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The Joker’s wild this Halloween season—wildly popular that is. Dave Huffman, president of

As of Aug. 13, CostumeHUB’s deluxe Joker costume was already out of stock, lending credence to Huffman’s forecast as well as confirming his statement that the selling season for Halloween kicks off about Aug. 1.

Replenishment inventory of Joker suits were likely in transit before the ink dried on this story, but the biggest challenges for CostumeHUB have been on the outbound side of fulfillment rather than the inbound side.

In 2006, its first Halloween season, CostumeHUB, which has its headquarters and distribution center (DC) in Irvine, Calif., quickly learned that manual fulfillment was not fast enough to meet the demands of eager trick-or-treaters.

“Our first year we were barely able to get 800 orders out in a day,” reported Huffman. “This year, we can put out 2,400 orders a day and with less people.”

The dramatic improvement resulted from the implementation of a robust e-commerce platform from Montreal-based iCongo. CostumeHUB went live with the new platform in July 2007, barely in time for last year’s Halloween season.

“Before we automated the processes with iCongo’s platform, everything was done manually. Orders would come in to our Web site; we’d print out a picking slip; go pick the order; manually select shipping options based on the customer’s preference; print a shipping label and a separate packing slip, then pack everything in a box. It was a lengthy multi-step process,” detailed Huffman.

Now the processes have been simplified. Orders placed on the Web site automatically enter into the platform’s shipping software, which determines transportation-mode optimization based on the customer’s preference. The picking order is prioritized by shipment option, with all expedited or next-day shipments grouped together. Picking and packing slips are printed together with the shipping label in a single-step process that allows workers to pick, pack and label boxes quickly and efficiently.

“Automation has greatly reduced the time it takes to fill orders,” acknowledged Huffman, “and there’s been a 70% increase in productivity in terms of how quickly orders are processed and how many less people we have to hire.”

Another feature of the iCongo e-commerce platform is that it makes information on CostumeHUB accessible by search engines. “Our system automatically makes sure the description of costumes is picked up by search engines such as Google,” explained Joshua Ortega, executive VP of business operations, iCongo.

Although the Halloween shopping season typically runs from Aug. 1 through Oct. 31, it peaks in mid-October. But CostumeHUB maintains a steady off-season business and Huffman noted that February, March and April are surprisingly busy months.

As a privately held company, CostumeHUB does not share its sales figures, but in a white paper released in January, Huffman said the Web site’s 2007 Halloween sales were triple its 2006 season.

Despite the difficult economy, Huffman expects sales this year will equal or possibly surpass last year.

“Halloween falls on Friday this year and last year it was on Wednesday; the day of the week has a significant impact on our sales,” he explained. “There are more parties and more trick-or-treaters when Halloween is on a weekend. However, if we were comparing apples to apples, and Halloween was on Wednesday this year, then I expect the economy would cause our sales to be lower.”

In addition to CostumeHUB.com , the company also has a flagship store, Costume Castle, located in Lake Forest, Calif., but inventories for the two divisions are kept separate.

During the peak Halloween season from Sept. 1 until Nov. 1, Costume Castle typically opens as many as six satellite stores in neighboring Southern California markets. This year, due to the difficult economic times, there will only be one temporary seasonal store. Inventories for the bricks-and-mortar locations are held at the Costume Castle location, and fulfillment for all of the CostumeHUB orders are processed through the company’s 12,000-sq.-ft. DC in Irvine.

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