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Costume Retailer Shauna Milton Gets Customers Into Character

Hunting for the perfect themed outfit for Halloween or other occasions? Scavenge Costumes keeps the search simple

How many of us have fantasized about making enough money in our corporate job to quit and start a mom-and-pop shop in a cozy, beachside town? Shauna Milton has done just that with Scavenge Costumes, a locally owned and online-operated store.

Milton lived in Silicon Valley for seven years during the technology boom. She worked for Sun Microsystems as an information architect tasked with designing database systems. During her tenure, she traveled around the world setting up the technology for various offices. Milton learned her skills on the job, earned handsome stock options and cashed out to come back to Santa Barbara — her hometown.

Milton’s nephew turned her on to his favorite random store — Scavenge, which she and sister, Laura, eventually purchased. At the time, the store was on Lower State Street and carried a mix of everything — from posters and tools to dishes and Halloween costumes. They decided to downsize the offerings to costumes and accessories, which simplified inventory and made the store easier to market.

In 2007, State Street rents skyrocketed, so the sisters moved the storefront to the Funk Zone, which offered less expensive real estate. And while reducing their brick and mortar business, they drastically increased their online business push. By 2009, they closed their storefront all together and shifted to the lucrative World Wide Web. It’s a win-win structure, as they still offer free pickup for local purchases, but they don’t incur the overhead costs of running a storefront.

Milton said costumes are big business most of the year.

“Halloween is exceptionally busy, but there are also costumes associated with Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, football season and nearly every holiday, so we have orders throughout the year,” she said.

She said UCSB students dress up for a host of annual parties and Greek events, so they consistently need last-minute costumes. Pickup for local orders is free, so many students buy from Scavenge.

Scavenge advertises via Facebook and blogs on Twitter.

“We finally started keeping a calendar with all the parties we know the college students throw,” Milton said. “We now do an assortment of promotions and special offers so they come to Scavenge first.”

Locally, Milton said the top holidays are Solstice and Fiesta. Scavenge also sees a jump around the Super Bowl and Burning Man, as floods of attendees want unique attire for their parties.

This year, Scavenge began an affiliate program in which other sellers can promote its site and receive a referral fee, which has provided additional traffic and customers — in new markets — without having to hire more employees.

In addition to the locals, Scavenge receives orders from nightclubs, casinos, cruise lines, drill teams and shows in Las Vegas that need to source multiple sizes of a themed outfit.

“With enough notice, we can find just about anything,” Milton said.

The top-selling costume in recent years has been the Max suit, which is based on the character from Where the Wild Things Are. Milton found a local seamstress who can make the furry costume to order for $179 (adult size only).

“In this tight economy, people tend to buy things they will wear more than once,” Milton said. “Typically, the Oktoberfest beer garden girls and sexy Santa do well because people can wear them during the holiday and again at Halloween.”

Milton handles customer service and runs the Web site, and her sister runs the day-to-day business of buying, shipping and product fulfillment. Last year, Milton was a mad scientist — complete with glow paint, clown shoes and a host of other props she brought out throughout the night. She has yet to decide on this year’s costume, but you can bet it will be good.

When she’s not sourcing seasonal must-have attire, Milton is biking, running or paddling somewhere exotic. An extreme sport fanatic, she has traveled extensively throughout Africa, Kenya and Palau.

Noozhawk contributor Jenn Kennedy can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Click here to see more of her work.

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