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Local Halloween retailers hope to reap profit from the holiday

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Saturday, Sep. 29, 2012, at 11:17 p.m.
  • Updated Saturday, Sep. 29, 2012, at 11:17 p.m.

Whether dressed as ominous Grim Reapers or sparkly vampires, as sexy nurses or traditional ghosts, an estimated 170 million Americans are expected to participate in Halloween festivities this year, according to a retail group.

Temporary Halloween retail businesses in Wichita hope to be among those reaping profit from the holiday, but they are using different business models, from locally owned and operated, to franchises and corporate-owned stores. The seasonal stores open in late August or early September, and by Nov. 1, they’re gone.

Despite the millions of Americans celebrating the freaky festivities, most say they will be spending less, according to the National Retail Federation. Even with the cutbacks, consumers are estimated to spend $8 billion on costumes, treats and spooky decorations.

Brandy Zogleman of Wichita is in her first year as owner and operator of Widow Costumes, located in NewMarket Square on Maize Road and in a mall in Hutchinson.

“I’ve always loved Halloween and the Halloween season, but a lot of kids get frightened to go into gory stores, so we have a more family focus for customer service and costumes for everyone,” she said.

So far, she said, six to 10 part-time employees have been hired, and the number could double as Oct. 31 grows close.

“It’s early,” Zogleman said. “October hasn’t hit yet. It’s definitely a huge risk, but every day it gets busier. I expect when we get into October it will continue to grow. … Everybody needs a costume.”

She thinks she has the only locally owned seasonal Halloween store in Wichita. She plans to host events at her stores, including pumpkin carving contests, face painting and a costume drive in October for those in need.

Eventually, she’d like to expand the number of stores and the online presence.

“It’s been really fun to be able to see the kids,” Zogleman said. “They get one day a year where they can be somebody they want to be, and to get to see the kids and their expressions make it totally worth doing. On the female side of it, I’ve enjoyed being able to help different sizes of girls find that costume that makes them feel good about themselves.”

Local retailers say popular costumes this year include monsters and zombies. Characters from movies like “The Avengers” and “The Dark Knight Rises” are also popular.

Halloween Express, a national chain, has two stores in Wichita and has had a presence here for at least eight years. Manager Cindy Wilhoite works at the West Kellogg location and got into the business because she was friends with the franchise operators, Mike and Marcella Howard, from Kentucky.

Operating a seasonal store can be a year-round job. The franchise operators begin by going to costume shows in January to see what new merchandise is available. They combine new purchases with leftover inventory.

The next step is to find temporary locations. Wilhoite said that depending on the economy and the commercial rental markets in particular cities, that can be tough. Franchise operators typically sign three-month leases, and they need to consider whether there’s nearby competition, sufficient traffic to draw business, and easy access to the store.

Last year, there was only one Halloween Express in Wichita because the franchise owners could not find a second suitable location, she said.

The seasonal Halloween market has changed in the past several years with more competition, she said, and even large retailers have expanded their selections. Online shopping has become a competitor as well, but Wilhoite thinks the online shopping experience is impersonal and there’s something to be said for buying in person.

Spirit Halloween, a national chain, has four corporate locations in Wichita. The company opened its first store in 1983 and was acquired by Spencer Gifts in 1999.

District sales manager Jeff Cummings operates the Wichita stores and said they have hired 50 to 60 employees who are mostly part-timers.

So far, business doesn’t seem to be slow, Cummings said, and it’s still early in the season.

“This weekend and the next weekend are the biggest for decor,” he said last week. “We all rely on the weather. If it’s overcast and cold outside, everyone gets into the fall spirit and comes out.”

Spirit Halloween also raises funds for the Spirit of Children program and has raised $7 million company-wide in the past seven years for children’s hospitals. Donations from the Wichita area go to Children’s Mercy in Kansas City, Cummings said.

Contributing: Associated Press

Reach Kelsey Ryan at 316-269-6752 or kryan@wichitaeagle.com.

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