Feb 1, 2011
Bits and Pieces
Abby Heugel, Managing Editor

Create a costume, create extra sales

Here’s the scenario – a customer comes in looking for a costume they can wear to a few different parties, but they don’t want to wear the same exact thing each time. Purchasing two separate outfits is not in the budget, so they enlist your help in putting a fun twist on the one that they buy.

What do you do? Why, you work your retail magic and create a costume on the spot with the help of a few accessories, your creative prowess and items you already sell.

DIY Dress-Up
As Kevin Johnson, CEO at elope, Inc. pointed out, costumes sales aren’t relegated to the month of October. While Halloween is obviously the most popular time for costumes, there is a growing costume culture that involves dressing up many times throughout the year.

“So many different cultures center around costuming,” Johnson said. “L.A.R.P. (live action role play), Cosplay (costume play), Burning Man, PirateCon, WizardCon, Steampunk and so on. People involved in costume culture are building costume wardrobes that are more extensive than their normal street clothes wardrobes. These costumers are continually using and reusing costumes pieces to fit the events that they are attending.”

Many manufacturers have started offering distinctive pieces to shake the ordinary up a bit. It’s up to retailers to point customers in the right direction and give them some creative options – from head to toe.

For example, Coquette International offers make-your-own costumes. The pieces are sold separately- corsets and tops, bottoms, head pieces and stockings – and can be paired together custom to the consumer’s needs.

Staff should communicate to consumers how an element can be added or removed to create a strong look. If someone wants to go as one character and then to another party as something completely different, a white corset can be purchased for both an angel and burlesque girl costume.

“Purchasing a tutu, halo headband and white stockings for the angel look and then alternating it for a black petticoat and gloves can turn it into a burlesque costume,” said Melissa Hanans, public relations coordinator for Coquette International. “What’s great about this is customers can pick and choose what they like without having to purchase two complete costumes.”

Bridget Silvestri of Ellie Shoes said that an ’80s Madonna costume could include a black tutu or black lace dress paired with neon pumps and Day-Glo accessories for one party. Take away all the neon, add a feather boa and vintage looking black boots and you have a Can Can girl outfit.

“A red flower in your hair, a lace fan and a pair of pumps and you’re a flamenco dancer,” she said. “Wear the same dress but with a white apron, hat, feather duster and black and white shoes and you’re a French maid. Black wings with patent black boots and you’re a dark angel. The possibilities are endless!”

Hanans went on to say customers can purchase a complete costume and accessorize it with items not included in the kit like a hat, stockings or gloves. For example, their policewoman costume has a sexy, but masculine tone and could be worn as-is at one party. The customer could then purchase a pleated cop mini skirt and stockings to get a softer, more feminine look for another party.

Alternatively, Hanans said many customers like to start from scratch when putting their costumes together. Using the same example as above, retailers can encourage them to purchase the police hat, skirt and top to go with it, whether it be a PVC corset or a lacy bustier, to add a feminine flair.

“What have been particularly popular are our separate pieces being used to create the ultimate vampire costume,” she said. “Since there have been so many pre-packaged vampire costumes, customers want a unique perspective on the classic Halloween staple.”

For that dramatically sexy vampire costume, suggest a lacy bustier and skirt paired with stockings, cape, gloves and mini top hat. Those looking to frighten can opt for a PVC corset with petticoat and cape. It all depends on their personal preference and how far they want to go with their creativity.

Hats to Flats
Knowing if a customer is looking for a complete look or something customized is key. Hanans said that educating staff on color options, pairing different items and even bringing some lingerie like corsets into a costume is a great way to optimize sales.

Silvestri added that if they aren’t already, retailers should carry a least a small variety of shoes.

“You can’t go wrong carrying basic colors, black and white in a knee-high boot and also a solid black and red glitter Mary Jane style shoe,” Silvestri said. “Is your store on the east coast or a ‘cold’ state? Make sure you carry closed-toe footwear for warmth and comfort. If you’re in a ‘warm’ state, offer sandals and open-toe styles for variety.”

Retailers must be knowledgeable not only about costumes and accessories but also who their customers are and what events they are wearing the costumes to.

“A burner needs cool looking goggles to wear to Burning Man, but they also have to keep the dust out. A sanguine can’t wear a vampire costume out of bag; they need garment-quality costumes,” Johnson said. “A Steampunker doesn’t want a costume with silver metallic buttons or accessories. Also, knowing when the events are will help retailers know how to stock up and to perhaps do their window display in a way that will draw in customers.”

Johnson said the easiest way to show the consumer how good a fully accessorized costume looks is have all the staff and any mannequins dressed to the nines.

“I’m not talking about doing this for the week before Halloween,” he said, “but for the whole month of October or longer.”

Themed vignettes are an obvious way to show the consumer all the accessories for one theme, and printed character cards for all of the different costume characters can list all of the possible accessories available.

Hanans pointed out that when pieces and accessories are sold separately, they have to come alive via merchandising. Retailers can ask for posters of images featuring the pieces and display items that work together in close proximity.

“Since putting separate pieces together to create a comprehensive look may take some customers out of their comfort zone, it is beneficial for retailers to merchandise options together and to educate staff on which pieces can create different looks,” she said. “By giving customers many options and ideas, they may feel tempted to purchase more accessories to get different looks out of their costume.”

There are subtle ways to change a costume while maintaining a level of fun creativity, and in the end you not only help them create a costume, but you also create extra sales.

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