Fancy that! A fancy dress success rises from ashes

Fancy Dress Ball Ltd Raglan Street, Hx Paul Howcroft.
Fancy Dress Ball Ltd Raglan Street, Hx Paul Howcroft.

IT was a scary prospect for Paul Howcroft when he changed career to set up his online business.

But, three years later, Fancy Dress Ball Ltd is on track to turn over £1.5 million.

The tremendous growth – Year 1 £161k, Year 2 £760k – has been built on the back of a high-class website and the growing popularity of fancy dress.

The firm at Raglan Street, Halifax, employs nine staff and has thousands of costumes and accessories for next-day delivery.

Mr Howcroft, 39, said last week had been the busiest ever and on Tuesday the website had 47,000 hits.

During this month over 24,000 individual products – costumes and accessories such as shoes, gloves and artificial blood – had been ordered.

“For me, its about selling a fantasy. People want to dress up and escape from their everyday lives,” said Mr Howcroft.

He is passionate about fancy dress and has often attended 70s and 80s themed parties at Butlin’s camps.

“We always ask our people at interview ‘Have you dressed up before?’ If we get things wrong we could ruin parties.”

Staff even produce images for the website and profits have been spent on stock with outfits sourced from the US, UK and Belgium and not easily available elsewhere.

Mr Howcroft said the popularity of dressing up is fuelled by celebrities such as Lady Gaga and TV programmes such as X Factor.

Stag and hen parties, major and sporting events were all creating more business.

“Once people get the bug they become increasingly competitive and come back again,” said Mr Howcroft. “People are moving away from licensed products and looking for more fashionable dress.”

Outfits average £45 but people can spend much more.

In 2008 Mr Howcroft won the Courier Innovator of the Year award when he was MD of Vanguard, which had successfully re-directed itself.

The wire firm had been reliant on the automotive sector and adapted machinery for retail display and storage equipment.

But the recession forced the firm to close.

Mr Howcroft had the option of using the premises rent-free for 12 months and Fancy Dress Ball was born.

“We’ve managed to turn a former redundant building into a healthy business,” he said. “I’m very proud.”

Top-selling outfits from Paul’s business are: • Dark Mad Hatter

• Morphsuits

• Where’s Wally?

• The Smurfs

• Chucky from Hallowe’en

• Fever skeleton

• Zombie schoolgirl/nurse

• Freddy Krueger