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Spotlight On: Beyond Costumes

Inventory includes whopping 20,000 costumes, including many originals

By Zeke Jennings | ppredit@partypaper.com

If Beyond Costumes doesn’t already have what a customer is looking for — and considering the inventory is 20,000 costumes, that’s unlikely — the store’s massive selection affords the ability to come up with just about anything.

The history of the store dates back to 1964, said current owner Kyuryon Yuh “Yon” Zweibon, who purchased Beyond Costumes from the original owner’s family in 2000. (The company was originally called Westchester Costumes). It’s currently located on the second floor of a large warehouse that has a bit of a gruff exterior appearance, but inside are a variety of retail shops. Beyond Costume’s narrow space is only 50 feet wide, but 440 feet in length. That includes retail area, workspace and storage, as well as a few subtenants.

“As you enter the shop you walk into the retail space, which is used to sell some basic costumes, accessories, wigs and makeup,” Zweibon said. “The rest of the space is used for rental stock — costumes, shoes, accessories and props — sewing workspace and some subtenants. Rental costumes are grouped by categories, and we usually attempt to sort by size or color depending on what the items are.”

Rental first

In 2012, Zweibon said she was approached by the owners of Creative Costumes, one of New York City’s larger costumers, to see if she would be interested in acquiring the company. The deal made Beyond Costumers the largest privately owned costumer in the Tri-State area. It also assured Creative Costumes’ inventory of several thousand costumes would stay intact, something that was important to Zweibon, who used experienced from her previous career in finance to help facilitate the transaction.

“I was not in position to finance such a large purchase, (but) the owners of Creative Costumes and I collaborated to figure out how to make most out of the situation for the parties involved,” Zweibon said. “I believe it was my financial structuring background that enabled us to come up with a creative financial solution that would preserve the costume stock and continue to benefit all parties. I felt that this was an important opportunity for Beyond Costumes to grow further and preserve another costume stock for the New York City costuming industry.”

While Beyond Costumes does sell costumes, its primary business is renting them, often in large numbers for stage productions and other special events. This often includes creating dozens of period ensembles, a task Zweibon and her staff enjoy.

“It is a great feeling to see characters and visions come to life,” she said. “Due to the extensive stock we have, we can usually costume any situation. However, with the increasing demand for customized costumes and fashion, we are in a process of setting up a fully supplied design room to facilitate such needs.

“Most of our large jobs come in through word of mouth and press coverage amongst costuming and entertainment professionals.”

Among the store’s many past jobs include supplying 180 costumes for a production of “Mary Poppins” by Archbishop Stepinac High School’s award-winning drama department, 100 costumes to recreate a New York City Village Halloween Parade for a movie production and supplying costumes for a reenactment of the 16th century wedding of Queen Mary and Prince Philip.

Keeping track of all that inventory is a test, but Zweibon has utilized a simple system based on “logic” with categorized sections and subsections thus far. She’s looking at a more advanced method, however.

“I have been dreaming about barcoding the whole rental stock and hoping to do so in the near future,” she said.

Maintaining balance

While costume rental produces more revenue than costume sales most of the year, there is a period when that changes — just prior to Halloween, obviously. Dealing with a small number of large transactions most of the year versus a large number of small transactions for a short time is a challenge.

“It is difficult to go through Halloween season and shift gears servicing professional production industry to large volume of individual customers,” Zweibon said. “It also is difficult to hire and train temporary staff that can learn fast enough.”

On the pro side: “Since we are a year around costuming company, it is easier to be validated as a professional company,” Zweibon added. “Our company can service more diverse customers and be involved in diverse industry projects during the year, and continue to grow the customer base.”

Accessories and props are good supplement sellers, in addition to costume rental and sales, Zweibon added. “Various decades, such as Medieval through the 1980s are the most popular themes throughout the year. Our retail area is set up based on costuming categories for customers to easily find what they are looking for.”

Like most retailers, Zweibon has struggled with deciding which products to stock and how many to keep on hand. She uses a simplistic approach that proven effective. “We generally try to stick to classics and add some for the year based on pop culture,” she said.

Staying visible

Beyond Costume’s long-standing presence in the Yonkers community and beyond helps with the word-of-mouth exposure Zweibon spoke of, however, staying visible takes ongoing effort. That includes an active website, which generates inquiries, and a strong presence on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Another positive is the company’s activity with various community organizations, which has led to recognition on its own. That included the mayor of Yonkers declaring a “Beyond Costumes Day” in the past.

“It is an honor the mayor’s office bestows to recognize those who contribute to the community,” Zweibon said. “We have received numerous recognitions for supporting arts, culture, community, minority and small businesses from Westchester County Executive, Board of Legislators, the senate of the State of New York, U.S. Congressional office and various arts and community organizations.”

“My first career was in accounting and financial structuring. As I was going through some changes in personal life 15 years ago, I ended up purchasing the costume store sort of at a whim through my children’s involvement with performing arts. Since I did not have any retail or costuming experience, I had to learn everything really fast. The shop quickly turned into my passion and I began learning from customers, vendors and industry professionals. I try to take advantage of whatever opportunities that came up in building a stronger company.” — Yon Zweibon, Beyond Costumes owner

Originally posted Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2016

Tags: shop talk