With the summer holidays over and the Christmas rush yet to begin, the C-Store Champions welcome Halloween and Bonfire Night sales
Dean Holborn, owner of two Holborns stores in Surrey
Dean’s annual bonfire event has put his store on the map and made it a destination for themed goods
Nigel Dowdney, Earlham Shopper & Stalham Shopper, Norfolk
Dressing-up items, confectionery and themed cakes are big sellers in Nigel’s stores at this time of year
Malcolm Crump, Spar Compton, Wolverhampton
Every category gets a boost at Halloween, says Malcolm, as shoppers see the season as another reason to party
Julian Taylor-Green, Spar Lindford, Hampshire
Halloween and Bonfire Night provide an essential opportunity to boost sales between the end of summer and Christmas, Julian believes
How much does Halloween impact sales and have you noticed this change over the past few years?
Dean: Halloween is the season to embrace in this industry. In our line of work we are blessed throughout the year with different seasons which offer us great opportunities to have some fun and to encourage more shoppers into our stores. While this is a short season in comparison with Easter or Christmas as people don’t prepare for it so far in advance, we do find we can create a lot of interest with a bit of in-store theatre such as a few pumpkins and some Halloween-themed products. We don’t get too involved in things such as masks and costumes as these items tend to have such a limited shelf life that once the day is over, it’s over, and you have to cut prices quite considerably to shift the stock. Invariably, we are always left with some stock after Halloween, but it’s exactly the same case with Easter. In the run-up to Easter Sunday people constantly seem to crave Creme Eggs, but as soon as the day is over they stop buying them completely. It’s amazing, really, how sudden the change is. We start putting out the Halloween-themed products about two weeks before the day, but things really start selling in the second week.
Nigel: Halloween is a big opportunity and it’s definitely changed. In the old days trick or treaters would chuck flour and eggs at people’s houses if they didn’t have treats to give them so we’d have to be careful not to sell flour or eggs to children in the weeks leading up to the day. Now it’s become much more commercial and controlled. Trick or treating has become more of a team effort, with parents joining the children and deciding which houses to go to so, of course, this helps to control their behaviour. It’s more of a formal affair these days, rather than kids running riot with stink bombs and all sorts, which is probably a good thing! Importantly for me, though, it’s become more of a profit opportunity thanks to the heavy commercialisation of the event. Nowadays you can buy so many Halloween-themed products. You never used to be able to buy things such as masks and plastic fangs; you always had to make your own costumes. People had to use a bit of imagination! We stock these dressing-up items now, because they’re a great way of reminding shoppers that the day is coming up and it helps to create some theatre in store.
Malcolm: Halloween impacts sales quite a lot and I would say that the nature of the sales has changed over the years. When I first started in this business 30-odd years ago we used to be massively into our costume selection and masks, and we didn’t sell much confectionery. But now it’s switched over so we don’t sell fancy dress any more and we instead concentrate more on confectionery. The reason is that when we started the business we were the only ones selling costumes in the area and we would have a display up in our window and it would attract a lot of attention. It was different and interesting, but now everyone sells them so it’s not a USP for us. Although the wider Halloween market has grown, our benefit from it hasn’t grown greatly as we have had to remove quite a big part of the offer.
Julian: It definitely has an impact on sales for us. It’s very useful at this time of year just after the summer when we’ve had barbecue and sports displays and we’re waiting for Christmas. It’s always good to have some sort of displays up in store and this offers the perfect opportunity.
What was the most popular trick or treat confectionery last year? Have you noticed any new trends emerging?
Dean: It has to be all the variety packs from well-recognised brands such as Maoam and Haribo. Cadbury also does Halloween-themed chocolates, which are individually foil-wrapped and which are popular, too. People do seem to be buying a bit more of a variety of products now. Halloween and Bonfire Night are both a bit like Marmite in that people tend to hate them or love them, but even those who don’t celebrate Halloween themselves will often buy the treats in case children come trick or treating at their door.
Nigel: Haribo leads the way every time and I think it’s because they do a lot of the Halloween-themed shaped sweets that people like. Certainly, people are forced to be more generous these days simply due to the cost of the products. Gone are the days of the penny sweets. You have to buy a big bag full of smaller bags which are all at least 5p each.
Malcolm: There’s a lot of trick or treat-specific bags of sweets on the market. Haribo does a good range of these. We also get the little chocolate pumpkins wrapped in foil.
Julian: A wide range of confectionery sells well around this time, from the big bags of Swizzels sweets with the wrapped chews, to boxes of Roses and Heroes. People are buying for adults at parties as well as for children. As long as they see it as having a good price point, they will pick it up. They may even finish it themselves before they have the party and then need to buy another.
What products, other than trick or treat confectionery, get a boost in sales in the run up to 31 October?
Dean: We sell toffee apples and they are popular, but I do notice people eat them for only about two minutes then throw the rest away. It seems like a great idea to buy one when you see one and you think ‘Oh, I haven’t had one of these for ages’, then you start eating it and realise it’s pretty awful!
Nigel: We sell quite a lot of Halloween-themed cakes. Mr Kipling does a lot of them. They have green fillings or green sponge, things like that. Also the local bakery provides us with lots of Halloween-themed individual cakes such as iced buns with Halloween characters on.
Malcolm: The Cadbury Screme Eggs were really popular when they first came out, but they aren’t so popular now. We sell toffee apples and chocolate apples covered in sprinkles. Every category gets a boost from Halloween as it’s another party season.
Julian: Every category gets a boost at this time. There tends to be a lot of big organised events for Halloween now and fewer people seem to host their own Bonfire displays, but they might still have parties and they might still want to buy products to take to the events they’re attending.
Do you get much of a boost from Bonfire Night and has this changed much over the years?
Dean: We always used to trade quite heavily in fireworks. I got into selling them because they provided great sales and great margins of at least 50%. But that market has shrunk in the past five or six years. I think this is purely because it’s just not as fashionable as it used to be. There was a time when fireworks were quite a new thing for people to be able to buy and it was exciting to host your own display for friends, but as time goes on people have become less interested. But we still get a big uptake in sales because of the event we host each year.
Nigel: We do sell a few more hot dogs and sausages and potatoes for Bonfire Night as these are the things people traditionally eat when they have parties and eat outside in their gardens. This is much less common than it used to be, though. When I was a kid people would always have fireworks parties in their gardens and the kids would help light the fireworks and run around with sparklers! People are a lot more safety conscious now! It tends to be that people go to the big events instead. We sell toffee apples, too.
Malcolm: Bonfire Night used to be huge for us, but now that the legislation has changed it’s become difficult to sell fireworks safely and compliantly so we have stopped selling those. I think fewer people have private firework parties now anyway. There are so many big events that people tend to attend these instead.
Julian: A lot of the products that we sell for Halloween have a cross-over with Bonfire Night, which is useful as it gives us a chance to sell through the last bits of confectionery and decorations and other party items.
What do you do in-store on Halloween and on Bonfire Night? Do you host any local events?
Dean: We host a huge event on Bonfire Night. We’ve been running it for about nine years and it has just grown and grown as time has gone on. We get more than 1,000 people coming and we raised about £12,000 last year for local causes. That event has really put our store on the map as not only do people come into the shop to buy products in the run-up to that event, but they also come in to buy tickets for the event. We don’t host an event for Halloween, but we always make sure we are prepared with sweets that we can hand out to any trick or treaters who come to our store.
Nigel: I keep my head down! Only joking. We prepare for the trick or treaters to come by the shop on Halloween, but we don’t do much for Bonfire Night.
Malcolm: We don’t host anything in particular on the nights themselves. There are always events happening in the area, though.
What displays do you like to put up in store?
Dean: We always dress a table at the front of the store with pumpkins and squashes. We sell the gourd squashes as well as the pumpkins as people like to buy them to decorate their homes and tables.
Nigel: We put up displays as we do with any seasonal event. We have a display to bring Halloween to people’s attention.
Malcolm: We have lots of confectionery and a stand for those products. We might have something like a cardboard coffin filled with Halloween novelties as well.
Julian: Usually we go away to Florida around the beginning of September and while we’re there we pick up lots of items we can use to create in-store theatre. Last year we had fluorescent skeletons that go in the window and which look good when it starts to get dark. We’re going to Florida a bit later this year so will use what we already have. In America they also have their Harvest Festival such as with scarecrows and other autumnal pieces, and these can sometimes work quite well with the Bonfire Night theme.
How would you recommend other retailers boost excitement around these occasions in their stores?
Dean: There’s lots of stuff out there that you can buy cheaply that will help create theatre. If you go to the pound stores you’ll find loads of decorations to put up in store. Just buy a couple of pumpkins, carve them out, and put them outside the store. Things like that do help add excitement.
Nigel: The people we deal with for our fancy dress sell to us on a sale or return basis, so although we may get the same stock sent to us the next year it’s a risk-free way of stocking the products. It’s worth getting those items in because it does get shoppers thinking about the occasion.
Malcolm: I think the main thing is to create some theatre in store, be it by putting out pumpkins or spiders’ webs. It’s essential.
Julian: Take a trip down to the pound stores to see what they’ve got on sale to create some in-store theatre, and remember that this is an opportunity across the categories including alcohol, soft drinks and party foods.