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Is it even Halloween without "Skelly" to spook the neighbors?
The sought after 12-foot skeleton from Home Depot, which you've probably seen lurking somewhere over the last couple years, is fully sold out come the beginning of October. The power pair behind the spooktacular decoration — Lance Allen and Rachel Little, who are the company's senior merchant of holiday decor and senior product engineer, respectively — talk about how it became a viral hit as soon as it launched and how it's since taken on a life of its own.
"It's brought so much joy to everybody," Allen, who's been dubbed "Skelly's daddy" on the internet, tells Yahoo.
How Skelly came to be
In 2019, Allen wanted to shake up what had been the norm in the industry for Halloween decorations.
"It was: 'What's an iconic item we can do that nobody's ever seen or dreamed of?'" he recalls discussing with the team. "We came up with the idea for a giant skeleton" with LCD eyes that appear to move and blink. "At first we were talking about it being 10 feet, but that's the height of a basketball hoop." He wanted it bigger, settling on 12 feet — or "the size of two grown men standing on top of each other. That's a massive size. The skeleton would be looking down at the basketball hoop."
Allen says part of the fun of his job is coming up with the wild ideas and then the designers and engineers try to make them happen.
"I can still remember the look on Rachel's face when we said: 'Hey, we're gonna do a 12-foot skeleton and you've got to figure out how to make it safe so it holds up for everybody," he explains. "[But] the great thing about Rachel is she's such an enthusiast. Most people try to talk me down, but normally she's the first to say: 'How are we going to figure this out?' That's why we're such a good team."
To bring it to life, there were drawings, computer renderings, a 3D printout and then a lot of testing to make sure the 12-foot lawn, 6 1/2-foot wide ornament — made of high-density polyethylene, a lightweight plastic — can withstand the elements.
Little explains, "I review the whole frame thinking of the worst-case scenario — wind, rain, even the sun. We need it to last for everyone, but also be easy to assemble because that's usually the hardest part. Also being able to pack it and carry it," because it's 88 pounds. "So we think about the whole process from store to home for everyone."
A ghoulish glow-up
What the duo couldn't plan for was that Skelly hit the market in 2020 amid the pandemic, when trick-or-treating was a bust, but people were shelling out for decorations to have some kind of spirit.
"Everybody was sitting at home kind of bored out of their minds," Allen says of the timing. "We're working from home. We can't go anywhere. Nothing's open. Then comes out this larger-than-life skeleton. It just went viral so quickly. And it brought smiles when everybody really needed them the most."
But the demand for the $299 animatronic was greater than the supply. It sold out immediately and was being resold on eBay at marked up prices.
"It really became quite crazy on the black market," he says. "We were seeing people paying thousands for them." And, yes, the company had to turn down some famous people trying to get their hands on one.
Kourtney Kardashian and Travis Barker have not one but two:
What's interesting is that three years later, it's still tough to get one as Skelly's fame has grown. This year, the company had a "halfway to Halloween" online sale to kick off sales in April and it sold out. Home Depot's Halloween website launched in July and it sold out again. There was a final online restock in August, which sold as as well. Stores started carrying the skeletons in August, but they're largely gone by the end of September.
Exactly how many have sold over the last three years remains a company secret.
"We really don't give those numbers, but what we'll say is: There's a lot of happy Skelly owners out there," Allen says. (According to Mashable, Home Depot sold 4,200 units in less than 24 hours during its July online restock.)
A life of its own
The first time Allen saw the meme of Skelly on the top of a Mini Cooper, he knew the product was going to be, um, big. Many memes later, there are entire Facebook groups devoted to 12-foot skeletons — one alone with 261,981 members — where people post pictures of their own or ones they've seen out in the wild. They also share tips on stores that temporarily have them in stock.
"People who have bought it have joined together to become like a club," says Allen. "On Facebook and Instagram, the photos people post are just amazing — all the costumes they come up with. There are websites that sell 12-foot skeleton clothing. It's fun seeing just how many people are into Skelly."
It's also become more than Halloween decor. People have taken to putting them up throughout the year for other occasions.
"I was looking at photos recently and somebody had taken Skelly to the ocean for a day at the beach," Allen marvels. "We've seen them at weddings as bride and groom. Of course, for birthdays. We've seen Cupid Skellys and ones made into Uncle Sam for the Fourth of July. It's crazy how he's become this great year-round piece and it's been fun to be along for the ride watching all that happen."
This week, someone dressed their two up as Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce:
A woman in Zionsville has dressed up two 12-foot tall skeletons as Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce. Complete with blue sequins dress and blonde wig for Taylor and Chiefs jersey and mustache for Travis. @FOX59 @CBS4Indy pic.twitter.com/C8IarPCVaq
— Eric Graves (@ReporterEric) September 29, 2023
The only design element they've changed from the original launch three years ago is to accommodate the longer duration that people leave it up. That's because people have in general been started putting up Halloween decorations earlier in the season, sometimes in September. Plus, people who buy this particular product have been known to leave it up past Oct. 31.
"I'm really proud to say since it came out, we've only had to change one thing. Now, it has a plug adapter and is not just battery operated," says Allen. "The only reason we had to change it is because originally we were planning on people having it up for three, maybe four weeks max, but we've seen it become a year-round item. The engineering and the design was so good that this piece has been holding up for three years, in all the elements, for a lot of people. So that says wonders of what our teams did when bringing it to the market, knowing the only thing we've changed is to put a plug on there so people aren't burning through batteries."
Getting your own Skelly — or another frightening friend
"The secret is to get them early," says Allen, pointing to the sales in April and July, which were all announced on the company's social media accounts so follow them as well. "As long as you do a little research or just follow a couple of the loyal sites, you can find them pretty easy. It's just people who wait to that late September, early October timeframe. By then, he's pretty much gone for the season."
That is — if Skelly is back in 2024.
A company rep says, "Like all our product categories, we are constantly evaluating our Halloween lineups to ensure we offer products that meet our customers' demands and expectations. I know there are rumors circulating about Skelly's retirement, but we have not made that decision yet."
Earlier in October, there were many other offerings at Home Depot alone that rival ole Skelly in size and spookiness, including a 13-foot tall Jack Skellington for The Nightmare Before Christmas fans. The head and mouth move on the animatronic figure, and he sings and dances.
Allen and Little both recommend visiting the stories for the experience of seeing all the Halloween animatronics on display.
"A lot of the stuff you can buy online, but it's so great to get into the stores and see them set up," Allen says. "It's then you can truly see the quality and kind of picture how it would go in your display when you get it home... You see young kids running up to hit the switches" for the items to go on "and the grandparents as well. It's enjoyable to watch."
How the experts prep for Halloween
When you are the creators of Skelly, you are ready for Halloween long before October rolls around.
"I've always been into Halloween," Little says. "My dad would made haunted houses for the local community and I'd help him, or just run around, so I was exposed to Frankenstein, spider webs and chainsaws early on. My radar for spooky is pretty big. Plus, I make costumes as a hobby, so I'm in that atmosphere like 24/7."
Her Skellys pop up in and out of her home throughout the year.
"I typically have two Skellys," Little explains. "I made a Santa costume, with some scrap fleece fabric and a beard, for my first one. But I have an apartment, it was displayed inside, and it took up over half my living room. So he lives in a storage unit but comes out for parties and special events. I'll build it and dress him an outfit tied to that event. My last college career fair, we put him in a Georgia Tech jersey. He's easy to [move] once you get him out of the box."
As for Allen, "I've got 9-year-old son who loves to decorate. So I've got my skeleton up as well as the 12-foot pumpkin skeleton and the werewolf. So that was kind of opening day," in mid-September. "And I've got a lot of other pieces" to follow.
For him, "It's always: How quick can I put them up? That's the fun around it because I've put them up so many times. I'm like: Alright, I've got my Skelly up in about 15 minutes with no directions and the pieces being mix matched [from the year before]." (Skelly's build time involves 26 steps and is estimated to take one hour with two people working together.)
"It's always fun to pull them out for the season," he says. Even for the pros.
Editor's note: This story was originally published on Oct. 3, 2023 and has been updated.