Trick-or-treating in West Chester, PA starts precisely at six PM. If you are outside, you can hear the kids counting down. It ends at eight, and in about two hours we hand out about eight bags of candy. From six to seven, the little ones toddle up the stairs and peer shyly into the candy pail; from seven to eight, the tweens and college students bound up the stairs and… well, they peer shyly into the pail, too; it’s a pretty sedate crowd. Since I am a huge fan of Meaningless Statistical Analysis, I take a census:
- Total trick-or-treaters at our house: 116
- Number of distinct costumes: 71
- Highest representations: football player and princess, at six sightings each.
- Also popular: ghost (five), witch (five), and cowgirl (four)
- Pareto Distribution balances at about 3 people per costume. That is to say, the number of people who arrived in a costume worn by at least two other people was about equal to the number of people who arrived in a costume worn by only one or no other people.
So as a marketer, this means that I should immediately start a tiny store selling only football helmets, pointy princess hats and low-cut glittery tops. That latter because West Chester University students also go door to door, accounting for seventeen visits, or about fifteen percent of the trick-or-treater population. The most popular WCU costume, “Woman of Loose Virtue”, accounted for six visits. Seven if you include Marilyn Monroe (Male, 1 visit) in that category. Marilyn wore a pink ballgown, though, so she doesn’t fit in my business model.
I’m quite sure the distribution curve of Halloween costume spending has been done to a nicety by marketers with backgrounds both in statistical analysis and real estate; witness the efficiency with which preda-tailer Halloween Adventure takes over entire continents’ worth of failed big-box stores around this time of year. Halloween Adventure has been doing long-tail marketing long before it was a buzzword: selling small unit volumes of a deep inventory at high margins on items with a low opportunity cost (I wonder if the entire store’s worth of inventory packs into the panel truck parked outside; I bet it does.) It’s a good business model, and they serve an important evolutionary purpose, just like cheetahs do on herds of zebras. I’m sure that when your giant Jo-Ann Craft Super Megastore Just Opened starts getting visits from the HA panel truck, it’s a sign that the end is near, like when the undertaker in a western starts measuring the hero for a coffin: “Ahh yes, we’ll put the Six Foot Robotic Butlers over HERE when you lose your lease. Did you know that last year, this was all farmland?”
Given my feelings when I see a new Halloween Adventure seize on an empty big-box retail store, it was nice to see how MOST of the costumes that we counted actually were not commercial– MOST of the costumes on both sides of the Pareto point were roll-your-own homemades. Hurrah for homemade costumes!
MY favorites were “piece of paper”, which consisted of notebook lines painted on a smock, and a family from the next block that came dressed as Santa Claus, two elves, a Christmas tree — and a pale-faced, non-Marley ghost. That middle-child boy must be the rebel in the family, and he is going to achieve Great Things.
Lydia was a ballerina in a practice skirt. Kate looped satin ribbons around her sneakers and laced them around her calves; I held them up with scotch tape. This was her first time trick-or-treating, and she had a great time.
Here’s the list of all the costumes I saw, since I assume that four hundred years from now my yearly trick-or-treat census will turn out to be an incredibly important historical record:
2006 Halloween Census
COSTUME: # of visits
Football Player: 6
Woman of loose virtue: 6
Buzz Lightyear: 2
Grim Reaper: 2
Pirate: 2 (1 generic, 1 Jack Sparrow)
Slumber party-goer: 2
50s poodle-skirt dancer: 1
Army officer: 1
Baseball player: 1
Darth Vader: 1
Frat boy: 1
Hockey player: 1
Huck Finn: 1
Indian Princess: 1
Marilyn (Male): 1
Power Ranger: 1
Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup: 1
Scary jester: 1
Scooby Doo: 1
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle: 1 (Donatello; I asked)
Tin Man: 1
Top Gun: 1
Tuxedo-wearing smooth customer: 1
Woody (from Toy Story): 1