Playground “Candy-Van” operation closes for business

By Brent Constantin

Entrepreneur and University of Calgary business grad James Thorton slid his panel door shut for the last time this week as his start-up business, Candy- Van, closed forever.

Thorton started Candy-Van in 2008 after noticing children’s attraction to the sweet taste of candy. Thorton said the only thing he’s bitter about is that future children won’t have the opportunity to have free candy offered to them out of a van from the comfort of their own school playground.

“Kids today just aren’t after candy like they used to be,” said Thorton, who blames the poor economy and healthier snack choices for his declining sales. “Now it’s all about yogurt tubes and Nintendos, I can’t compete with that.”

Thorton experienced initial success with his business model, which saw the candy industry pay him a salary as well as providing candy samples and a big, white, windowless van in hopes of increasing brand awareness. The promotional strategy seemed an early hit with students aged seven to 13 who enjoy spending the majority of their time alone in secluded areas of fields, ravines and parking lots.

“We were up to a fleet of 15 vans and 63 drivers at one point,” said Thorton. “I remember putting the ad for drivers up on the bulletin board of the men’s shelter and getting something like 300 responses.”

Thorton turned the all male driving staff into a well-organized team, with each driver required to wear a matching uniform of thick rimmed glasses, ball cap, wind breaker and beard that tickles, but in a weird way.

“It was a bit tough to get the kids to come up to the vans at first,” said former driver Fred “sweet-tooth” Saville. “But we slapped a few block parent signs up on the sides to let kids know it was safe to climb in and reach into the mystery candy sack.”

For over two years children were delighted to do just that. The low rumble of the van’s engines and the soft mouth breathing of the drivers alerted them to the Candy Van’s arrival in their neighbourhood.

“At first I thought free candy was too good to be true,” said 14-year-old Jimmy Millen. “But then the candy man would always say he knew my dad and so I knew it was okay.”

But the good times couldn’t last forever. Though Thorton attempted to branch the operation out into other areas, such as a lost-puppy search and rescue and emergency preparedness testing for when your-dad-is-in-the-hospital-and-there’s-no-time-for-the-safeword-so-just-get-in-the-van-now, the Candy-Van filed for bankruptcy Oct. 25.

“Some dreams just aren’t meant to come true,” mused Thorton. “At least I’ve still got my own kids back at home.”

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