Sandy Herle is celebrating her 25th year in business in Parksville with her Close to You women's clothing store.

Sandy Herle is celebrating her 25th year in business in Parksville with her Close to You women's clothing store.

From wheels to heels, store owner finds success

Former bicycle mechanic — and mayor — carves out women's fashion niche at Parksville's Close to You

It may have seemed an unlikely change when Sandy Herle sold off her share in a group of bicycle shops and opened a lingerie boutique.

But while her clientele may have changed, the principals of succeeding in business remain the same.

“I really had to go to a different place,” said Herle, who means it literally — she signed a non-competition agreement with the buyer of her bike stores in Courtenay, Nanaimo and Port Alberni. “I was a bike mechanic; I had done it since I was 17. But it’s been exciting and I’ve learned so much. Working with people is working with people. Whether you’re working with staff or working with clients, you treat people the same.”

Those people seem to have approved. Close to You, the small lingerie shop originally located between a barbershop and a real estate office on Craig Street in Parksville, has grown into a full-line women’s clothing and shoe store in its fourth location, a 4,300-square foot building in Corfield Plaza. Herle is celebrating her 25th year in business.

The business has succeeded and expanded even as Herle has thrown herself headlong into the larger business community. The former mayor of Parksville (2005-08) is currently head of both the Parksville Downtown Business Association and the Parksville Qualicum Beach Tourism Association. The former chair of the Vancouver Island Economic Alliance (VIEA), Herle was recently elected to her seventh year on its board.

“I have a massive background in getting involved,” she said. “I find business exciting. I put my actions and support behind business and I’m so fortunate I’ve got my (husband) Gil to support me doing that. And my staff, because I spend a lot of time running out the door to meetings.”

So how has the owner of a small, local shop managed to become the owner of a large, local shop during the period when Internet shopping and big-box stores emerged as commercial leviathans?

“I hate to use the word service, because it’s so overused,” Herle said. “But I’ve been involved in the community since the get-go. I think a lot of people appreciate that and support you because of that.

“Nobody’s obliged to shop with you because you’re local. I struggle with that at times, the shop local program. You earn the business; you earn the loyalty.”

And, she adds, there is a tactile element to women’s clothing that a photo on a computer screen cannot replicate. For about two years, Herle said, Close to You actually had an e-commerce platform, and it did relatively well. But she shelved it anyway.

“I don’t like it,” she said. “We just enjoyed more the interaction with people and didn’t find we were missing anything in not doing it. I think people love the tangibility; they love to be able to touch the piece. Even my (wholesale) reps, they can send me a book, or I can look online, but I want to see it. I want to touch it, try it if I can.”

To feed that desire, she makes sure to stock the store with large amounts of inventory from more than 200 suppliers. She can afford to do so because Close to You’s customer base includes not only local shoppers, but other “regulars” from across Vancouver Island and even repeat tourism visitors.

A consulting firm based in Toronto monitors her inventory, expenses and income and sends regular reports.

“And they’ll say, ‘Sandy, next month you have this much to spend,’” Herle said, then leaned forward conspiratorily. “And sometimes I’ll listen to them, sometimes I won’t. That’s the beauty of it being my store.”

It’s her store, but she has plenty of help, particularly from within her own family. While she chatted in her office last week, Gil was in Vancouver purchasing racks to use in the secondary outlet store Herle has opened in her former location across the Corfield Plaza parking lot.

“He’s the lightbulb-changer, he goes to the bank when we need change, and if we get bogged down in pricing, he’s here with me at night pricing things,” she said. “It’s quite a team.”

The team includes Herle’s sister, Debbie McDonald, the office manager, and her daughter, Kim Jury, who runs the Close to You website. They are part of a staff of 12, in addition to her consulting team in Toronto.

“I know what I do well, and that’s hiring people to fill in my blanks, what I need to know,” she said.

She even hired a designer when she moved into the current store, and had the Close to You name and logo engraved right into the painted concrete floor, just inside the entrance.

“I told Gil I did it so we wouldn’t have to move again,” she said with a laugh. “I picked out my floor and we built the store around the floor.”

At the least, Close to You will remain on that floor for another four-and-a-half years, as Herle just signed a new five-year lease last October. She admitted this lease came with a bit of trepidation, as she will turn 64 this year and Gil, a former mill worker in Port Alberni, will be 70.

“I’m now at the age where you do read the obituaries; it is people you know,” she said. “You’re supposed to have a work/life balance, and I don’t. I have a work/work balance.”

So is she contemplating retirement after the current lease ends? Or, for that matter, anytime?

“I doubt it,” Herle added with another laugh. “I’m looking at ‘Freedom 95’. For me, everything I do is involved with business, so if I don’t have my business any more, the other things I do would probably cease as well.

“The decision will be at the end of these five years. I’m here now, and I love this business.”

To learn more, call 250-248-3781 or visit www.closetoyou.ca. To see and touch, stop by the store at 174 Corfield Street in Parksville.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The scene of a single-vehicle crash along Dolphin Drive in Nanoose Bay on Monday morning, April 19. (Mandy Moraes photo)
RCMP: No injuries reported in rollover crash in Nanoose Bay

Police say passengers indicate driver left the scene

The Town of Qualicum Beach plans to establish temporary shelters. (Town of Qualicum Beach illustration)
Town of Qualicum Beach seeks $1.25M grant to build temporary housing units

Aim is to move tenants in prior to the end of 2021

Mount Arrowsmith Teachers’ Association and its Nanaimo-Ladysmith counterpart seek stricter COVID-19 rules. (PQB News file photo)
Mount Arrowsmith teachers’ union asks health authority for stricter COVID-19 measures

Teachers ask for vaccine, more online learning, mask mandate for primary students

Dashwood Volunteer Fire Department emergency response vehicle. (PQB News file photo)
Dashwood fire department issues warning to residents to hold off on yard debris burning

Fire chief: ‘Hold off on burning until we get some rain’

FILE – NDP Leader John Horgan, right, and local candidate Mike Farnworth greet one another with an elbow bump during a campaign stop in Coquitlam, B.C., on Friday, September 25, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. won’t be using random individual road stops to enforce travel rules: Safety Minister

Minister Mike Farnworth says travel checks only being considered at major highway junctions, ferry ports

A man pauses at a coffin after carrying it during a memorial march to remember victims of overdose deaths in Vancouver. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. announces historic half-billion-dollar funding for overdose crisis, mental health

Of it, $152 million will be used to address the opioid crisis and see the creation of 195 new substance use treatment beds

Children’s backpacks and shoes are seen at a CEFA (Core Education and Fine Arts) Early Learning daycare franchise, in Langley, B.C., on Tuesday May 29, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. budget to expand $10-a-day child care, but misses the mark on ‘truly universal’ system

$111 million will be used to fund 3,750 new $10-a-day spaces though 75 additional ChildCareBC universal prototype sites over the next three years.

Mak Parhar speaks at an anti-mask rally outside the Vancouver Art Gallery on Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020. Parhar was arrested on Nov. 2 and charged with allegedly violating the Quarantine Act after returning from a Flat Earth conference held in Geenville, South Carolina on Oct. 24. (Flat Earth Focker/YouTube.com screenshot)
Judge tosses lawsuit of B.C. COVID-denier who broke quarantine after Flat Earth conference

Mak Parhar accused gov, police of trespass, malfeasance, extortion, terrorism, kidnapping and fraud

Ambulance paramedic in full protective gear works outside Lion’s Gate Hospital, March 23, 2020. Hospitals are seeing record numbers of COVID-19 patients more than a year into the pandemic. (The Canadian Press)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate declines, 849 cases Tuesday

Up to 456 people now in hospital, 148 in intensive care

Christy Clark, who was premier from 2011 to 2017, is the first of several present and past politicians to appear this month before the Cullen Commission, which is investigating the causes and impact of B.C.’s money-laundering problem over the past decade. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)
Christy Clark says she first learned of money-laundering spike in 2015

The former B.C. premier testified Tuesday she was concerned the problem was ‘apparently at an all-time high’

Most Read