Oh, the Horror! Cashing in on the Business of Zombies, Superheroes and Mystical Creatures


Americans will not just wander around with their arms or heads slashed open for fun this Halloween, but they will gash their wallets wide open in search of the perfect frightfest.

According to 2017 National Retail Federation (NRF) statistics, more than 179 million Americans will participate in Halloween activities this year. Thirty-five percent will either attend or throw a Halloween party and, as creepy as this sounds, they will spend more than $9.1 billion on Halloween-related products and services.

This ghoulish phenomenon is enough to run chills up the spines of many business owners and entrepreneurs looking for new revenue streams. Only Christmas has higher participation and seasonal profits in terms of how far people will go with decorations and holiday activities.

In 2012, David Businda was looking into starting a retail business when a colleague suggested a Halloween store. At first, he was skeptical.

“The more I looked into it, I discovered a Halloween Express franchise was pretty liberal in its operations, giving owners a lot of flexibility not found in most franchise opportunities,” said Businda. “There were no limits or demands on marketing or buying stock, and I was able to buy the North Alabama territory, so I can open stores as far south as Birmingham.

“Right now, we are only in Huntsville but that could change.”

For the first few years, Halloween Express had a store on University Drive.

“We are only open Sept. 1 through Nov. 1, so it is sometimes difficult to lease short-term store space,” Businda said. “Last year, Parkway Place welcomed us into the mall.

“We see profits of between $300,000 and $350,000 in those 60 days, and I don’t see it slowing down.”

Parkway Place Marketing Director Molly Mitchell said they have made a substantial impact on local sales.

“Sales were up significantly throughout Parkway Place in September and October,” she said. “Halloween Express was an amazing addition to our tenant mix and we are thrilled to have them back at Parkway Place for the 2018 fall/Halloween Season.

“They have expanded their footprint into two locations: one for home décor and props, and the other for costumes and makeup.”

Part of the mall’s success has been sponsoring the Mall-o-Ween Extravaganza and hosting the annual Junior Face-Off contest for the past two years. Mitchell said there were more than 2,000 people in attendance last year.

On Oct. 14, Halloween Express will hold a Spooky Halloween Make-up and Prop Class to prep kids for the Oct. 28 Junior Face-Off contest.

Halloween Express will provide contestants with a goodie bag full of make-up, fake blood, and some prosthetics. They will have 45 minutes to use everything in the bag to make up their parents as a Halloween ghoul or their favorite superhero or character. The winner bags a $50 gift certificate.

Due to the growing popularity of Halloween there are several areas where an entrepreneur may find unique business opportunities such as providing Halloween music for parties and events; offering decorating services for residences as well as office environments; setting up a haunted house and charging admission; creating and/or selling costumes, masks, prosthetics, and props; and coordinating and managing parties and events for children and adults.

Many Huntsville business owners and nonprofits are already taking advantage of the benefits.

Nichole Harris, co-owner and event manager for Birmingham-based ICrawlUSA, started an event management company that specializes in theme crawls and theme parties.

Night crawling

Bar-crawling or just “crawling” has grown in popularity across the country in the past three to five years. They are putting on Huntsville’s first Night of the Crawling Dead Halloween Bar Crawl downtown this year.

Below the Radar Brewhouse on Holmes Avenue, SiP on Greene Street, Martin Bar and Bistro on Washington Street, and Pints & Pixels on Clinton Avenue are participating. Crawlers pay $15 for a ticket in advance, and dressed out in full costumes, go from bar to bar enjoying free and discounted drinks at participating bars. The event starts at 6 p.m. and drink specials run through 8:30 p.m., however the party lasts until midnight, culminating in a costume contest at Pints & Pixels.

“The participating pubs can offer whatever drink specials and food too if they want, but we recommend the 3-2-1 method,” said Harris. “That is $3 wells, $2 shots, and $1 beers. Crawlers will receive a wristband and a passport that will guide them to all the participating bars.”

Harris said it is a popular group event, but anyone over the age of 21 is welcome.

“I think the attraction for adults in Halloween is the opportunity to relax and be a kid again,” he said. “People have responsibilities with jobs and families and other obligations, and this is a chance to celebrate, gather together with friends, dress up in a costume, and be anyone you want to be for the night.”

Matthew Bakula, events coordinator at Lowe Mill Arts & Entertainment, said Halloween is just good business for the art studios.

“We offer something for all ages beginning with the kids from 4-7 p.m. We have Trick or Treat inside the building for the children and all the studios participate with candy, and then we have a pumpkin carving contest,” he said.

Then, at 8 p.m., things get theatrical as the grown-ups take over. In the past, there has been a Pizza Party Massacre and it may return this year; however, in addition to the adult Halloween party, Lowe Mill plans a Drive-in Horror Movie showing on the concert dock, charging $10 per car. There will be three classic Halloween horror flicks – rain or shine. One year it rained, but more than 6,000 people still showed up.

“We are very performance-based here at Lowe Mill,” said Bakula. “Halloween is a time in which adults are free to be whatever they want to be whether it is a different person, some creature, or manifest a different personality – and then of course – enjoy a party.”

Of superheroes and zombies

While nearly half of all Halloween-goers will wear a costume, they will also spend more money on their garb than anything else related to the haunted holiday.

According to the NRF, men average $96 and women average $77 per costume. Witches, superhero characters, animals, and vampires are the most popular choices, but 16 percent of pet owners will dress up their family pet up as a pumpkin, a hot dog, a bumble bee, or the devil.

“Halloween is an escape from reality for a day,” said a spokesperson for Spirit Halloween, a seasonal retailer at Bridge Street Town Centre. “For adults, you can put on a Halloween costume and forget about work … and other pressures.”

Rita Burkholder, owner of Fig Leaf Costumes, said it is not all about the costume itself, anymore, now that people can reek of zombies and realistically display severed limbs and deformities.

“TV shows like the Sci-Fi Channel’s Face-Off has sparked a whole new way to project mystical effects using make-up, prosthetics, fake blood, and body painting to create realistic masklike faces and creature effects,” she said.

Ronnie Young, manager of the prop and decorations division of Halloween Express, and owner of his own Redrum SSX Studios, said Halloween has been boosted by a love for the horror genre and TV shows such as “The Walking Dead,” “Face-Off” and “American Horror Story.”

“You would be shocked at how popular it is with people to create wild characters using hair and make-up,” he said. “With 75 percent of Americans celebrating in a big way, it can expand beyond Halloween.

“I have done zombie-themed corporate parties, horror-themed weddings, and birthday massacre parties.”

Speaking of corporate parties, the Huntsville Young Professionals (HYP) have expanded what used to be a joint party with the Huntsville Land Trust in the Haunt at 3 Caves the past five years, into the Nightmare on Church Street on the east side of Big Spring Park this year.

Mallory Johnston, president of HYP, said the big Halloween party has always drawn more than 600 members and friends to the group’s only fundraiser throughout the year.

“We don’t charge fees or dues to be a member, so this is an important and success event for us,” says Johnston. “We raised $13,000 last year and, even though we don’t have a costume contest, people go all out.”

Strictly for adults 21 and over, HYP offers a cash bar and live band. Tickets are $35 per person and $55 after Oct 16. VIP tickets are $75 and includes six complimentary cocktails, access to bathrooms with no line, and an attendant who takes drink orders.

Decorating for demons

Finally, as an extra for Halloween pumpkin carvers, Christy Wray of Silver Moon Art Studio in Scottsboro held several Jack-O-Lantern Sculpture and Wicked Witch 3-D Door Hanger workshops at Top Key Market in South Huntsville . Wray teaches art lovers secret recycling methods to create Halloween sculptures and ceramics using things that most people have laying around the house. They even make their own air-dried clay.

“I have been thrilled at the response to our classes this year,” she said. “We charge $125 for the Wicked Witch 3-D Door Hangers class and $140 for the Jack-O-Lantern sculptures and people go all out to create amazing sculpture for their homes, yards, and patios.”

Considering people will decorate their home or yard, Wray’s classes, which are designed to last two to three hours over a 3-day period, often stretch out longer because participants are enthusiastic about their work creating realistic, life-size sculptures that will give neighbors a chill.

Oh, and attendees are welcome to bring their own spirits … metaphysically and the other kind!