costume accessories, I noted it was merchandised near raven feather accessories and masks and ended up opting for a plethora of raven accessories,” Hovsepian said. “I went into the store with one costume idea and left with a completely different one.”

For innovative concepts for costumes and accessories, Brockwell said in-store TVs or monitors with instructional videos on loop in the immediate area of the product will engage the customer and answer questions at the same time.

“Also, testing stations with a sample available for consumers to handle can be effective,” Brockwell added. “The key is to budget in replacement samples into your wholesale buy and set your retail with that sample cost built in to cover it.”

Ike said they train the staff to do “Costume Completion.” First, check the costume package to see if they suggest additional items, then look at the picture to see if other items are shown.

“We also train our staff to be creative with it by suggesting they take the costume and make it a vampire (cat, prince, etc.) or zombie (bride, spider, etc.)” he said. “No idea is a bad one.”

Johnson agreed that educating store employees on what accessories work the best for each character is the first step.

“It’s helpful to have a cheat sheet with every accessory that goes with a character,” he said. “It would be an added bonus to have these sheets available to give to customers if employees are too busy.”

In other words, take the steps to ensure you’re not denying your store the full benefit of profit from everything from hats and tiaras to weapons and wigs, not only for the Halloween retail months, but also for the year-round accessory sales.

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