Home Short payment terms How Halloween pop-ups bring zombie shops back from the dead

How Halloween pop-ups bring zombie shops back from the dead


Every fall, hundreds of Halloween costume shops spring up to haunt the remnants of closed big box stores across Canada, only to vanish without a trace before your pumpkin lantern begins to shrivel.

Despite only running for a few months, two big Halloween pop-up game players from this country have managed to survive and thrive – Spirit Halloween and Halloween Alley return year after year, as reliable as the inevitable rush. sugar. October 31.

Spirit Halloween is the older and larger of the two. Based in the United States with more than 1,400 locations, it refused to reveal “the secrets” of its operations to CBC Radio’s The Cost of Living.

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Its Canadian competitor Halloween Alley is a bit more transparent, but not in a ghostly way.

Representatives said the company made 70% of its sales for the whole year in the two weeks leading up to Halloween, although their success is not a trap – it’s all about real estate.

These doors previously led to the graveyard of a Calgary Future Shop, but over the past two months they’ve opened up to a different type of graveyard – one with plastic headstones, zombie masks, and colorful wigs. lively. (Danielle Nerman / CBC)

Find the right lair

The process begins with an empty store.

Halloween pop-ups want to be in visible, high-traffic places, but that’s not always possible, so in many cases any empty store will do.

Despite many businesses shutting down during the pandemic, international real estate company JLL has said the overall retail vacancy rate in Canada is low, hovering between about three and three and a half percent since January 2020.

Lorna Pierson, retail manager for Halloween Alley, is still researching their next location and taking note of empty storefronts.

“It’s always a challenge,” she said. “Our competition is looking for the same spaces as we are in some of the same cities.”

Halloween Alley has taken over the carcasses of closed retailers like Sears and Le Chateau, or former locations of Winners, Safeway and Home Outfitters.

Deborah Lawless, the Halloween Alley merchant and manager in Kelowna, BC, says she’s already opened a pop-up store in just six days. (Submitted by Deborah Lawless)

Speed ​​demons

Businesses have to move fast.

Using modular grid walls, staff can construct display areas for costumes, decorations, makeup, and animatronics in virtually any empty space.

Deborah Lawless, who ran Halloween Alley pop-ups in Kelowna, B.C. for 11 years, said her store opening record was six days between the arrival of the first shipping container of goods. and the opening of their doors.

“It’s a lot of work, I’m not going to lie! And when you find a lease a little later in the season, you work even harder to open it because, you know, lost sales are lost sales. and it’s such a short instant. “

She said the “ideal lease” runs from August 15 to November 15, but that it isn’t really open until after the long September weekend and closes a few days after Halloween.

Short leases can be a treat

According to Avi Behar, a Toronto-based Behar Group commercial lease broker, it may actually work in favor of a landlord signing short-term three-month leases if the time is right.

For example, if a tenant has just moved or if a property needs to be redeveloped and demolition has not started, it may be helpful to move in a Halloween store and pay rent.

Calgary’s Northland Village Mall, due for redevelopment in the coming months, currently includes a Halloween Alley. Stores often complement a sparse retail experience, leading shoppers to places they wouldn’t normally visit. (Paul Haavardsrud / CBC)

“A lot of these Halloween bands are existing chains that have been doing this for many years, so they know what they’re doing,” he said.

“They tick all the boxes in terms of insurance and rent payment, cleanliness and upkeep of the premises.”

Behar said Cost of life that Halloween pop-ups can send customers to a shopping area they might not otherwise have visited, which benefits other tenants.

“Whether it’s a high traffic driver or a medium or light traffic driver, they certainly drive more traffic than the vacant space would otherwise have offered.”

Masks line a modular wall in a Halloween alley in Northwest Calgary. Pop-up stores need to be nimble when it comes to displays and configurations. (Danielle Nerman / CBC)

Shocking amount of stock

Staff at the Lawless Kelowna store will unload two to three cans or shipping containers worth merchandise. Clown wigs, unicorn costumes, and shelves and shelves of false teeth, but not everything is sold.

Pierson said the company intentionally overstocks stores, both to ensure they don’t run out and that customers have a wide choice of items as well.

Unsold goods are stored in warehouses and return next season, along with new costumes purchased throughout the year.

Pierson said there’s always a costume that sells, usually a character from a movie release.

This year she predicted it would be a Michael Myers costume from Halloween kills – the last film in the long-running horror franchise.

Reused trash bags are used to divide areas of a Halloween alley in Calgary. Real estate experts say these types of pop-ups often don’t invest much when it comes to renovations for their temporary locations. (Danielle Nerman / CBC)

Naked approach

If you’ve ever really looked around for a Halloween pop-up, you might notice peeling paint or broken light fixtures.

Stores intentionally don’t invest much in improving their locations.

“The aesthetics of these stores are often left very ‘warehouse’ – if I can use those words,” said Behar, who negotiated leases between retail owners and Halloween pop-ups.

The aesthetics of these stores are often left very ‘out of the box’… To the consumer, it looks like we can get a good deal here.– Avi Behar, real estate broker

Unfinished concrete floors, unstable ceiling tiles and makeshift walls aren’t things stores are concerned about, and he said they could even help boost sales.

“To the consumer, it looks like we can get a good deal here.”

Pierson said that while Halloween Alley doesn’t think of its pop-ups as cheap basement stores, they don’t do any upgrades before they open either.

Monstrous sales volume, multiple lairs

There’s no real mystery as to how stores manage to make money in such a short period of time – according to Behar, it’s all about sales volume.

“Spirit Halloween or a fireworks store doesn’t open short term to sell a few items. They try to blow up as many items as possible.”

A wall of rubber masks on display at Calgary Halloween Alley. Halloween is big business in North America – a 2020 Retail Council of Canada survey found that eight in ten parents plan to celebrate the holidays with their children. (Danielle Nerman / CBC)

And Halloween is big business across North America, so there is a significant market to tap into. A 2020 Retail Council of Canada survey found that eight in ten parents plan to celebrate Halloween with their children.

Although Statistics Canada does not track specific Halloween spending here, Americans spent US $ 8.05 billion on Halloween-related items in 2020, according to the US National Retail Federation. This year, that number is expected to reach a record high of US $ 10.14 billion.

Pierson says another reason the model works is that multiple locations spread the risk and provide a bit of cushion.

“If you only had one store and you had a great year, that’s great! But if you’ve had a bad year, it could be very devastating for your business. So we’ve kind of found the perfect mix that works for us. “

Written and produced by Danielle Nerman.

Click the play icon above this story to hear that segment, or To download Cost of life Podcast.
Cost of life Airs weekly on CBC Radio One, Sundays at 12 p.m. ET (12:30 p.m. NT).


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