Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Boo Again: Return of the Halloween Article!

It’s October already. Happy Halloween, and welcome to the Halloween Article!

I’ve written about Halloween from time to time in this publication, partly because, well, I like Halloween, and partly because Halloween, as the current press has been trumpeting for weeks, has in the last few years grown into an exponentially more significant retail milestone than it had ever been. It’s become not only a measure of retail health itself, it’s come to be regarded as precursor to, and an indicator of, the potential success or failure of the holiday shopping season.

So here it is: according to the National Retail Federation’s annual survey, a record 69% of Americans intend to participate in Halloween this year. Imagine a political candidate who could get 69% of Americans to do anything.

Total Halloween spending is forecast to reach $6.86 billion, the highest in the 10 years the retail trade group has been conducting the survey. The average person plans to spend $72.31 on decorations, costumes and candy, up from $66.28 last year.

When I write for these pages I tend to look for subjects that not only have significance for the retail industry, but contain some social and/or emotional element. There’s often a relationship between how, what, and why we buy (or don’t buy) and how we’re all feeling about the economy, the country, and ourselves.
Halloween, in difficult economic times, is a measure of how much we need to celebrate. Also, it’s fascinating to read about what the popular costumes are every year, because they say a great deal about who our particular heroes – and villains – are.

For example, in my Halloween article two years ago, I reported that the most popular costume purchase was a Bernie Madoff mask. Halloween revelers were choosing to masquerade as a supreme symbol of financial villainy (Halloween, The Holidays, and the Madoff Mask, October 2009).

This year’s most popular figure: Charlie Sheen. Yeah, it scares the heck out of me, too.

In preparation for this article (okay, partly in preparation for this article, and partly just for fun), I took a tour of the big Halloween pop-up store that’s running now in the nearby vacant Borders (that sentence alone is fraught with all kinds of resonance for the retail industry - the number of pop-up stores dedicated to Halloween merchandise rose an estimated 8% this year; last year, pop-up shops expanded by 15%).

Here are my entirely unscientific observations:

• Costumes are expensive!
• Sexy costumes outnumber other types by two to one
• The “classics” are as popular as ever: clown, gypsy, hobo, cowboy, etc.
• That original Halloween movie Mike Meyers mask is still pretty scary

According to the NRF, adults will spend $1 billion on costumes, up from $840 million last year. Besides Mr. Sheen, other popular costume choices this year include Green Lantern, Lady Gaga, zombies, Smurfs, Angry Birds, Katy Perry, Jersey Shore star Snooki, singers Nicki Minaj, Taylor Swift, and Justin Bieber, and Dog the Bounty Hunter. Zombies jumped to No. 4 on the list for adults this year, up from No. 7 last year, and to No. 9 from No. 22 for kids. "Zombies are everywhere," commented one NRF spokesperson - another statement that’s fraught with all kinds of resonance.

As of this writing we’re entering the final days of the Halloween shopping period, and the holiday merchandise has already appeared on store shelves. How does the optimistic Halloween retail sales forecast jibe with expectations for the holiday season? Holiday retail sales are expected to rise 2.8% to $465.6 billion, the National Retail Federation predicts. This growth, while far slower than last year’s 5.2% gain, is slightly higher than the NRF’s 10-year average holiday sales gain of 2.6%. We’ll see.

By the way, you may have heard dire tales of pumpkin shortages, such as this recent report: “Hurricane Irene flooded pumpkin fields up the East Coast and into Canada, worsening a fungus outbreak and wiping out pumpkin crops at some farms. Tropical Storm Lee dropped more rain over pumpkin fields in the Southeast, causing problems there as well…news reports about possible pumpkin shortages have caused early pumpkin-panic buying and prices have jumped 30 to 40%.”

But don’t worry: reports of shortages are exaggerated. There are plenty of pumpkins to be had. Oh, and a Charlie Sheen mask, complete with mischievous grin, costs just $19.99 at Spirit Halloween. Enjoy your October!

Chris Cardoni, Marketing Manager

Industry News: National

US comparable chain store retail sales for September rose by 5.5% year-over-year as measured by the ICSC's tally of 26 major retail chains, the strongest showing since June, according to the ICSC. Among merchandise categories, Luxury Stores continued to rise, with a 10.4% gain, followed by Wholesale Clubs, which rose by 8.0%. Discounters gained 4.9%. Apparel was up 2.3%, Department Stores rose 3.9%, and Drug Stores rose 2.6%. Among individual retailers, Gap dropped by 4.0% and Limited gained 11.0%; Costco was up 12.0%. Nordstrom was up 10.7%; Target grew by 5.3% and TJX by 4.0%. Macy’s gained 4.9%, Kohls rose by 4.1%; Rite Aid rose 1.3% and Walgreens by 3.1%. See our more extensive list of retail sales below.

Industry News: Accelerating

The Wilson Farms Inc. convenience store chain, acquired by 7-Eleven Inc. this year, has begun its transition to its new brand. A handful of the 188 locations have begun flying the 7- Eleven banner. 7-Eleven has about 8,800 stores in North America and about 42,700 worldwide…Sur La Table has been acquired by global asset management firm Investcorp. Sur La Table operates 86 stores nationwide, and no management changes are expected. Investcorp’s past investments include luxury brands Gucci and Tiffany & Co…Dunkin’ Donuts has begun an expansion in the Washington, DC market. Dunkin’ plans to boost its number of stores from its current 125 to nearly 200…Kohl’s Department Stores opened 30 stores across 20 states last month. The company is also remodeling approximately 100 stores this year…Family Dollar plans to open as many as 500 new stores over the next 12 months as the retailer pursues an aggressive expansion plan. Family Dollar has about 7,000 stores…T-Mobile USA announced the rollout of a new design for nearly 400 new and remodeled stores across the country. T-Mobile is opening or remodeling in 65 markets across the country, led by openings in Boston, and Washington, D.C…H&M will add 265 new stores, up from the 250 previously planned…Best Buy will open its 250th Mobile store next month and is on track to have 275 of the stand-alone specialty shops open by Thanksgiving. The company currently operates 240 freestanding Mobile stores, having added more than 30 new locations over the past two months alone, and plans to ultimately operate 800 stores within five years. Best Buy also maintains Mobile departments within all 1,104 of its big-box stores...Subway opened more than 400 shops in August/September. The new restaurants bring the total number of Subways to just over 35,300 locations in 98 countries. The chain also opened 5 new “Green” Subway Eco-Restaurants, making 14 in all...Buffalo Wild Wings opened its 500th US franchised location last month, one of nearly 800 total restaurants in Buffalo Wild Wings’ portfolio. The brand foresees 1,400 US locations, and this year’s plans call for 55 company-owned and 60 franchised restaurants…Uniqlo plans to launch 200 to 300 new stores worldwide each year, with two set to launch in New York this month. Uniqlo has nearly 1,000 stores in 12 countries...Ruby Tuesday entered a deal with Lime Fresh Mexican Grill, a 10-unit fast-casual Mexican chain based, to franchise the brand east of the Mississippi River. For fiscal 2012, Ruby Tuesday will close three to five company-owned restaurants; convert six to eight low-performing, company-owned restaurants to other casual dining concepts; open one new Truffles Grill unit; and open six to eight Lime Fresh Mexican Grill restaurants…Auntie Anne’s pretzel chain projects to open 120 stores in 2011, of which over 60 will be in the US. In November 2010, Auntie Anne’s was acquired by FOCUS Brands Inc., the franchisor and operator of Carvel, Cinnabon, Schlotzsky’s, Moe’s Southwest Grill and Seattle’s Best Coffee locations...The Canada Pension Plan Investment Board is partnering with Ares Management to buy 99 cent Only Stores, which has 289 western US stores…JCPenney will acquire the worldwide rights for Liz Claiborne brands. The deal includes Liz Claiborne, Claiborne, Liz, Liz & Co., Concepts by Claiborne, LC, Elizabeth, LizGolf, LizSport, Liz Claiborne New York (LCNY) and Lizwear brands. Once its brands are divested, Liz Claiborne will focus on its Juicy Couture, Lucky Brand and kate spade brands…Stage Stores will launch a new off-price concept, called Steele’s. The first three stores are slated to open in November. The company plans to open an additional 25 to 35 new Steele’s stores in 2012. Stage also plans to open 30 to 35 new department stores in 2012. The company currently operates 805 stores in 40 states under the Bealls, Goody’s, Palais Royal, Peebles and Stage names…Chester's International LLC has recently added 14 more stores in the US and Puerto Rico...Darden Restaurants, Inc. and Eddie V’s Restaurants, Inc. announced an agreement for Darden to purchase the Eddie V’s Prime Seafood and Wildfish Seafood Grille brands. Darden’s Specialty Restaurant Group, includes The Capital Grille, Bahama Breeze and Seasons 52. Eddie V’s currently owns and operates eight Eddie V’s restaurants and three Wildfish restaurants. Darden owns and operates more than 1,900 restaurants.

Industry News: Decelerating

Esprit Holdings is divesting its North American businesses. The company is actively looking for a partner to acquire its North American operations, which include 93 US stores…Yum! Brands Inc. has signed definitive agreements to sell Long John Silver’s Inc. and A&W Restaurants Inc. to two separate groups of franchisees. Terms of the deals were not disclosed. Yum Brands, which also franchises KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, said Long John Silver’s would be sold to LJS Partners, a consortium of franchisees and other investors. A&W Restaurants will be sold to A Great American Brand. Yum! Brands bought Long John Silver’s and A&W from Yorkshire Global restaurants in 2002. The two brands together accounted for 1,630 units...The 134-store arts and crafts chain A.C. Moore has agreed to be acquired by an affiliate of arts and crafts distributor Sbar’s Inc. for about $40.8 million...Gap is on track for a 10% reduction in overall store square footage by the end of 2012. Gap will cut its square footage 34% overall, resulting in 700 US Gap stores and 250 Gap Outlet stores. Old Navy will have roughly the same number of stores in North America, but with a smaller footprint, and will remove another 1 million s/f by fiscal year end 2013. The company is growing its Athleta athletic apparel brand, which will have opened 10 stores by the end of 2011, and 50 by the end of 2013…Filene’s Basement is closing four MA stores, about 15% of the chain’s locations, by the end of the year. 3 Filene’s Basement locations in MA will remain, in the Back Bay, Newton, and Norwood…Lowe's will close 20 underperforming locations in 15 states. However, Lowe’s will open 10 to 15 stores annually from 2012 forward.

Industry News: New England

Quiznos announced a partnership with Vermont-based convenience and gas retailer, Champlain Farms, to open Quiznos restaurants inside Champlain Farms’ 40 locations throughout Vermont, situated in colleges and universities, interstate exits, and tourism destinations. The initial launch will include 10 locations, the first of which will open next month. Plans call for expansion to all 40 locations in the future. Quiznos opened more than 200 convenience store locations in 2011…Restoration Hardware has signed a lease for 234 Berkeley St. in Boston, once home LouisBoston. Restoration Hardware has yet to announce when it will open its store…Uno Restaurant Holdings Corp. will open the flagship location of Uno Dué Go, its three-year-old fast-casual café concept, in Boston this month. Boston-based Uno has 150 company-owned and franchised restaurants...Bruegger’s Enterprises opened the first US Timothy’s Coffee restaurant in Boston’s Hancock Village. The location is the Canadian coffee house chain’s 90th unit. Bruegger’s Enterprises operates 300 Bruegger’s bakeries...Iconic Wilbraham, MA-based restaurant chain Friendly Ice Cream Corp. closed 63 of its nearly 500 locations as it looks to reorganize under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Roughly 30 of the closings are in Massachusetts. Friendly’s was founded by brothers Prestley and Curtis Blake in Springfield, MA in 1935, who sold it to Hershey in 1979. In 2007, Friendly’s was bought for $337.2 million by Sun Capital Partners Inc....Burtons Grill will close its location near Fenway Park. Burtons, which has locations in Hingham, North Andover and Peabody, MA, will open a new restaurant in Burlington, MA in December. In addition to its Massachusetts locations, Burtons also has locations in Connecticut, Virginia and New Hampshire.

September Retail Sales

Commerce Department

Retail sales rebounded in September at their fastest pace in seven months, according to the Commerce Department. Sales rose 1.1% from a month earlier, boosted by strong auto purchases. Excluding autos, sales increased 0.6% in September.

Treasury Yields

Consumer Confidence Index

The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index®, which had declined sharply in August, remained essentially unchanged in September. The Index now stands at 45.4 (1985=100), up slightly from 45.2 in August.

Purchasing Managers Index

Manufacturing continued its growth in September as the PMI registered 51.6 percent, an increase of 1 percentage point when compared to August's reading of 50.6 percent. A reading above 50 percent indicates that the manufacturing economy is generally expanding; below 50 percent indicates that it is generally contracting.