Thrift Stores Thrive On Halloween

Halloween may come in last in U.S. holiday retail sales at an average of $6 billion a year, but it is the time of year when thrift stores …

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Halloween may come in last in U.S. holiday retail sales at an average of $6 billion a year, but it is the time of year when thrift stores do the bulk of their business. Goodwill Industries reports as average of 10% of all its business occurs during the Halloween season, with some stores reporting as much as a 20% increase in sales. The nation’s 30,000 resale, consignment and thrift shops manage to sell a little bit of everything people need for the holiday, like costumes, candy and decorations. Research firm IBISWorld reports that the average American spends $66.28 on a costume, candy and decorations, while people aged 18-34 spend considerably more, especially in college towns. For more on this continue reading the following article from The Street.

Thrift store Halloween costumes do a good job changing their buyer’s identity for a night, but they turn thrift stores from modest businesses to bustling industries with similarly scary efficiency.

Halloween is basically thrift store Christmas. Americans spent $6 billion on costumes, decorations and treats last Halloween, according to market research firm IBISWorld, and thrift stores are taking home an increasingly large portion of the loot.

That $6 billion may put Halloween dead last behind Father’s Day ($10.2 billion) among retail holidays and give it only 2.6% of overall holiday spending, but it disguises steady growth from $5.8 billion in 2008 while Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Easter and Father’s Day spending all declined between 2008 and 2009. While Mother’s Day alone taking a more than $2 billion hit during that span, Halloween spending increased by $250 million.

Last year, Americans spent an average of $66.28 apiece on costumes, candy and decorations. Those aged 18 through 34 — or the students and post-collegians who fall right into thrift stores’ target Halloween demographic — far eclipsed that by spending an average of $80 among those 18-24 and $91 among those 25-34. Those 18 through 24, however, spent only $37 on costumes, which is under the $38 national average and far below the $43 spent by potential parents aged 25 to 55.

The more than 30,000 resale, consignment and thrift shops that the National Association of Resale and Thrift Association counts in the U.S. deserve at least some of the credit for that lowball costume figure. Goodwill Industries International, which has 2,600 stores in the U.S. and Canada and is opening 20 more this month, says Halloween sales accounted for a sizable chunk of its $2.3 billion store revenue last year and the 7.25% jump in revenue from 2009.

"Within the past two years, we’ve seen 9.8% of all of our sales during the retail year are attributed to Halloween," says Lauren Lawson, a spokeswoman for Goodwill Industries. "We’ve been tracking our sales and donation data for each of the autonomous stores over the last decade and October has the most sales volume of any month."

The source of that $235 million bump is especially apparent in student-heavy towns such as Boston, where Morgan Goodwill Industries — Goodwill’s founding branch and one of its 165 autonomous regional headquarters — says revenue increases 20% in October thanks to Halloween sales. Morgan Goodwill is trying to further capitalize on the costumed student body by offering 50% discounts on Labor Day weekend and 25% savings to college students, faculty and staff throughout September.

"The idea is that you’re providing another way to get people interested in Halloween in during September," says Morgan Goodwill Industries spokesman James Harder. While there, they may "see some signs for Halloween and come back for their costume."

Considering Goodwill relies on that Halloween income to fund its job-training programs and has set up a meter to show customers how their donations translate to training hours, there’s a lot riding on those reused clothes. Harder says Morgan Goodwill plans to hire eight part-time workers at its 11 stores just for the rush.

The stakes are just as high for the Boston-based Boomerangs chain of thrift stores that serve as fundraisers for AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts. October is the peak sales month there as well, with its flagship store in the city’s Jamaica Plain neighborhood bringing in $119,000 in October 2010 — a 14% improvement over its monthly average. Those proceeds provide clothing stipends at the store for each AIDS Action client and help cover budget shortfalls and cuts among the organization’s other programs.

"Since the money from the store is unrestricted, AIDS Action uses it wherever it’s needed most," says Jasmine Crafts, manager of two of Boomerangs’ four stores. "For revenue that’s coming in during the fall, that money helps a lot of clients that need assistance with utilities, heating and housing in the winter."

That urgency makes both Boomerangs and Goodwill storage facilities year-round costume shops. Boomerangs employees spend the months leading into October pulling hospital scrubs, overalls and goth-friendly apparel out of the piles and assembling potential costumes. Morgan Goodwill’s Harder and some warehouse employees, meanwhile, pulled a pair of boxing gloves, a silk robe and a robe with dollar bills printed into the fabric earlier this week and set them aside as boxer and promoter costumes.

They’re not above prodding people into creativity, either. Morgan Goodwill’s Halloween page offers dozens of costumes suggestions, ranging from Lady Gaga (leather jacket, studded leotard, soda can hair rollers) and Christina Hendricks’s Joan Holloway character from AMC’s(AMCX) Mad Men (bright boat-neck dress or sweater, tweed pencil skirt, pumps, long gold pen necklace, bouffant hair) to Progressive’s(PGR) commercial mascot Flo (white polo dress, white apron, "Flo" name tag, "I Heart Progressive" pin, wide blue headband) and Jane Lynch’s Sue Sylvester character from Fox’s(NWS) Glee (red jogging suit, sneakers, trophy).

If young Halloween costume buyers actually take that color-by-numbers bait, the not-so-secret benefit is the nearly immediate re-donation of those boat-neck dresses, studded leotards and stop-sign red jogging suits. Harder says it’s a benefit Goodwill has embraced with its "Goodwill, not landfill" credo and an eco-friendly campaign that alerts donors to the 3.4 billion pounds of usable goods Goodwill has diverted from the trash. Boomerangs’ Crafts, meanwhile, points out that re-donated costumes are a great way to repurpose someone else’s costume creativity when the inspiration escapes you.

"We have had people get costumes here one year and then donate them back the next year to get a new one," she says. "I personally got the greatest handmade spider costume one year here. Someone made it. It was very elaborate, and I wore it two years in a row and donated it back, and the person who got it was so excited about wearing it."

This article was republished with permission from The Street.

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