(Filed Under wholesale Costume News). Starline Costume, LLC is an umbrella collection of costume, lingerie and activewear labels and brands, all under the ownership of entrepreneur Rob Fitzgerald. The company offers costumes under both the Party King and Starline labels, as well as distinct Starline lingerie and activewear groups, Raveware lingerie, a bridal trousseau collection and a sexy “Forbidden” lingerie line. BODY publisher Nick Monjo questioned Fitzgerald about the costume side of this business in this interview.
MONJO: I understand that you are succeeding in the costume business by providing a higher quality product for the money than the competition. Can you explain and expand on that point?
FITZGERALD: As the costume industry has been under pricing pressures over the last several years, we received increasing demands from many of our customers for lower price points with a willingness to accept lower quality product. Starline has always represented premium products so we made a conscious decision to not slide down the price/quality scale and instead focus on overall value to the end user. Not only will you find Starline and Party King costumes to include superior design, better workmanship and better quality/heavier material, but most of our costumes come pretty much complete with important accessories already included. So not only does the end customer get a better overall experience, but they do so at a lower total price point, even though our wholesale customers are generating better pricing and margins with our products compared to piecing the accessories together. The process was a scary one and we saw some very lean years but the level of acceptance and compliments (and orders) we are receiving has been a fantastic affirmation that the high road of quality was the right course.
MONJO: You do not use licenses in your costume line. What do you offer? What makes you different in the market?
FITZGERALD: We focus primarily on providing sexy adult women’s costumes and we believe that a significant market exists for costumes where the costume line is the appeal. Most kids pretty much require licensed apparel these days. But if a woman is trying to look sexy, she is probably going to choose a quality sexy outfit from a known brand name rather than sliding into a cheap sweatshirt from an unknown company solely because it has a licensed Sponge Bob printed on it! So our goal is to focus on the style and quality so that women seek out our products by name. Our brand is the license! A simple Instagram search will give you the magnitude of how many beautiful women buy and actively compliment Starline as well as our Party King costumes and Raveware lingerie. Although we understand that the traditional licensed segment is the largest segment in the costume industry, we believe that if a woman wants to get attention at a party she will do much better with a quality costume designed to flatter her attributes rather than dressing up in a cheaply made super-hero du jour costume. By the way, we are not opposed to licensed products but we feel that the we need to be able to add something to the licensed brand, not just ask the brand to carry the day. For instance, we did a licensed costume deal with Denny’s and it was a huge success since it was so unconventional.
MONJO: From the retailer’s point of view, what advantages are there to buying your costume line?
FITZGERALD: Our goal with emphasizing Starline and Party Kings as costume lines is to create end-user demand and pull through. We want our target market to ask retailers and e-tailers for Starline and Party King costumes by name. This has been a top priority for us for a couple of years. We are seeing the beginning of tangible results as several significant customers identified us as their fastest growing product line for 2018 with increased momentum in 2019. Through 2019 you will find us being extremely active in social media and traffic metrics that we are seeing indicate that a whole lot of people will be looking for Starline and Party King this Halloween!!!
MONJO: Who are your target retailer customers?
FITZGERALD: We have seen the dramatic evolution of the go-to-market channels for the costume industry. We see distinct and significant opportunities in three market segments: traditional retail, larger retail and e-tail (with some overlap between the categories, particularly larger retail and e-tail). We view traditional retail as the foundation upon which the Halloween costume industry was built. These retailers generally have been in business for a significant amount of time and we believe that we are natural match for them. Due to the growth of online sales, a few years ago we were seeing 40-50 of our small retail customers go out of business each year. Last year it was one! So we believe that the remaining brick and mortar retailers have a real value add and that and further movement to online will be at a much slower pace. We can add substantial value to the traditional retailers by offering creative and unique designs and high quality costumes that resonate very well with customers that can feel and appreciate the value. By providing many of the accessories with the costumes, we allow the retailers to capture the additional revenue and margin of the accessories without having to separately purchase and manage inventory of accessories. Finally, by focusing on Starline and Party King as brands we can provide the local retailers with an added level of credibility and, increasingly, actual foot traffic.
The larger retailers have proven to be an interesting journey. By larger retailers, we mean the national lines of specialty stores focused on seasonal products and costumes. Our price points are not consistent with big-box retailers. As recently as 5 years ago, a couple of large retailers accounted for almost half of our revenue. However, they followed the “direct to China” model by going directly to the factories and cutting us out of the middle. In response to this, we have implemented a private label offering. With our private label service, we design the costumes (lingerie, hosiery, activewear or swimwear), interface with the factories and ensure that the products are delivered on time and made to expectation. In fact, this has been our fastest growing market segment this year! The benefit to the larger retailer/e-tailer customers is that they can offer exclusive high quality costumes that are unique, without the time and expense of developing and managing designers and third party production facilities. We have brought back some of our larger retailer customers as private label customers as they have discovered that it is not as easy or cheap to do what we do as they originally thought!
Finally we come to e-tailers! As everyone in the industry knows, this channel has gobbled up a lot of market share while at the same time eroding prices and margins. Regardless of how people in the industry feel about online sales, we believe that its above market pace of growth will continue for the foreseeable future. Having said that, it is our observation that adding additional e-tailers of a brand beyond a certain point does not increase overall unit sales and merely results in price erosion. Therefore, we have become very selective with what online-centric retail customers we will work with. We find that e-tailers that already have an established identity and following have the best results with our products and we welcome the opportunity to work with such organizations, especially ones that have not offered Halloween costumes in the past. We have been approached this year by a significant number of e-tailers who have seen their margins destroyed due to online over-distribution by some brands so we know the problem is real and one we want to avoid.
MONJO: What have you added and/or changed in the line for 2019?
FITZGERALD: We are trying to establish separate identities for the Starline and Party King lines. Our designers are incredibly talented and market-conscious artists so we like to give them free reign with their designs. However, we found that the two styles would sometimes have significant overlaps of styles and concepts. So we’re trying to provide just a tiny bit of direction to the designers so that each line is separate and has its own identity while minimizing redundant styles. You will see that with the new Starline designs we are going back to Starline’s roots of maximizing sexy, while maintaining a high level of style. With Party King we are focusing on offering a very cute and sexy line that is fun and flirty with bold colors and concepts.
MONJO: What other news is there about your costume line?
FITZGERALD: Seeing that there exists strong demand for non-licensed high quality styles for women, Party King introduced a line of costumes for girls. We create many of the traditional costumes of Halloween but with a higher level of detail and quality than what is generally available in the marketplace. Our goal is to create adorable and traditional costumes, with cute and exciting accessories and purses, that can be used year-round! Although we do not try to tell people what they should do, we are not fans of brands selling sexy costumes targeted at pre-teens. Party King’s costumes for girls are designed to appeal specifically to the parents who see the value in quality and want their daughters to look great and have fun.
And probably the most exciting news is that both Starline and Party King have dramatically increased their lines of Plus Size costumes this year. Although we have always been known as providing high profile sexy costumes, we believe that the two brands combined encompass the broadest offering of Plus Size costumes available with sizes up to 5X. It is extremely gratifying to see the excitement of plus size women who discover that they can purchase the same costume worn by celebrities and digital media darlings but specifically designed and sized for their bodies. By being a one-stop source for the best and broadest line of Plus Size costumes, our retail customers can instantly expand their product offering to include an important and previously overlooked segment of the market. Even if you don’t think that Starline and Party King are for you, I highly encourage you to check out our Plus Sizes because I think that you will be surprised! At the end of the day, we just want everyone to have a great time and look good doing it!!!
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