Steve Velthove and Dave Nelson have always had an idea they wanted something bigger than a health food store.
Their dream was to create an all-encompassing place where people could get all of their natural health and wellness needs looked after.
With their recent move to a new home, they have positioned themselves for…well, pretty much anything.
The owners of Woodstock, ON’s Inside U have moved their store into a most interesting location: an 11,500 sq. ft. stand-alone complex. At the heart of the space is a grand farmhouse (originally built in the mid-1800s). Over the years, a couple of additions were added to the original building. It has seen a number of businesses come and go, including a restaurant, a reception/banquet hall, a Chinese buffet and a bar. The possibilities Steve and Dave dreamed of are happening now, and they have set themselves up for so many possibilities.
“We see this as a location that combines retail, medical, spa, fresh food, education, community, entrepreneurship, content creation and tourism, all in one building,” explains Steve. “This will be the most unique health and wellness location that you can find.”
Moving from Inside U’s original 1,400 sq. ft. home – in a two-story house – the amount of new space is mind-blowing. The new location was scouted long and hard as a potential new home for Inside U. “We first looked at the space six years ago,” explained Steve. “It had sat vacant for 18 years. As we were walking around the building, we had so many ideas about how we could expand and diversify our business.
Dave and Steve finally pulled the trigger on the purchase in January 2018. “Before I waived the final condition of sale, I had the fire marshal and building inspector look at it. The first thing the building inspector said was, ‘Steve, I wish someone would just rip this building down.’”
As Steve leads a tour of the store, he explains the history of the original building. “When it was built in 1860, it was the only building in sight. It was probably located on a 200-acre farm. As Woodstock grew, the property was swallowed up by the town, but the house continued to stand. One of the things that sold us on the building is its location. We are right off the 401, and all of the big box stores are right around us. It’s a great location for us….we think its the best spot in town.”
It took countless hours, and lots of hard work to bring the building up to fire code. “Based on the size of the building, we were told that we needed to install a sprinkler system, but instead we solved the problem by splitting the building in two with a big fire wall. (4’ below ground and 4’ above the roofline) People thought we were crazy – we basically cut the building in half.”
Properly engineered drawings were required, so an architect was hired, says Steve. “We had to partner with a whole bunch of different people to get the space ready – architects, engineers and trade people. Patience, determination, stubbornness, foresight, collaboration, listening to others, visualizing how people would use the space….these are all things that occupied Dave and me the last year. We took a gamble, and after 18 months of renos, we were ready to move in.”
The business can be looked at in three distinct functions: a) the store, b) the practitioner/medical area and c) the area that will house other community professionals (this is primarily in the original farmhouse).
The store itself is located in the largest room in the complex. Walking through the front door, one feels as if you’re entering a grand hall. It is wide and long, and the back half of the room has high ceilings. Straight ahead and to the right are product shelves, primarily supplements and body care. To the left is Inside U’s showcase smoothie bar and Refresh Café, where customers can order a healthy meal or snack. It is an expansive and elegant set-up: the bar itself and back wall are both faced in a very earthy-coloured stone. It is an impressive presentation.
Fresh organic produce is new to the store and is located around the corner from the smoothie bar. “We have run a community supported agriculture program for years, where customers can order and then pick-up a box of produce every week,” says Steve. “We’ll still run that, but we added the produce for those people who want it. We will use it for the café, too.”
The very back of the store is set-up to be the café dining/sitting area by day, and a full-on lecture theatre by night. All shelving on the store floor is mounted on wheels, so it takes little time to transform the space. A large projection screen dominates the back wall.
The second and third parts of the building are at different stages of transition. The medical area – under the direction of Dave (a naturopath) – is accessible from the store. It will soon be fully functional, with naturopaths, massage therapists, osteopaths, and other practitioners on duty daily. The good news is the medical group is getting close to moving into the new, completely renovated offices. This area also has a spa, along with two fully functional float tanks, which has helped attract new business to the store.
“This is one of the reasons Dave decided to go to naturopathic college, so that he would have the education and credentials to build a medical team/clinic,” says Steve. “He has the rare ability to apply research to everyday life. I think he will be one of the people in the forefront of changing our health care paradigm in Canada and beyond. Dave’s idea of ‘wellness reimagined’ is to treat the whole person, give them full-circle care, and to help the patient/customer connect the dots between mind- body medicine, functional medicine, naturopathic medicine, and conventional medicine at large.
The third part of the complex is still evolving. “It will involve us renting space to other professionals and entrepreneurs looking to start a company or launch a product,” explains Steve. “They don’t have to be medical related. It is open to anybody. We’ll have a space with infrastructure to help someone launch an online brand or help a practitioner start his or her business here. A lot of people start their professional career without proper business training. That’s something we can do to help them…help them manage their business and also their brand. Dave is a teacher by nature and I enjoy being a mentor. It is something we do naturally, so we might as well include it in our business model.”
With Dave’s hand firmly guiding the medical area, Steve is more focused on running the retail side. Along with this new store, there is a second Inside U location just south of Woodstock in Norwich. There is a third store, this one a few hours away. It became part of the Inside U group quite suddenly and out of necessity, explained Steve. “After we purchased the new property and just before we started renovations, we helped the Cobourg Health Shoppe – a fellow Health First Network store – move its business across the road because they were forced out by their landlord. As a result of that, we ended up managing a third location at the same time, this one three hours away from us.”
Steve’s advice to any other retailers contemplating a major move similar to the one he and Dave just undertook is, “It’s important to enjoy the whole process, and not get stressed. What is meant to be is meant to be. Dave was at school in Toronto during the renovations. I was running the business. I have four children at home, and my wife is a nurse. Dave has spoken at three medical conferences in the last year, and I’m currently board chair for Health First as well, but we were able to do it, in large part thanks to our great team.”
As the entire complex continues to take shape, Steve lists some of the “firsts” he, Dave and the team have brought in. “It’s the first float therapy in Woodstock. We’ll have the first organic spa and IV suite in the area. Our dedicated smoothie bar is the first in Woodstock– using mostly produce grown in Oxford County. We continue to host community supported agriculture (CSA) programs for local veggie growers and food distributors. We have kombucha on tap. We have an onsite film studio for content creation, and we’ll be adding several more new services over the next six to 12 months.”
Steve and Dave both see change coming, and they are going to be in a position to thrive as the changes happen. “We see a business where we do more than just sell products to solve people’s health concerns. We have to develop programs to help people manage their life. Inside U is now a health and wellness company, not just a health food store.
“We’ve taken an old Woodstock landmark, which would have been demolished, and pulled the resources and people together to not only save it but create something that our community could be proud of. This is the perfect place for us to diversify our business away from straight retail to prepare us for changes in the market place. We want to foster a sense of community. We have created a space where people will have lots of reasons to return.”
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