Pondering small biz
Aspiring entrepreneurs are expected to converge on Langley Events Centre next week for a free tradeshow from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m..
The 2015 Fraser Valley Small Business Information Expo is being hosted by Public Works and Government Services Canada’s office of small and medium enterprises.
People can learn about various funding and training possibilities to start or grow a business.
The expo features drop-in educational panels such as selling to government, accessing financing, and understanding the pillars of startup.
It’s been a number of years since I’ve bumped into my newspaper industry comrade Gord Kurenoff (who many moons ago worked as an editor in town).
I want to share a story he recently wrote about another person I classify as a friend – the madam of the manor, Tanya Nahal.
She is a local entrepreneur who year-round runs a small costume shop called Hallowville Manor in Langley City. But this time she’s making headlines, as Gordo tells it, because her passion for everything Halloween has prompted her to broaden her horizons and open two of the pop-up Halloween Alley stores.
Halloween is a labour of love for Langley’s custom costume designer Tanya Nahal.
by Gord Kurenoff
If it wasn’t for the shattered glass outside her store, a broom-holding, fully costumed Tanya Nahal could have passed for the perfect door greeter at Halloween Alley.
Despite starting her workday cleaning up the remains of a foiled break-in, Nahal remained in good spirits as she prepared for customers at her Langley “HauntQuarters.”
“Who breaks into a pop-up retail outlet? I’m confused,” said a smiling Nahal.
The manager of two Halloween Alley outlets – she also looks after the South Surrey store – Nahal said the Halloween industry is “exploding” and “more popular, competitive and cutthroat than ever.”
The 1988 Kitsilano Secondary grad opened her first costume shop in Fort Langley 14 years ago, in a tent at Aldor Acres.
She later set up a year-round shop – under the name Hallowville Manor – in a small house in Fort Langley that a few years back was switched out a larger space in downtown Langley City.
In addition to continuing the operation of Hallowville Manor, Nahal decided to “join the competition” three years ago when her handmade costume sales dipped dramatically around September and October.
“When I first got into the Halloween business, and making creative and original costumes, I think Value Village and a couple other places sold stuff. Now, everyone is selling costumes, props, candy, home decorations, you name it. It’s just crazy,” she said.
The spooky season is a boo-ming business, although more companies are seeking a piece of the pie once shared by fewer retailers.
Canadians spend about $360 million on candy every October, and the pumpkin industry is worth a reported $17 million annually.
Last year, the Retail Council of Canada figured the “fright economy” in this country exceeded $1 billion, noting the Halloween season has “just gone viral.”
There was a huge Halloween parade on Granville Street earlier this month. The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra is staging a Halloween Spectacular at the Orpheum this weekend. Vancouver Trolley Company has haunted trolley tours, Fort Langley has a grave tales spooky walking tour, and Playland at the PNE packs its popular Fright Nights.
Added to the mix are parties, boat cruises, ghost trains, haunted houses, contests, giveaways, fireworks, and evening fun runs.
There is an annual pumpkin shoot at a Vancouver gun range, and people can now buy designer pumpkins at London Drugs – or a $20 kit from Dollar Tree to dress up the porch and scare the neighbours.
In fact, the 40-store Halloween Alley – with seven B.C. locations – is a division of the Edmonton-based CMS Famous Toys, which several years ago recognized an opportunity to cash in on the socalled spooky season.
A quick tour through Nahal’s 8,500-square-foot Langley Halloween Alley reveals popular items such as superhero, princess, and video game character costumes, fangs, wigs, masks, makeup kits, plastic swords, shields, skeletons, skulls, hats, shoes, shirts, pirate patches and pop-up coffins. There are costumes for babies, toddlers, pets and the plus-sized.
And, of course, adult-themed costumes that leave little to the imagination. Think twerking Miley Cyrus meets low-cut nurse outfit or sexy French maid, or Super Woman in super-tight everything.
“For the record, I’ve never been a fan of ‘sexy’ Halloween clothing for young kids or teens. I don’t like the ‘s***ty’ look. I think Halloween is meant to be fun and tasteful for kids,” Nahal said.
“But there is obviously enough of a demand for the big chains to carry these costumes.”
Nahal became known as the area’s “Halloween Lady” when she lived and worked at the massive Aldor Acres in Glen Valley, and assisted with dairy, the petting zoo, and pumpkin patch tours and hayrides.
She also created and sold colouring books, candles and hundreds of hand-knitted pumpkin hats for schoolchildren.
“I grew up in Vancouver, but I was always a country girl at heart. I really found my place in Fort Langley, where I could put my sewing to good use and make costumes and make kids happy,” she said.
After Halloween she will return to her 800-square-foot Hallowville Manor boutique store on Salt Lane in downtown Langley, where she designs, creates, and rents costumes and “funk ware” for all occasions, including figure skating, dance groups, parties, themed weddings, theatre, and school plays.
“The neat thing about Halloween and where I work is I can dress up every day from Sept. 1 to the end of October. And I never wear the same thing twice,” Nahal said with a laugh.
In fact, she donated more than 700 used costumes to schools in Surrey to enjoy the season. Halloween Alley accepts donations of used costumes as well.
“I have always loved playing dress-up. And, I liked it when the costumes were handmade and simple. But when it became a big business, everything changed in a hurry. It kind of breaks my heart that it went so commercial, but that’s life nowadays.
“It doesn’t matter now if Halloween is on a weekday or weekend, people will celebrate. And the last two weeks before Halloween is a crazy time for all retailers. We sell 80 per cent of our stuff in that period,” she said.
Nahal still loves to see kids and parents smile as they try on costumes, and admits travelling across North America to conventions and costume shows is a cool perk of the job.
“It never gets old or boring for me. I think every October I become a workaholic and go 12 to 14 hours a day. For whatever reason, I just love Halloween and all the costumes.”
She’s obviously not alone.
– Gord Kurenoff is with the Vancouver Sun