Square seller Costumes on Haight is San Francisco’s go-to place for creative holiday getups. As you might imagine, things get pretty crazy in there around Halloween. We caught up with manager Chuck Nicklow to get his thoughts on how to plan for huge seasonal upticks as well as his prediction for costume of the year.
Square: It’s obviously your high season. Which days in October are craziest?
Nicklow: Every year you have to look ahead and plan based on which day of the week Halloween falls. This year it’s a Friday, so we’re expecting a lot of big sales days that week, and also the weekend before.
How do you plan your inventory?
There’s an industrywide trade show in January where we usually do all our bulk ordering. So if we know something’s going to be hot this year and can figure it out early enough, we’ll get more of that. But if later in the year we realize that something might be a popular costume, the vendors can’t really catch up. Then you have to start thinking outside the box.
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How do you know what will be popular?
Our staff is constantly watching for iconic pop culture moments, like something stupid said by a politician, movies that come out, or what people wear at Comic-Con. Also, there’s almost always some big event in the last half of October that becomes a popular costume. When the Siegfried and Roy accident happened in October, every fourth person who came in here wanted a white tiger and flamboyant magician gear. And just before the 2008 elections, a lot of people wanted to be “lipstick on a pig.” So we had to stock up for that.
How do you plan for those quick inventory increases?
You can’t really — you scramble. If you know “Orange Is the New Black” is going to be big, you run out to a medical supply company and order a ton of orange hospital scrubs. If you’re betting on “Where the Wild Things Are,” you search for onesies with a flap bottom.
What do you think will be the costume of the year for 2014?
We haven’t had that big event happen yet, so we’ll be watching closely through October. We certainly expect a lot of people to dress up like Robin Williams from his various movies.
How do you set your Halloween hours?
Of course you want to figure out your peak sales times, but I actually look more at foot traffic. We stay open an hour later during Halloween season but found that it doesn’t make sense to open earlier. If you can come in at 10 a.m. on a weekday, you can probably come in at 11 a.m.
How do you staff up for Halloween?
We usually triple our staff in October and put as many people on the floor as we can. This year, I hired the biggest staff I’ve ever had because Halloween falls on a Friday. We’ll be really busy that whole week.
How do you approach your seasonal hiring?
I rehire a lot of people who have worked here during past Halloweens — it gets so crazy and chaotic that it helps to have people who have been through our madness. Beyond that, I get people in by word of mouth from the performance art and theatrical community. But this year, I had to post my first Craigslist ad because we needed so many extra employees — it’s the first time I’ve done that in nine years.
What qualities do you look for in seasonal staff?
They have to be “people people” and also be able to think quickly and creatively on their feet to help someone put together a costume. When I’m interviewing, it’s all based on intuition. I know within the first five minutes whether someone is going to be a good fit or not.
How do you approach your inventory display?
It’s a big shuffle game. Every night, we have to create a brand-new store before we open the next day. Even if it’s slim pickings, we have to make the shop look full. No one wants to stare at a pegboard. Typically, we bring the bright and always-popular things up front. Right now we have a whole rack of superheroes. They’re bright, comfortable, and pretty cool looking.