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Unrolling: Spirit Halloween

Jaime Lee

Head of Content Strategy @ AdRoll

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Thought you saw an empty building near you? 

Check again.

It’s the time of year in North America when Spirit Halloween moves into every large vacant brick and mortar spot across the country. Officially reminding us that ‘tis the season for witches, skeletons, and pumpkins. 

In 2022, those celebrating Halloween in the US were estimated to spend $10.6 billion in total across candy, costumes, and other festive purchases, according to Investopedia. 

With that much shopping, it’s hard to imagine how Spirit Halloween is managing to rise above the crowd and thriving in today’s brutal retail landscape. Read on to find out how to scare up your own success this holiday season, while being inspired by the Halloween spirit. 

A Scare is Born

In October 1983, Joseph Marver, a San Francisco dress retailer, was struggling to attract customers to his store, Spirit. Yet, he noticed the long queues outside a costume shop nearby. He decided to put his dresses away, quickly replacing the racks with Halloween-centric costumes, decor, and party goods. To his delight, the seasonal items flew off the shelves. 

The next year, Marver replicated his success — but this time, he expanded to an empty mall storefront. It was a huge hit. He sold over $100,000 worth of merchandise. Year after year, he added more storefronts, eventually selling the whole business to Spencer’s Gifts in 1999. 

In an interview with the Seattle Times in 2000, Marver said, “I didn’t invent temporary sales. But I feel like I invented temporary Halloween.” 

Today, temporary Halloween remains an accurate description of Spirit Halloween, the US’s largest Halloween specialty retailer. Nowadays, Spirit’s nationwide pop-ups, which occur between late August through early November, are considered a seasonal mainstay. The brand is an emblem of America’s love for the spooky holiday. 

More Guts, Please

Spirit Halloween’s durability is the result of an unconventional business strategy: signing temporary leases to fill vacant spaces. By gutsily deviating from typical retail conventionalities, they even avoided COVID-19-related headaches back in 2020. 

The company’s creative and flexible approach to retail is a major factor in its success. For those curious, Spirit Halloween’s executives have shared these behind-the-scenes: “Pretty much November 1, the minute our door is closed, we are — or actually, before our doors close — we are prepping for the next season,” said Spirit Halloween’s senior director of real estate, Frank Pacera, on the Kimco Realty Blog’s podcast

Right after we close our doors, we have a field operation of people who are based throughout the country, and they basically scout their entire markets that they’re responsible for on a regular basis.”

Though the company’s real estate team works all year long to find leases, its hiring process is limited to the narrow time frame of the pop-ups. Only having retail employees from summer months to early November helps keep the company’s expenses low. 

Having Some Skele-Fun Online

Though Spirit Halloween caters to only one day in the whole year, the company keeps customers engaged year-round. Balancing useful and entertaining content, they share user-generated posts, host contests, provide safety tips for trick-or-treating, and even forge partnership promotions with brands such as Pizza Hut and Fortnite. Spirit’s robust social media marketing presence drives traffic to both their annual brick-and-mortar pop-ups and nonseasonal online store. 

Here’s a great example of the company going the extra mile online: In September, a songwriter went viral on Twitter for writing a mock theme song in 2020 for Spirit Halloween. “This is the theme for Spirit Halloween / They got ghouls, and new locations on every other street / saving the global economy,” he sang. Capitalizing on the user-generated increase in brand awareness, Spirit Halloween contacted and financially compensated him for the publicity he helped generate for the company. That’s a winning example of how to thank your most loyal fans. 

You might be thinking, do partnerships and theme songs generate revenue? Yes. Investing in brand awareness year round helps engage customers before you ask them to buy. This is why brand awareness is the key to winning the holiday shopping season.

Bringing Halloween to Your Door During Scary Times

While other retailers were struggling with delayed delivery times and skyrocketing shipping costs back in 2020, Spirit Halloween formed a partnership with Instacart to fulfill its online shipments. Understanding the time-sensitivity of Halloween products, the company went above and beyond by tapping into an unconventional shipping and delivery partner for retail to ensure customers were well-prepared for the holiday. Spirit Halloween also keeps their brick-and-mortar stores until 10 or 11 p.m. every night.

Fangs for the Memories

Part of Spirit Halloween’s success is driven by their investments in creating fun and memorable experiences for their customers. Their storefronts aren’t just a place to buy costumes or decorations or candy. Instead, the company presents its merchandise in experiential ways — such as haunted houses, complete with lighting, music, and animatronics — so shoppers can unleash their scary sides and get into the spirit of Halloween. 

Offering enjoyable, in-person experiences is the differentiating factor between brick-and-mortar retail and ecommerce. By making in-store shopping a fun and interactive event, Spirit gives its customers a reason to visit the store (and potentially buy more than what they would have otherwise). In the age of Instagram Live and TikTok, experiential marketing is also a significant driver of organic social media engagement. 

The Roll-up

It may be surprising to learn that in a year filled with cancellations of celebrations and in-person interactions, the pop-up store known for selling costumes and holiday decor is thriving. Here are some takeaways for brands looking to find sustainable success in today’s challenging times:

  • Always put the customer first. Whether it’s providing fast and reliable shipping or adding extended hours for extra convenience, go above and beyond for your customers. People’s routines have been disrupted, and meeting them where they’re at is exactly what they need.

  • Think out of the box. There is no one right way to do retail. Those who dare to think differently and disrupt the status quo may find themselves in an unexpectedly advantageous position. Brainstorm creative and cost-effective ways to make your brick-and-mortar and e-commerce stores work cohesively, whether it's by providing curbside pick-up or developing in-person experiences with a digital element.  

  • Tap into emotions. People are struggling with uncertainty right now. Transform bummers into opportunities by leveraging emotionally impactful copywriting and visuals. Give people something to look forward to and find joy in. 

Launch Your Holiday Campaign With AdRoll

Halloween is really just the beginning of the holiday season. If you’re looking for ways to engage new customers and keep your loyal customers buying during the shopping season, start with AdRoll. We make it easy to see customer activities across multiple channels, analyze performance, run reports, gather insights, and optimize cross-channel so you can adjust in real time. Learn more here. 

Use the holiday guides and resources below to strategize your campaign today! 

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