The SNEWS View: Halloween shopping experience is frighteningly good

Although Halloween is a time of horror, ghosts and trick-or-treat, one retail store turned a shopping expedition into a real eye-opening treat.
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Although Halloween is a time of horror, ghosts and trick-or-treat, one retail store turned a shopping expedition into a real eye-opening treat.

Performance Studios (www.performancestudiosinc.com) is a truly impressive costume shop in downtown Nashville, Tenn. It occupies a large building (more than 15,000 square feet) with high ceilings, and there are racks from the floor to the rafters holding every costume imaginable, from Elvis jumpsuits to stage-worthy Renaissance dresses. In addition to the huge rental inventory, a massive retail section includes wigs, masks, rubber body parts, pirate jewelry, plastic swords, you name it.

Like any retailer, Performance Studios is battling the recession, and it faces a situation where consumers are likely to cut back on Halloween spending, just as consumers are in general still limiting purchases. But Performance Studios doesn’t seem to be suffering because the shop employees work a form of magic when they sell.

OK, actually it’s not magic; it’s just awesome customer service. Over the course of an hour and a half visit, my friend Cynthia and I browsed for the perfect pirate outfits to rent, and we shopped for a few accessories. During that time, we were approached by at least six salespeople, and each person was friendly and very helpful. They helped us comb the racks for clothes and suggested ways to improve our outfits. At one point Cynthia couldn’t find the right top to match her dress, and a salesperson asked if she had seen the shirt on one of the display mannequins. She then retrieved the shirt from the display, and took it to the dressing room for Cynthia. And it worked out perfectly.

I watched other customers enjoy the same high level of service, and the employees offered helpful suggestions to help people jazz up their costumes. It helped that the costumes were displayed by type on widely spaced racks so there was room to move. Plus, the clothes were obviously clean and in good shape. We discovered that a seamstress works on-site to repair costumes and even alter them to fit a particular person.

Another big plus is that customers are encouraged to mix and match pieces from different costume sets so that they can get exactly what they’re looking for. This flexibility made the process so much more enjoyable because we were able to tap into our own creativity, and we weren’t forced to settle for somebody else’s idea of a costume.

When I took my costume to the checkout counter, a salesperson informed me that I could load up with all the accessories I wanted -- a belt, leather sash, etc. -- for no extra charge. She also led me to the retail section to show me a collection of pirate bracelets and rings for sale. An employee emerged from a back room with a tri-cornered hat for Cynthia, and told her that they were going to attach some feathers to it, just for her, to make it look really cool. And, again, there was no extra charge.

But one of my favorite moments was when I was in a back section of the shop where all the really creepy masks were displayed. A young boy in a wheelchair was browsing the masks by himself, and a twenty-something employee took the time to talk at length with the boy about which mask of The Joker was creepiest. The kid was beaming, and after he picked a mask he went looking to tell his dad all about it. The store was very busy, and that employee would have been justified in not spending so much time with the kid, but he did it anyway. 

Considering the total experience -- and the fact that I got an awesome costume -- I would have been willing to pay a lot more than Performance Studios charged, which was about $50 each for Cynthia and I for a weeklong rental.

Our visit went so well, we actually returned later that afternoon to buy a few more accessories. In total, we spent more than three hours there, and it was a blast.

One thing is for sure -- this level of service does not happen by accident. And offering this level of fun makes repeat shopping a pleasure. Someone at Performance Studios understands the art of selling, and any retailer would be wise to capture of a little of the magic -- during any season.

--Marcus Woolf

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