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Retailers hope kids go trick-or-treat in style

The Halloween dash now demands lots of cash, even for toddlers. Many retailers are catering to the growing demand for high-end children's costumes.
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It seems that Halloween-related expenses are not spooking anyone out. Consumers this year are ready to spend, especially if it involves candy, costumes or ghoulish decorations.

According to the National Retail Federation, consumers are expected to spend $4.96 billion on Halloween products this year, up significantly from $3.29 billion a year ago. 

The increase is largely due to a surge in celebrations, according to the NRF survey released last month. Nearly two-thirds (63.8 percent) of consumers said they plan to participate in Halloween festivities this year, a noticeable rise over the 52.5 percent in 2005.

“It’s about more people spending more money,” said Kathy Grannis of the NRF.

Phil Rist of BIG Research, which conducted the NRF survey, added, “We all need a make-believe world to escape to in times of war and murky politics. What better way than to dress up and indulge in the whimsical side of life?”

One segment that people are spending more money on is costumes — particularly high-end costumes for children.

A survey of several online costume shops shows prices of $40 to $100 for children's costumes, well beyond the disposable $10 superhero and princess outfits typically available at discount stores.

The prices may be jaw-dropping for some parents, but clearly there is a demand.

Jalem Getz, who has been in the costume business for 11 years, has noticed a definite price spike in the costume category, especially for children’s dress-up clothes.

“We’ve definitely noticed an increase in demand for high-end children costumes in the last four years,” said Getz, president and CEO of BuySeasons Inc., an Internet-only retailer that offers a huge assortment of Halloween gear.

His company has gradually gravitated toward the high-end market.

“Clearly, price is not a barrier for our customers, because a large percentage of our sales comes from expensive costumes,” Getz said. “Less than 3 percent of our assortment is low-end."

Prices for the exclusive Tom Arma signature collection are north of $60, and some costumes have been sold out for the season. The Wall Street Journal calls Arma, who is also a photographer, the "Armani of the kiddy costume world" and most of his heirloom quality costumes are exclusive to, a wholly owned subsidiary of BuySeasons Inc. The costumes based on Arma's photographs have animal themes and help raise awareness and funds for the the National Wildlife Federation.

“Many of the Arma costumes have been the No. 1 seller in the children’s costume category and we sell out pretty early in the season, Getz said.

"But we often find them being resold for a profit on eBay,” he added.

When it comes to spending, “Halloween is the new Christmas,” said Kristen Taylor, owner of Juvie, a clothing and gift store for "older kids” in Los Angeles. She recently hosted a costume workshop called “Beyond Fairies and Superheroes,” where Hollywood kids designed attire for trick-or-treating.

“This being Los Angeles, the kids at this workshop were interested less in trick-or-treating as ghosts and witches and more like evil celebrity-stalking paparazzi, 'Project Runway' contestants or their favorite 'Survivor' tribe members,” she said.

It’s this demand for high-end, customized costumes that seems to be the trend this year as more and more and people get into the Halloween spirit.

“It’s the first big splash kids get to make after school starts. I feel like they are ready for a break,” Taylor said.

Also, as kids get older they don’t want cookie-cutter costumes, or to see six of the same kind at a party.

“The industry has come along way since the plastic masks and cheap vinyl costumes that were around when I was little,” says Shari McConahay of ExtremeHalloweenNetwork, a collection of 13 e-commerce Web sites that, besides Halloween, sell costumes for Mardi Gras, Easter, Christmas and other holidays. Deluxe children's costumes on her site can go up to about $90. Most are renaissance and medieval costumes with detailed accessories. The Princess, Fairy, Zarina 3-in-1 Costume which costs $49.95 is a favorite with most girls.

"You can never go wrong with a princess costume," said Shari.

“Kids nowadays want to be able to play in their costume for a very long time rather than just wear it on Halloween. We sell children's costumes for dress-up all year long, and we see many children's costumes bought as Christmas presents,” she added.

Especially when Halloween falls on a Tuesday, like this year. There are likely to be multiple events over the weekend and the days leading up to Halloween.

Kevin Greene, CEO of Costume Express, another online retailer, thinks the market is large enough to accommodate all kinds of styles and prices. On his site, kids costume prices range from $9.98 to $100.

Its costumes, some like the pink cowgirl ($49) were recently showcased on the “Today” show, and are based on Disney characters.

“We offer a great breadth of selection and price point and all of our costumes are safe and comfortable for kids,” said Greene.

He thinks most families use costumes to stimulate children’s imagination and encourage creativity.

“Of course, there is always the one-upmanship when families try to outdo each other in style and design when trying to dress up their kids,” he added.

That’s when costume manufacturers luck out as they try to attract the millions of children trick-or-treating over the holiday.

He also points out the recent cross-pollination between birthday and Halloween parties and how a growing number of young adults prefer to have costume-themed birthday parties.

Many costume businesses are no longer seasonal, and even though there is a distinct sales spike between September and October, they sustain growth by incorporating birthday and theme party ideas year round.