For seasonal holiday shop owners, work is year-round

Owners Beth Tom and her husband Dave Kimler pose at Santa’s Wrap, a holiday store in The District, in Henderson Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012.

Santa's Wrap in the District

Owners Dave Kimler and his wife Beth Tom pose at Santa's Wrap, a holiday store in The District, in Henderson Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012. Launch slideshow »

Related coverage

There are 54 shopping days left until Christmas.

And there are 54 days left until Santa’s Wrap, a month-old Christmas shop in Henderson, closes its doors.

"It's a true seasonal store," said Beth Tom, who opened the shop at the District last month with her husband, Dave Kimler.

Every year, seasonal stores pop up around the valley during Halloween and Christmas. They sell holiday-specific items for a few weeks or months, then disappear.

That doesn’t mean their proprietors take nine or 10 months of the year off. Rather, they spend the time when their shops are closed traveling to find merchandise, selecting inventory and buying fixtures for their stores.

"Ideally, you start in January and spend the rest of the year getting ready," said Tom, who has 26 years of retail experience, mostly in Hawaii. "There's a huge economic risk. You have to buy all your inventory at once and figure out what you need. We work all the time."

Local businessman Barney Kramer partnered in two pop-up Halloween stores to try to save his own local party business. Kramer is a partner in Wholesale Halloween Costumes at 4631 Dean Martin Drive and Costume Express at 2230 N. Rainbow Blvd, both seasonal shops. His partner in Wholesale Halloween Costumes, a warehouse with 1,000-plus costumes, is Steve Mandel, who helped found Party City nationwide.

Kramer said he decided to open the pop-up shops when he saw temporary holiday stores drawing customers away from his year-round party shops. Kramer owns the permanent stores Ultimate Party Store and Party Pro Las Vegas.

"For some reason, people think by going to a Halloween store they're getting a better deal, and we saw the business dropping at our year-round stores," Kramer said. "I had to open these just to survive."

Kramer said business at his permanent party supply stores has fallen 40 percent since 2008.

"In the party store business, there are two big seasons: Halloween and in the spring, graduations,” Kramer said. “That pays the bills for the rest of the year.”

“First, we started seeing business fall off to the big box stores like Wal-Mart and Target. Then Dollar Stores started offering party supplies. People don't realize how much effect that has on local business."

If Halloween revenue is short at his pop-up stores, Kramer may have to shutter his permanent party stores, he said.

Some seasonal stores, such as Spirit Halloween and Halloween Express, which have popped up in shopping centers and strip malls valley-wide, are part of larger chains.

Spirit operates more than 700 stores nationally and is part of the corporation that runs Spencer's Gifts, a novelty and pop culture store aimed at teens and young adults.

Halloween Express operates 300 mostly-seasonal stores nationwide, although some remain open 12 months a year. The Kentucky chain also sells costumes online year-round.

Tom also owned a combination of seasonal and permanent shops in Hawaii: the Seasonal Store, Let's Party Hawaii and a chain called Price Busters. She employed 250 people.

Then the economy crashed and she was forced to declare bankruptcy and sell her businesses.

Her new venture, Santa’s Wrap, opened Sept. 27 in the District. Tom and Kimler had spent the year looking for corporate jobs but couldn't find any.

"We decided to go back to what we knew best, which was retail," she said. "There's an enormous demand for Christmas, but we didn't see a lot of other stores just serving that. We wanted to test the market and thought this was a good way to do it."

They signed a lease in August and began working furiously to open their store. Tom picked up fixtures at second-hand stores. She contacted vendors she'd done business with in the past to get merchandise.

The store features trees, gift baskets and ornaments and will sell Hanukkah and other holiday-themed merchandise. It also has a Halloween section.

Buying and maintaining inventory is the biggest challenge for seasonal store owners, Tom said.

"It's like trying to have a crystal ball," she said. "You have to open the store with your best impression. They may not be ready to buy for Christmas, but they need to know it's there. Then you have to pick a day to stop buying and say, ‘That's it. I'm done.’ And you have to do this knowing that the retail days are going to be 10 days before Christmas, but you have projections a month in advance."

Holiday stores also pop up to sell specific products.

Microsoft, for instance, opened 34 stores last week, including one in Fashion Show mall, to sell a new tablet and Windows operating system. Game Stop plans a similar line of stores to sell video games and accessories this holiday season, and Amazon hopes the strategy will boost its Kindle sales.

"At a regular store, we'll have 120 products but opened this store for people who are very specifically interested in this new product," said Scott Gilbert, manager of the Microsoft holiday store at Fashion Show. “We sit down with people and show them how to get a Microsoft account and set them up."

Microsoft has not set closing dates for the stores.

"If business goes well, we may decide to keep it open," Gilbert said.

Kramer has similar plans to make Wholesale Halloween Costumes a year-round business.

Tom hopes to keep Santa's Wrap a seasonal store but one that returns every fall. Her goal is to expand it to include more shops and perhaps local franchises.

"We tried to start out with a business aspect that could grow, if we choose to,” Tom said. “How it will grow, I don't know. It could be a 50,000-square-foot store. It could be a kiosk in a mall. We'll have to wait and see."

Tags: Business