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Nature's Emporium

Wow…this place is really, really big!”

That is the first thought that enters your mind as you walk into Nature’s Emporium, Canada’s largest holistic market, which features over 50,000 sq. ft. of retail space.

 

 

Natures_Emporium_ownersWow…this place is really, really big!”

That is the first thought that enters your mind as you walk into Nature’s Emporium, Canada’s largest holistic market, which features over 50,000 sq. ft. of retail space.

The owners of Nature’s Emporium – the D’Addario family – didn’t set a goal to create Canada’s largest health food store. But when the opportunity presented itself, it was something they had to take a long, hard look at.

Nature’s Emporium has been a long-term tenant in a Newmarket, Ontario plaza since 1993, first in a 5,000 sq. ft. store and then expanding into a 20,000 sq. ft. space, in 2002.

In the next unit over was Weston Produce, a large independent grocery store. In 2009, Weston Produce let it be known it would be vacating its existing location. When the D’Addarios became aware of their neighbour’s plans to move, they didn’t even consider adding the space as an option… at least at first. “Concerns about supply, product variety and customer traffic all factored into this,” said Joe D’Addario, Nature’s Emporium president. “These seemed, from one perspective, to be major roadblocks to that idea.” But that thinking changed. “Once the thought was truly tabled – and once the potential was truly fleshed out – it just felt like the right thing to do.”

There were many factors involved in the decision to take on an additional 30,000 sq. ft. of retail space, explained Joe, “We had seen our business evolve steadily since opening in Newmarket, and despite what was then a large location, we still found ourselves in many ways pressed for room. Interest in a larger organic produce selection, prepared foods, a greater grocery selection and, of course, additional room for supplement lines all played into it. We simply felt that it was the right time to take action and offer something that our customers would truly appreciate. After our reopening, we realized that we’d made the right decision at the right time.”

The planning phase took roughly a year. The management team – which includes Joe’s brother Guy, and Guy’s wife Teresa – had so much to consider: product variety, menu design for the expanded prepared foods department, and expansion of nearly every facet of the business.

One major positive, offered Joe, was the new space was already more or less together. “What it needed was a freshening, and attention to detail that would carry over our own look and feel into what had been a very established grocery store setting.” Physically, there was at least a few months worth of construction and preparation work that took place before the new space was joined with the existing store.

Bulk_health_food_deptThe new space already had fixtures, freezers and coolers which the D’Addarios could use. As much as possible, they tried to enhance what was already a great location. “We modified the lighting, created new stands and designed the layout to highlight the great products that we offer,” described Joe. “It was a great merging.” With the expanded space, Nature’s Emporium was now able to offer a greatly enhanced selection in every department within the store. The store was now able to offer more interesting niche products, such as raw food and more artisan cheese offerings. “These have proven to be popular with many of our customers, particularly those pursuing food as a means to well-being,” said Joe. “It was – in many ways – an evolution, and continues to be so, as we continually develop departments based on customer interest.”

When the time came to merge the two spaces, the business closed down for only three days, to allow time to stock the shelves and move everything into place. “It was a hectic three days, to say the least, but in the end, we were able to pull it off with a lot of hard work and long hours,” recalls Joe. “We felt our customers would appreciate us having as little down-time as possible.”

Customers have overwhelmed the D’Addarios with the reaction to the changes. “It’s been a truly fantastic response,” Joe exclaimed. “Part of the beauty about working in the health food industry is the access to such varied and generally incredible customers every day – people who are enthusiastic about pursuing well-being for both themselves and their loved ones.” Customers are very vocal, and always offer up experiences with products the store carries, as well as ideas for products they’d like Nature’s Emporium to carry. It’s always been very interactive, and that continues today, which Joe says is extremely helpful for them as a business.

Every day, Canada’s biggest health food store welcomes new faces, and continues to see business grow. This has been very encouraging to Joe and the management team, especially considering the weak spots in the economy, and it reinforces their belief that the customers are genuinely interested in their own health – even when times may be tight, which is encouraging on many levels.

To connect even more with customers, a large community room is being built, to hold public education sessions, events and seminars. The room will become a major resource for those within the community looking for enhanced education with regards to cooking, nutrition and general well-being. “As always, we’re constantly thinking of ways to enhance our customers’ experience here, as well as our reputation within the community,” Joe said. “We’ve got many plans for Nature’s Emporium, but we’ll have to keep them under wraps until we’re fully ready. Suffice it to say that it’s going to be an interesting, entertaining and exciting year.”

Recently, Nature’s Emporium has found more ways to reach out to the community and is now on several social networks, including Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. “Our branching out into social media avenues has been a major shift within our organization, especially since last fall,” explains Ryan Dennis, social media and marketing director for Nature’s Emporium. “We’ve even created a department that works specifically in this area. We have focused heavily on embracing these technologies as new avenues to interact with customers and potential customers by engaging them with rich content that carries our message without compromise. We look at it first as a chance to spread the knowledge that we’ve accumulated within our walls, and secondly, as a means to enhance awareness regarding our store and products within the community. It would certainly, in this day and age, be a major handicap for any business to ignore the potential that internet connectivity offers.”

Nature’s Emporium also just recently re-designed its website. This has proven to be a major asset to the business. “First and foremost, it presents a warm and inviting face to customers seeking us out on the web,” Ryan said. “Believe it or not, we see traffic from all corners of the globe – people looking for supplements, for example, or simply following through on searches regarding organic foods.”

While the new site is still in its infancy, it is the intention of Ryan and the rest of the team to create a true resource for any of those in pursuit of health and well-being. “It is too early to tell how significant a portion of our business comes from the website but it will show over time. We’re confident that its position will continue to grow, especially with our continued efforts in social media.”

Joe offers advice for other health food stores who are considering expanding their store. “Plan, prepare, but most importantly, have faith in the inspiration and hold true to it throughout the ups and downs that always accompany any such venture. It’s never as easy as you may think, but nothing that has true value ever is.

“Also, surround yourself with competent employees who you can trust and rely on to help make the transition effective and efficient. Never forget the human dimension of such a transition.” •

 

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