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Published: Monday, 10/31/2005

Costume house's success no trick

BY JON CHAVEZ
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Gregg Kerns, left, president of Costume Holiday House Inc. in Fremont, and designer Alex Poznanski show some of their creations, including one from the 'Beauty and the Beast Gregg Kerns, left, president of Costume Holiday House Inc. in Fremont, and designer Alex Poznanski show some of their creations, including one from the 'Beauty and the Beast
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FREMONT - Because the Costume Holiday House Inc. always has had the most sought-after Halloween masks, costumes, and accessories, many people might assume that October is the company's make-or-break month.

But they'd be wrong.

It's the other 11 months that fuels the 46-year-old company, "and when Halloween comes, it's all gravy," said Gregg Kerns, president of the family-owned business.

From 1959 - when Mr. Kerns' mother, the late Dorothy Kerns, started making costumes for friends - through the early 1980s, the business focused on Halloween and other costume occasions, such as Mardi Gras.

But after finishing college in 1985 and returning to Fremont, Mr. Kerns said, he saw the business could become much more.

He started marketing, first to high school, college, and community theater groups in the Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana region, then in other states. His pitch: Need costumes for your play or musical? Let Costume Holiday House do the entire show.

"Theater is the biggest part of our business now," the company leader said. "We've never done a big Broadway show, but we've done almost everything else."

Costume Holiday House has more than 50,000 costumes - it dry cleans and stores cos-tumes for more than 300 plays or musicals - and ships out 500 to 1,000 a week.

The theater strategy turned the business from a seasonal one to a year-round firm that will have an estimated $1.9 million in sales in 2005.

But theater and Halloween are only two of the firm's revenue streams. It operates stores in Fremont, Toledo, and Columbus, and during the two months preceding Halloween, it often will set up temporary stores in other towns in northwest Ohio.

And because the company has its own designer and seamstresses, large costume users such as Disney Co., Cedar Fair LP, Six Flags Inc., and Busch Gardens, use the Sandusky County business to make costumes for their employees.

Disney's ties go back eight years, using costumes for employees at its theme parks and in its shows. Knott's Berry Farm, which is owned by Cedar Fair, places a large order each year for costumes used during its annual Halloween Haunt events at the theme park.

High schools, colleges, and businesses have hired the business to create mascot costumes. The Fremont firm made mascots for the University of Toledo, the Toledo Zoo, Burger King, and the American Red Cross, among others.

"We wanted something that looked like a blood drop, which was not the easiest thing to create," said Judy Pearson, spokesman for the Red Cross' Blood Services for northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan. She referred to the organization's creation six years ago of its Buddy the blood drop mascot.

"Buddy has big friendly eyes, wears white gloves and the children just love Buddy - and he actually looks like a blood drop They did a great job," Ms. Pearson said.

Costume Holiday House recently did three mascot costumes for the Toledo Zoo: a polar bear, a hippo, and a tiger. "They've been easy to work with and they did a good job," said Dorothy Apardian, the zoo's merchandise manager.

The Fremont firm sells and rents attire for Renaissance fairs, theme weddings, and church biblical re-enactments. Mr. Kerns said the only problems his business faces is location. "Everybody always thinks a big company has to be in a big city. That's always been the hardest thing for us."

But that hasn't stopped it from finding new customers. A sports fan, Mr. Kerns recently hit on a way to market costumes and other items to sports fans.

"Were going to call it Gameday Colors.com," Mr. Kerns said. "We feel this will be a big venture for us because if you're a sports fan, this is where you can go to get anything you want to dress up and support your favorite team."

Small Business Profile is a weekly feature on local companies. To be considered, send information about your company to Small Business Profiles, Business News, The Blade, P.O. Box 921, Toledo, Ohio 43697-0921.

Contact Jon Chavez at: jchavez@theblade.com or 419-724-6128.



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