(This column originally appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer)
When it comes to sales, the holiday season is usually the most important time of the year for many small businesses. But for many in the Philadelphia area, Halloween can also be an opportunity to cash in. So, with only a few days until Oct. 31, what are some small businesses doing to make this year as spooky — and profitable — as ever?
Even though it’s the end of the season for Bucks Bubbles, a Doylestown-based event company that hosts foam and bubbles parties (sounds like fun), owner Danny Remishevsky says that it’s “still important to keep the brand name out there” especially since this was his first season in business.
“One way we like to get in the Halloween spirit is by attending local parades,” he says. “This past Sunday we were at the Upper Perkiomen Halloween Parade with our Glow in the Dark Foam and Bubbles. It was really awesome seeing all the kids’ faces as we drove by.”
At Piggyback Treats, a seller of healthy, sustainable pet food products, owner Jennifer Kirby says she’ll be participating in this year’s Hound-O-Ween and Fall Fest event, scheduled for Saturday in Northern Liberties.
“The event is organized to raise money for Street Tails Animal Rescue,” she said. “It’s always one of our favorites. We donate prizes for contest winners, sell our goodies to those visiting the event, and, of course, we bring one of our own dogs out, dressed in our favorite costume as a tiger.”
Although Kirby doesn’t expect the event to have a significant impact on sales, she believes it’s important to participate to increase awareness for her business. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s a holiday or not,” she said. “If you’re able to stand out, you will see an increase in sales, and during peak shopping season, you will be seen more easily than competitors.”
There won’t be any pets at the City Winery, a bar restaurant and event space in Center City. But there will be plenty of Halloween activities to attract customers, such as themed drag shows including a Hocus Pocus party and a theremin-fronted orchestra covering spooky songs from David Lynch to Black Sabbath on Halloween night. (A theremin is an electronic musical instrument controlled without physical contact by the performer, so that’s pretty scary in itself, right?)
“Everyone loves a good theme,” said marketing manager Emma DeGennaro. “Just hosting a Halloween party is fun, and tapping into the cult audience of B movie horrors has always been popular.”
DeGennaro, who noted Halloween is an opportune time for her customers to enjoy the winemaking harvest season, also runs a special wine promotion.
If you really want to get your Michael Myers on, you can throw a few weapons at KickAxe Throwing in Old City. Hanna Allison, the brand director at KickAxe’s parent Ginger Cos., says her Philadelphia location goes “all out with the decorating” and runs a special promotion for people in Halloween costumes who get a free beer or seltzer with their ax throwing.
KickAxe offers entertainment for all ages including board games and food. It’s a particularly fun place for Halloween, Allison noted, because “it’s the whole essence of our brand. Halloween season is when people start looking for fun activities on the weekends and unique venues with cabin vibes for happy hour.”
Even nonprofits can get in on the Halloween fun. South Street’s Retrospect Vintage, which sells clothing, accessories, shoes, furniture, and home goods dating to the 1950s, counts Halloween as its busiest time. It sources scary items all year to prepare just for this month.
“First, we pull out all of our back stock from our basement and go wild with decorating,” said Jenn Friberg, the store’s general manager. “Then we create a Halloween-themed window — this year was Rocky Horror Picture Show, and it’s a hit. We also create costumes for customers who may find it challenging to think of ideas for themselves.”
Friberg’s store also offers unusual decorating options.
“We can help with items that create a creepy decor, like decorations with red and black velvet fabric, dark-glass cocktail glasses, or used, damaged, or stained vintage clothing to drip fake blood all over,” she said.
Holidays like Halloween cannot only be a sales generator but also be a great way to market to new customers and increase awareness of your brand. In the end, it’s all about how much effort you want to put in and how much fun you want to have.
“People are always looking for something that’s even just slightly different or new to do, especially on holidays,” Allison said, “so sometimes it’s as simple as a few decorations and some spooky music in the background that will capture someone’s eye and bring them to your business.”