Over the past 12 years, Trick or Treat Studios has expanded from select masks to dozens of products serving everyone from end consumers to haunts. But before we get into all that, you might be wondering why it matters? Halloween is an ecosystem. What consumers see in stores and when they see it directly impacts haunted attractions. It primes attendees for certain themes and prepares them to attend events. Plus, if your haunt has a merchandise store you can setup direct relationships with wholesalers.
So, with all that in mind, this is the first episode in our mini-series covering some of the haunt-friendly wholesalers from this year’s Halloween & Party Expo in Las Vegas. Chris Zephro, co-founder and President, and Justin Mayberry, co-founder and Art Director, of Trick or Treat Studios discuss their business evolution and plans for the future.
Masks According To Chris And Justin
Chris: I really like the villains Scooby deal, and I really, really love the mass that Justin sculpted this year; the witch mask I think is just fabulous.
Justin: I’d say my favorite would be the Toxic Crusader, since I spent so much time with that one. So, we have these Halloween Three masks, they’re plastic, they’re little scaled down from the larger latex ones, but the one that comes in a box are glow in the dark, and then there will be sold separately, non-glow. The boxed ones will have costumes, like the old ones from your childhood.
Chris: I mean, that was how it worked. Right? You were in the fire retardant costume and the really paper thin vacuform mask with the rubber band that would always break.
Justin: So, you’d carry your mask most of the night.
Chris And Justin Discuss The Evolution From Masks to Evergreen Products
Chris: Believe it or not, the evolution that the company has progressed to was pretty much planned from the beginning. We wanted to establish ourselves with masks, as we felt there was a really good opportunity there because some of our favorite mask companies were either gone or weren’t doing masks anymore. So, a lot of the stuff wasn’t up to the standards of what we liked when we were kids. So, we thought that would be a good starting point. Then we progressed into costumes, and then started introducing collectibles, which made a lot more sense to evolve into the action figures, the higher end collectibles, and then we also took on some passion projects too; for me, the tabletop gaming industry, yeah. For Justin, even more of the figures, and definitely in the scales that he and I both grow up loving.
Justin: But we also wanted to make stuff that wasn’t viewed as seasonal. In the early days it was kind of, I would say it was difficult trying to explain to the banks.
Chris: It was always difficult to try and explain to the banks, but they certainly love us now.
Justin: They just didn’t understand. “Well don’t you guys need money in October?” No, no, no. We need money now, so we are ready for October. “Oh, Yeah, I bet you guys are popular around Halloween.” Nope, we’re popular in January. We’re stressed to the gills at Halloween.
Chris: Yeah, but now, I mean, a lot of the products are evergreen, even the masks for that matter. A lot of people buy them year-round, collectors, but we want it to move into more evergreen items. You know, even things like pins and air fresheners, and things that horror bay things that people can enjoy all year and buy year-round and collect.
Why Is Trick Or Treat Studios Picking The IPs They Are?
Chris: I think we just got licenses of things that we liked and that we thought were cool, and that we thought would sell. I think some of the categories were more trying to figure out more evergreen things that people would collect year-round.
Philip: You mentioned something about wanting to have good masks of properties that you like, and especially underrepresented characters, like the villains; which I totally agree with, I love this because I always found the villains more interesting.
Justin: Well, growing up there weren’t any Scooby-Doo villain masks, I don’t know a makeup effects artist or, horror fan that’s not a Scooby-Doo fan.
Chris: But also, doing the famous monsters, the Universal monsters, you know, we wanted to do some characters that no one had done before. Like, I don’t remember seeing, Ardeth Bey
Justin: Or, the Man Who Laughs.
Chris: Werewolf of London, frankly. And if there were, they were limited release, but then of course we really liked the Hammer Horror stuff too.
What’s Up With The Chucky Doll?
Justin: We were probably on our fourth doll and they’re what, between $500 – $700? And we started thinking, should we do four or five other dolls, or should we do one master doll that has the magnetic hand and neck ports where you can buy heads separately? That way if you just want to collect the heads you can, or the accessories, but now you can just buy the one doll and interchange the parts because we have multiple different heads coming too. Would be kind of hard to do that with the way we did the Good Guy doll originally, and that was a very difficult doll to make, because no one had ever made a Good Guy doll full size.
Chris: Not that scale.
Justin: So, it took a lot of time, and a lot of factories, till we finally landed where we landed. After we did the other Chuckie, and the Tiffany and Glen, we were starting to rack up dolls there. So, it felt like, well, maybe we’ll do something to where you can kind of build your own character, you know? So, we have the bloody face one coming out from Three.
Chris: The other one that’s looked like the pizza face, the Tommy, which is kind of the very neutral head.
Inflation and Supply Chain Advice From Chris
Chris: So, I think inflation is inevitable, especially with the previous administration putting an arbitrary 25% tax on imports in the US, which is kind of a fundamental misunderstanding about what, you know, a global supply chain looks like and where materials and factories are, right? So, I think that’s going to happen regardless.
As far as supply chain, we always recommend ordering early. I mean, all of our stuff, especially the masks, are a hundred percent handmade. So, there’s only so much capacity in a day, and just that the volume that we’re producing at, I think it’s always a really good idea to get your stuff in early, but even more so now. We haven’t been super impacted by delays, because we plan ahead pretty well. But again, there’s a limited amount of capacity and if you want something really bad, I’d recommend either pre-ordering it or getting your orders in now for the season.
What Is The Future For Halloween And Trick Or Treat Studios?
Chris: Halloween, I think it’s, you know, always going to be a very, very popular seasonal holiday. It’s second only into Christmas. You know, the average spend that that Americans spend on Halloween goes up every year, not to mention the fact that there’s a lot of international appeal too.
So, it’s growing in places like Mexico and the UK, and so I think that the future of Halloween is going to continue to be a very popular holiday for us. I mean, we’re just going to keep getting into categories that we find interesting, and that really are either untapped or are not fulfilled to the level of quality that we think they can be.
What do you think in terms of product line? Development? Figures? Collectibles?
Justin: Yeah, definitely more figures. We are literally, probably working on 40 figures right now. By this time next year, we’ll be quite different. We’ll have a lot more figures, but we’ll also working on a lot more masks, not as many as usual.
We’re trying to do things that really matter, like really count. Like in the past, when we were starting out, we’d take what we were offered, now you can kind of pick and choose what you want to do. So, we’re still holding out for Friday the 13th and stuff like that.
Chris: We’ve been working on it for 11 years, to complete the Halloween collection, right? The Halloween Franchise. And we just signed today, Rob Zombie’s Halloween One and Two, which is great. I mean, we had it almost done like four or five years ago, but the Weinstein Group went away, and then just went in limbo for an eternity, but, you know, I just kept pushing, pushing, pushing, and we finally landed who the owners are now and made them an offer they couldn’t refuse really, and they gave it to us. So, we’re really excited.
We’ve got those original toolings and paint masters ready to go. So, I think as soon as we get back we’ll start the process of getting them in production. I’d love to see some of them this Halloween if we could pull it off. So, we’re really stoked
Justin: Yeah, like I said, there’s a birthday every day. So, the action figures sell really well. So, we’re going to move more into those, more into games, might be getting into posters and stickers, definitely stickers.
Chris: Puzzles, cause some of the artwork for the tabletop games are magnificent, would make killer puzzles, and people love those.
Justin: We’re just going to keep doing what we do, we’ve done whatever we wanted for the most part, that’s seems to be working out, so we’re just hoping other people want what we want.