Halloween in Australia: “It’s becoming a really big event”

The Party People is building a 3000sqm Halloween store at Westfield Knox shopping centre in Victoria, as it looks to capitalise on the growing number of Australians dressing up as monsters and witches and decorating their homes in celebration of the spooky holiday. 

Running from September 2 through the end of October, the pop-up is a joint venture between the NSW-based family business and Halloween Alley, a seasonal retailer with more than a dozen stores in Canada. Halloween Alley operated a pop-up in the same location, a former Toys R Us store, last year.

“Halloween is growing in Australia, and it’s becoming a really big event,” Dean Salakas, CEO of The Party People, told Inside Retail

“Now is the time for a specialist Halloween retailer to hit the market.”

From expats to everyone

The Party People has been selling a small range of Halloween items mainly to North American expats for many years, but demand has picked up recently as more Australians start to celebrate the holiday. Halloween is now roughly on par with Christmas as The Party People’s best-selling seasonal category, ahead of Australia Day. 

In addition to offering items in its Sans Souci and Drummoyne stores, the retailer for the last few years has had a small sales tent at the annual Zombiewalk in Sydney. And in 2018, it ran a two-week Halloween pop-up in collaboration with Paddy’s Markets in Sydney.

But the joint venture with Halloween Alley is on an entirely different scale. The 3000sqm store is expected to stock around 12,000 SKUs, spanning costumes, make-up, candy and home decor. The Party People is delivering 4000 of these SKUs, and Halloween Alley is responsible for the remainder. The Canadian company is also bringing to the table its expertise in building and managing large-scale pop-ups. 

The retailers have just a few weeks to fit out the entire store and set up the backend systems to manage inventory and transactions, something other businesses typically spend several months working on.

“The planning has to be much more precise and sophisticated,” Salakas said about the pop-up.

“We have to know exactly what stock we’ll need, what fixtures we can use that are quick to source but also flexible and effective. Halloween Alley is super experienced in this.”

Meanwhile, The Party People is contributing its understanding of the local market to the project. 

“They know how to do pop-ups, but we know the market,” Salakas said. 

Halloween Alley’s pop-up last year did not perform as well as it could have, Salakas said, due to this lack of understanding. For instance, Australians tend to prefer to dress up as devils, zombies and other more traditional bogeymen, while North American consumers wear a wider variety of costumes, from German beer maids to professional athletes.

Salakas approached Halloween Alley about collaborating after seeing their offering last year, and realising they could help each other. 

“This is a strategic play. It’s a learning experience, not a profit play,” Salakas said. “Our plan is to see how and if it works.”

Big retailers just “dabbling”

Salakas declined to say how much revenue he’s targeting, but if it goes well, he said he’d like to open two to three Halloween pop-ups in Australia next year, if not more.

That is still a far cry from the national store networks of Big W and Kmart, which have also made bids, admittedly far less ambitious ones, to tap into the Halloween market in Australia.

“Last year, Big W claimed to be the home of Halloween,” Salakas said. 

“I think these big retailers are still trying to figure out how to do a Halloween offer. Everyone will dabble.”

The pop-up also presents an opportunity for The Party People to test demand for its broader offering in Melbourne, where it currently does not have a bricks-and-mortar presence.

A grand opening event with balloon artists and people in costume is planned for September 2.

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