Halloween objects like House Depot’s 12-foot skeleton are key to retail technique

A child is looking at a Halloween costume on the stand. At the Target department store in Exeter Township on Tuesday afternoon for a story on Halloween costumes.

Ben hastily | Medianews Group | Getty Images

Over the past few weeks, Craig Cislo has unearthed the spray-painted tombstones in his attic, scoured websites for a giant animated reaper and convinced his teenage son to dress up as a bush to trick-or-treat.

Cislo, 43, of Dallas, plans to spend about $700 on Halloween to brighten up his family’s front yard decorations. He’s noticed that more neighbors are joining in, too, with big bouncy castles, animatronics and even an elaborate display inspired by The Walking Dead.

“My wife and I joke – because we walk every day – that we have competition this year,” he said.

As retailers gear up for a lackluster holiday season, many are planning to boost sales early by dangling a wider range of Halloween merchandise. Even as consumers restrict spending elsewhere, they say Halloween gives people a chance to get into the holiday spirit with relatively inexpensive celebrations leading up to Thanksgiving and Christmas.

home depot and lowes Stock up on a wide variety of spooky lawn ornaments, including giant mummies and skeletons. target Executives have expressed high hopes for sales of costumes, haunted house cookie kits and other Halloween items, even after the company’s earnings outlook was twice cut. and party townwhich sells costumes, balloons and bags of candy, plans to hire about 20,000 seasonal workers by October 31.

The boost around Halloween comes as more people return to in-person gatherings. Attendance is expected to return to pre-pandemic levels this year, according to the National Retail Federation’s annual survey, with nearly 70% of Americans planning to party.

The survey found total Halloween spending will rise to a record $10.6 billion, a jump from last year’s $10.1 billion. On average, consumers plan to spend $100 on candy, decorations, cards, and costumes.

For some shoppers, festivals like Halloween offer an escape from the worries of everyday life. As customers face unsettling headlines, Covid waves and political uncertainty, they are looking for more ways to celebrate and “bring joy to their families,” said Christina Hennington, Target’s chief growth officer.

“This is one of the reasons we continue to see such strength in our seasonal categories, which we expect to continue in the second half of the year,” she said on the company’s August conference call.

Herman, the 12-foot-tall skeleton, stands amid his fellow skeletons on October 20, 2020 in Middletown, Maryland. The Ferrone family bought a 12-foot skeleton from Home Depot, this year’s hottest Halloween decoration. It was stolen from their garden and they applied to the company for a replacement.

Marvin Joseph | The Washington Post | Getty Images

The 12 foot skeleton

Spring remains the most lucrative time of year for Home Depot and Lowe’s. But over the years, home improvement companies have expanded their Halloween and Christmas product lines.

In 1987, Home Depot added Christmas trees. This was followed by Christmas decorations in 2005 and Halloween merchandise in 2013. Then it saw an opportunity to expand seasonal sales in the fall, said Lance Allen, the company’s senior merchant of holiday decor.

The retailer’s merchandise team sought inspiration by visiting haunted houses and watching classic ’80s Halloween movies and Tim Burton movies. They also scoured trade shows, where they spotted a display of a giant skeletal torso that would inspire one of the company’s most popular Halloween products.

The skeleton at the show cost thousands of dollars, so Home Depot designed a 12-foot skeleton that costs $299 and debuted last year. It became a social media sensation and sold out.

When Home Depot’s “Skelly” returned this year, the first shipments sold out the first day they became available on July 15, Allen said. The retailer has been getting supplies ever since.

Other Halloween sales include a new Hocus Pocus-themed inflatable boat, which retails for $149, and an eight-foot-tall animated reaper that recites spooky phrases while moving its head and mouth, retails for $249 . The company also added a 15-foot-tall phantom — its tallest decoration to date — which retails for $399.

Rival Lowe released its answer to the skeleton this year: a 12-foot mummy that retails for $348.

Lowe’s also expanded its Halloween merchandise range by more than 20% this year and dedicated more store space to larger outdoor goods. Spooky-themed decorations were popular, like a life-size Freddy Krueger and a giant mummy, along with staples like scarecrows, haystacks and pumpkins, said Bill Boltz, executive vice president of merchandising.

Both Home Depot and Lowe’s say Halloween sales are going well, but don’t provide sales numbers in the category.

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Lowe’s debuted a 12-foot mummy this year to get customers excited for Halloween. It’s a retailer exclusive and retails for $348.

A “relatively inexpensive” splurge

It’s too early to tell exactly how Halloween sales will pan out this year. Merchandise is already in stores, but sales tend to pick up steam throughout October as families prepare to celebrate. The major retailers will release sales updates in November when they report quarterly results.

However, seasonal items appear to be driving consumer spending.

Late September, Costco said on an earnings call that early sales of Halloween items were doing well, and Walmart CEO Doug McMillon said the company is stocking up on spooky items like inflatable boats and outdoor decor, even as it’s canceling other orders and dealing with a spate of unwanted ones becomes a fan shop.

According to Lowe’s Boltz, higher prices for groceries, rent and other essentials don’t seem to stop customers from spending.

“When you think of Halloween and you think of discretionary categories, it’s probably as discretionary as possible,” Lowe’s Boltz said. He noted that there was also a demand for more expensive Halloween items, such as the large lawn decorations.

Meanwhile, back in Dallas, Cislo is still deciding what new animatronic he will buy for his lawn. He also plans to get supplies and build a tunnel that trick-or-treaters have to go through to reach the porch and get their treat: a candy bar or a lollipop.

He said he wanted to create the kind of experience he enjoyed dressing up in costume and trick-or-treating as a kid in upstate New York. The best houses, he recalled, gave out full-size candy bars or had extra-spooky decorations.

“It wasn’t just, ‘The lights are on. Let’s ring the bell,'” he said.

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