Page last updated at 00:30 GMT, Friday, 30 October 2009

Who makes a killing at Halloween?

By Clare Matheson
Business reporter, BBC News

You may be preparing for a parade of children to come trick-or-treating over the weekend, or setting up a small Halloween get-together.

Angels fancy dress store
Who scares, wins when it comes to Halloween costumes

Retailers will be delighting in the fact that something wicked this way comes at Halloween, as it will signal almost a decade of growth in sales for the period.

In fact, the date has been gaining in so much popularity in the UK that it is expected to be worth an estimated £235m to the retail sector this year, according to independent retail analysts Planet Retail.

The phenomenal growth in sales of fancy dress, treats, tricks and dressings for the home mean that the season now is third only to Christmas and Easter.

Emma Angel has run her family's retail operation for the last 14 years and has been best placed to see the change in fortunes of the ghoulish festival.

"It was kind of crazy last year, I've been doing this for 14 years and it's just grown and grown," she says.

Murderous make-up

The hive of activity that is Angels' retail store attests to the fact. Spread over three floors, the store is crammed with outfits - both to buy and hire - as well as the extra accessories needed to spruce up the attire.

The suitably gruesome Dr Death is even on hand to dole out make-up tips to create the right effect, be it a slashed throat or a bullet wound.

Angels fancy dress store
Angels' Halloween window display attracts plenty of attention

"Last year we were mobbed. People were queuing round both corners of the building and we had four security guards for the crowds. We'll be having five this year and we're expecting it to be bigger," Ms Angel adds.

And Angels, one of the country's biggest independent fancy dress retailers, is well placed to talk about the growth in the business.

Ms Angel has been working at the store in London's Shaftesbury Avenue for almost 15 years and during that time, she has seen a distinct change in trends, from hire to retail.

She was the first in the group to bring in clip-on fangs, selling out of the first 50 sets she ordered in. Angels now sells more than 2,000 sets of the gnashers in store and a further 1,000 to 1,300 online.

She was also the first to revolutionise the retail side of the business, bringing in 30 pre-packed costumes eight years ago - 15 for men and 15 for women.

They sold out, the range expanded and the store also opened up online. As Ms Angel says, the rest is history.

How's tricks?

The changes at the London store also show just how much the Halloween market has changed in the past decade.

Years ago, consumers were happy to buy a simple mask and make their own costumes, simply heading to the shops to stock up on treats to hand out to visitors.

Emma Angel
Spooky accessories are Emma Angel's speciality

Now you can head to almost any store on the High Street and grab outfits, accessories and even bags for children to collect their booty in as they head door-to-door; a development that makes it scarily simple, and cheap, to make the most of the night.

Even Asda, Tesco, Sainsbury's and Marks & Spencer have launched extensive promotions for the occasion - starting as cheap as £3.50 for a natty little spider handbag.

As well as the increasing availability of cheap goodies, Planet Retail cites a further two trends in the market.

This year, 31 October falls on a weekend, allowing revellers to make the most of the night.

According to Jacqui Parr, editor of Party Party Magazine, many industry insiders were afraid that after a record year last year - with sales up 80% across the board - sales would suffer this year.

"People generally were saying that because it was a Friday and the credit crunch was just starting to hit that they were afraid 2008 was a freak blip," she says.

"But this year, retailers and suppliers are saying it's even better than last year. Independent retailers are expecting a bumper year."

Familiar haunts

Angels also points to the trend in consumers looking for "inexpensive socialising at home".

"Halloween is big, it's an escape. You can do it at home, not a bar or a club is needed and its very kid-oriented. It's taken over from Bonfire Night, firework parties in the garden are seen as dangerous now. People can do apple-bobbing and so on at home, it's a family fun time of year," adds Ms Angel.

Pumpkin
Halloween spending is rising in the UK, but falling in the US

According to Tarlok Teji, head of retail at Deloitte, "in-tertainment" is becoming a key trend in the UK, as families and friends get together for a cheaper night of fun at home.

"There's also so much doom and gloom in the media that people do occasionally want to dress up and have a party," he adds.

But he adds that retailers have become "fairly smart about celebrations", and not just Mother's Day and Valentine's Day.

"They make any excuse they can find to sell products and put them in front of consumers, Halloween is just another example."

Yet the festivities in the UK are nowhere near the terrifying scale seen in the US.

In 2008, Halloween was worth a dizzying $55.7bn, according to the National Retail Federation, with the average American spending $66.45, up from $64.82 a year earlier.

However, the recession is expected to make an impact this year, with the NRF predicting Americans will spend 15% less this year - an average of $56.31 per person - with overall Halloween sales expected to drop to $4.75bn.

Sales gruesome

While the UK appears to have picked up the US's lead on the scary celebrations, the economic impact is very different.

Smiffys, which supplies retailers, says that over the past three months, it has sold just under 124,000 costumes - or 206 an hour.

At Angels, like-for-like sales are already up 7% on 2008 and the big day has not even arrived.

Last year, the group raked in about £1.5m during the period, adding that around a third of its annual sales fell during the period.

In fact, 31 October has gained so much in popularity that Angels is now scarily busy in the run-up to the big day.

"Halloween used to last four days - now it's a 10-day window. We work 12 hours straight," says Ms Angel.

"The shop is open 10am to 7pm, staff redress the floor order and tidy first thing in the morning, they get in at 9am to dress and restock, we close the queue at 7pm, then don't shut until the last customer is served."

All Angels has to do now is wait to see whether the big day was as "thrilling" as they hoped.



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