Fifty years ago, the Display House was the decorating side of Spokane Flower Growers Inc., specializing in showcases, shelving units and corrugated paper. A quarter of its sales were parade float decorations.
The business was spun off in 1970, moved to Second Avenue and Lincoln Street, and put up for sale in 1981.
“I’d just sold a construction business,” recalled John Jones, “but my background was sales. So I told the owner I’d work for him for three months, and if I saw potential, I’d make him an offer and we’d go from there.”
A year after purchasing The Display House, Jones was visiting a similar store in Seattle when he noticed a table stacked with masks and rubber body limbs.
“What’s that all about?” he asked the owner.
“Don’t you do Halloween?” she said.
“No, we really don’t,” Jones replied.
“Well, you might want to think about it,” she suggested.
Today, The Display House at 6510 E. Sprague Ave. in the Spokane Valley is a mecca for monster wannabes and aspiring Angry Birds, with costumes accounting for 80 percent of the store’s annual sales.
Earlier this year, Jones handed the management reins to his son Nick. During a recent interview, the pair discussed both the fun and scary sides of the business, and what they’re going to wear this Halloween.
S-R: Do popular movies and TV shows drive costume trends?
Nick: Yeah, it’s a real pop-culture holiday. Right now people are into “The Walking Dead.” But “Star Wars” came out more than 30 years ago (in 1977), and Darth Vader is still one of the most popular costumes.
S-R: Since you place orders in January, has trying to guess next Halloween’s favorite costumes ever backfired?
John: In 1993, when Power Rangers first appeared, we bought 250 costumes, and they were gone in a heartbeat. We got another 250 the day before Halloween, and they sold out that afternoon. I figured there was no way the Power Ranger satisfaction had been met, so the next year I bought 2,400 costumes. I think we sold the last of those in 2004 or 2005.
S-R: Have temporary costume stores hurt your sales?
John: Yes, but once they close, we’re pretty much it. And costume-related sales – wigs, makeup – continue throughout the year.
S-R: You set up temporary stores, too, don’t you?
Nick: We have one at 106 E. Francis, and one in East Wenatchee this year.
John: We’ve had as many as seven. But with Halloween on a Wednesday this year, adult sales will fall way off after the preceding Saturday.
S-R: The day of the week Halloween falls on makes a difference?
John: Oh, a tremendous difference. Halloweens on Friday or Saturday are best.
S-R: How do sales break down between adult and youth costumes?
Nick: It used to be pretty evenly split, but now adult costumes and accessories account for about 80 percent of our Halloween sales.
S-R: Besides costumes and makeup, what do you sell?
Nick: Party decorations – St. Pat’s, Easter – store fixtures, and we still do the float business.
John: And we’re just starting to carry LED Christmas lights.
Nick: They use a lot less energy than traditional lights.
S-R: What sort of odd costume requests do you get?
John: A lot of people want mascot costumes. We tell them we can get them, and they’re real enthusiastic until they find out how much they cost (around $1,000).
SR: What’s the most expensive costume you sell?
Nick: The Joker from Batman costs about $200.
John: We’ve sold a Darth Vader costume for $499.
S-R: How about the cheapest costume?
Nick: Kids’ costumes start at $9.99.
S-R: How have costumes evolved over the years?
Nick: I’d say they’ve devolved. The production quality isn’t what it was back in the ’80s.
John: The problem is consumers want the same look they got 20 years ago, with the material used 20 years ago, at the price they paid 20 years ago. The material can’t be bought at that price, so to get the look, you have to use much cheaper material. It looks OK in the package, but as soon as they open it they realize it’s not the quality they remember.
S-R: What percentage of your merchandise comes from China?
Nick: Ninety-five. And we get some from Pakistan.
S-R: Do you have an all-time favorite costume?
John: The beast from “Beauty and the Beast.” It was made with a gold spike Tina Turner wig, a cat nose, face makeup and fur leggings, arm pieces and chest piece.
Nick: As a youngster, I always enjoyed being a ninja. Now I like coordinating with my wife. When she was pregnant last year, we were (Nintendo characters) Mario and Luigi, and we both wore mustaches.
S-R: What’s your earliest recollection of working for the business?
Nick: I answered phones when I was 6 years old. I would say, “Thank you for calling The Display House. We’re open from X to Y. What is it you’re interested in today?” They would tell me, and then I would put them on hold and get an adult.
S-R: Did you always plan to work here?
Nick: No, I planned on being a cancer research biochemist. But that curriculum wasn’t for me. So I focused on philosophy and economics, came back to work at the store in 2005, and saw the potential it has.
S-R: Has growth been pretty consistent over the years?
John: Back in the ’80s we were growing 20 to 30 percent every year. The business peaked in the mid-’90s, and was OK until ’07. Since then, we’ve been bounced around by the economy, like everybody else.
S-R: What about the business are you most proud of?
John: That I’ve been able to maintain it for 30-some years, and that my son has decided to come in and pick up where I’m leaving off.
S-R: Nick, what do you like most about the business?
Nick: That it’s not life or death. People come here because they want to celebrate something or they want to have fun. And it’s rewarding to help facilitate that.
S-R: What do you like least?
Nick: The day-to-day grind of accounting and writing orders.
S-R: Will you be dressing up for Halloween this year?
John: Nick will have a party the weekend after Halloween, and I’ll probably go as a gangster.
S-R: How about you, Nick?
Nick: I don’t know of a politically correct way to put it. How about a men’s-company facilitator?
S-R: What’s that?
Nick: I’m going to be a pimp. We have a hilarious costume out front that’s already over the top, and I’m going to embellish it.