Halloween has grown throughout the last few years from being a holiday where kids get dressed up in costumes and trick ‘r treat to a full-blown lifestyle. I’m talking about decorating in July, wearing spooky gear every day, and having horror films at the top of your watch list all year long. There’s only one place for those who embody this lifestyle — Halloween Horror Nights (HHN).
The team at the forefront of shaping the essence of HHN into tangible memories every year is the Universal Parks & Resorts Merchandise team.
While the actual event of HHN comes and goes once a year, it’s the merchandise that lives on and becomes a part of your everyday life. These collections of apparel, accessories, and artwork don’t happen overnight. This team of talented artists, buyers, and strategists work off a rigorous timeline almost a whole year in advance.
“We usually start putting pencil to paper in January,” explains Brian Beauregard, creative director of global merchandising and licensing. “We start having discussions with all of the creative teams on thematic and the event content very early on.”
The first step for Brian’s team after getting the creative download is designing and determining what the artwork will be on this year’s merchandise. After weeks and weeks of researching trends and collaborating across departments, all the teams regroup to review the inspiration boards.
“My team creates these inspiration boards that show different art styles, what’s hot in the market, what works with the movies and shows featured in the event, and how we can deliver this creative on different products,” Brian explains.
I would love to be a fly on the wall during these conversations, talking about iconic horror characters, movies, and what products are trendy.
“We pin up all these ideas so everybody can see how it looks and that’s when we start voting on what works best,” Brian says. “We have a good and passionate communication with all the teams on the pros, the cons, what we like, and what we don’t like.”
Brian shared that this was an imperative step in the process in receiving feedback from the various creative teams across Universal. You may recognize a lot of the artwork weaves into other areas of the event like marketing, food and beverage, the Tribute Store, and even the entertainment elements like scare zones.
“We make sure our merchandise message in the overall creative has a cohesive thread throughout every aspect of the event,” says Brian. “What can we bring to the table this year that’s unique for the parks and for our guests, but yet also ties everything in the event together.”
But as with most creative projects, there are unexpected challenges that may surface at any given moment, like event content falling through, last minute additions, you name it.
“There are always challenges we face every year,” says Brian,” but we have passionate folks who meet the challenge head on no matter what the situation is.”
And despite facing an industry-wide challenge of production timelines, the merchandise team is offering its largest collection of product in the history of HHN.
“We pushed the creative boundaries to elevate the trends of horror and design to bring the product ALIVE!” Brian shares. “It’s all about the composition, color, texture and attitude to capture the essence and history of HHN in a unique style for all our guests.”
Once the creative is narrowed down, the individual designers go off to start executing and finalizing the designs. And that’s when the buyers and strategists take the reins.
Jeanine Moriarty is the manager of regional product development. Her role is to be the connective tissue that keeps everything moving when it comes to merchandise. She works with Brian’s team, buyers on assortment, licensed partners on approvals, marketing on promotion, and more.
“This is my first year working on HHN in a very long time, and everything is new and fresh to me,” Jeanine says. “Brian’s design team is amazing, and I’ve worked closely with so many departments within Universal to ensure our ideas bring value and excitement to the overall event.”
That value she speaks of is key when it comes to the product assortment they bring to the event. They focus on what is resonating with fans to make sure they have merchandise that HHN guests want.
“We’re offering guests many new exciting pieces this year, and there are some limited edition items that are sure to sell out quickly!” Jeanine says. “We wanted to make sure this celebration of 30 years of HHN is as memorable as possible. Our guests are expecting a lot from us since we did not have a ‘true’ HHN event last year, and the response we’ve received so far on the merchandise has been amazing.”
So, where can you find all of this merchandise? The Halloween Horror Nights Tribute Store, of course.
Director Rob Cametti and his incredible Visual Merchandising team has once again created both a stunningly beautiful and spooky home for this year’s merch.
“While designing this year’s HHN Tribute Store, our team really took the opportunity to reflect on the impact HHN has made on us throughout the years and how the event makes us feel,” says Rob. “It’s a release, an escape that allows us to leave behind our regular, everyday side and embrace our HHN side. Although subtle, you’ll see this personal duality play out in the theming and architecture of the Tribute Store.”
You won’t be able to miss the Tribute Store, located right next to Revenge of the Mummy in Universal Studios Florida. As Rob perfectly described it, “It’s the kind of house that’s at the end of the street that no one wants to trick ‘r treat at, but us, being fans of horror, all want to go inside.”
And that’s the common thread I have found in every interview I have done with Team Members about Halloween Horror Nights. Everyone is a fan of the event. They may not always like horror or things that go bump in the night, but they are fans of HHN. It’s the camaraderie of talented individuals coming together to have fun, face challenges, foster creativity, and inspire each other that creates one of the most powerful and immersive theme park events every year. The reward? Being able to see fans and guests enjoy it.
“We are the home of horror,” Brian says, “and being able to work with such amazing creative talent across the whole company to bring HHN to life is the most rewarding thing overall.”