Fake teeth, devil horns will return next year
Every September, a gaggle of ghoulish masks, devil horns and witches’ broomsticks invade the storefront at University and Shattuck avenues, turning it into a hub of Halloween fun. But come November, they disappear like apparitions in the night.
With Halloween already a fading memory, Berkeley’s Halloween Headquarters has shut its doors and started its annual pilgrimage back home. The rows of Dracula capes and sexy nurse outfits will soon sit in warehouses. And the store’s 25 temporary employees will go their separate ways – until next year.
“We take a week or so to pack up here and do inventory,” said store manager Melody Bounsall, 24. “Then, everyone goes back to their regular lives, and I return to the warehouse to reorganize.”
With 11 temporary and two permanent stores scattered throughout Northern California, Too Much Fun/Halloween Headquarters is one of several chains making a profit from what Bounsall calls the largest-grossing American holiday except Christmas. The Dixon-based chain sells infant, children’s and adult costumes as well as masks, wigs, makeup, accessories, decorations and gags.
District Manager Jon Waldrep said the business depends solely on Halloween sales for revenue, but success depends on year-round planning by a small team of permanent staff members.
“We spend a lot of time researching what to buy,” said Waldrep. “We look at what TV shows or movies are popular. But it’s really hit or miss. Sometimes we’re right. And sometimes we’re wrong.”
This year, the chain profited by guessing patriotism would be popular. But the team hasn’t always been so successful in predicting the public’s taste.
Four years ago, for instance, Waldrep said the license for McDonald’s came out.
“Everybody in the industry thought it was going to be the biggest thing,” he said. “There were Ronald McDonald costumes, burgers, fries, shakes. But it was a huge flop. Customers didn’t want them. And now we’re all still selling those costumes, trying to get rid of them.”
While Waldrep said he periodically places custom orders with costume manufacturers, most of the chain’s stock comes from catalogs or trade shows. Every year, Halloween Headquarters’ staff attends industry shows in Chicago, New York and Las Vegas.
“The Chicago show is the biggest,” said Waldrep. “There are thousands of people and hundreds of vendors. One week is barely enough time to see everything.”
Despite the misses, Waldrep said the company is able to weather economic conditions. It continues to grow and is even considering opening a permanent store in Berkeley.
“It’s a profitable business,” said Waldrep. “This year, we’re still up over last year despite recent events.”
Bounsall said the Berkeley store, which sublets its storefront from Rite Aid every August to November, was able to sell more than $30,000 in merchandise on its best-selling days.
“In September, our sales were mainly from Cal students buying costumes for frat parties or crazy pranks,” Bounsall said. “But we made the majority of our annual sales the week before Halloween.”
Last year, Bounsall said the Berkeley store raked in $318,000 in total gross sales.
“Halloween appeals to a wide range of people, and it’s becoming more and more sophisticated,” said Waldrep, explaining part of the chain’s success.
“When I was a kid, I was a hobo seven years in a row. My mom would throw me some dirty clothes and that was my costume. But kids nowadays want to glow or light up, or they want blood gushing from their costumes.”
Bounsall added that adults get into the holiday too.
“It’s a good excuse to get dressed up for a day and just get crazy,” she said.
But, perhaps the biggest Halloween fans are the 25 temporary Berkeley store’s employees.
Andy Zevallos, who had been laid off from his job in the concrete industry, said he decided to work at Halloween Headquarters to earn extra money while fulfilling one of his passions: special effects makeup.
“I was hired to do makeup on all the employees,” said the 25-year-old. “I like making people look as gory as possible. And I like working with full facial prosthetics of any kind.”
Waldrep said while the chain cannot compete with the prices of big box retailers, such as Target, it relies on its entertaining atmosphere to attract customers.
“Our stores have music, flashing lights and fog machines,” he said. “The employees dress up, and customers can try-on hats and beards or whatever. People can let go and play. It’s just a fun place to be.”