An exciting new retail concept in the Greater Toronto Area makes it simple for homeowners to find everything they need for their home renovations under one roof.
Improve in Vaughan is a 320,000-square-foot emporium that brings together more than 350 stores dedicated to the home improvement market and is the first of its kind in Canada. At the complex, on Keele St. just south of Highway 407, visitors will find everything from flooring to draperies to appliances and can consult with professionals such as interior designers, contractors, and landscapers. There are 38 different categories represented, including eco-friendly products, hot tubs and pools, heating and cooling, along with a vast array of kitchen, bathroom, furniture, and art vendors.
The idea may be new in Canada but it is common in China, says Improve’s founder Oleg Chekhter, who immigrated to Canada from Russia. Improve combines three popular models: the enclosed, climate-controlled mall; the home show, on a permanent basis and with no admission fee; and a retail destination where multiple related businesses are gathered in one place.
“The marketplace, with buyers and sellers under one roof, is one of the oldest ideas in the world,” says Chekhter. He’s put a modern twist on the idea and brought it to a complex that has striking contemporary design and bright, inviting ‘streets’ of vendor stores.
He got the idea after renovating his own home and realized that while there were a huge number of home improvement outlets, they weren’t centralized and it was difficult and time consuming to seek out the products and services.
Improve’s advantage is that people don’t have to waste time running around to many different locations to find all they need for their home improvement projects or to compare prices between vendors; the advantage for vendors is that Improve attracts a steady stream of traffic by their store and they benefit from a combined advertising budget. Improve also has meeting rooms, cafes, an auditorium for product launches, and 1,500 free parking spots. The grand opening attracted 20,000 people to the complex.
Chekthter says Improve is like a massive bazaar that specializes in every aspect of home improvement and related products. Improve is open six days a week (closed Tuesday) and Chekhter says if a person spent five minutes in each store, he or she would need four working days to visit each outlet.
Canadians spend more than $70 billion dollars a year on renovations, according to Altus Group; Chekhter says homeowners in the GTA alone spend $23 billion annually. And with home prices skyrocketing, more homeowners are opting to stay in the house they have and renovate it, rather than moving.
“We have a lot of unique stuff here and whatever is new to the marketplace, you will see on the floor here,” says Chekhter.
Unlike some design centres, Improve is open to everyone—contractors, designers and the public—and there are products and services that cater to every budget, from modest to high end. All vendors own their stores, rather than leasing the space.
There are three major differences between Improve and other home improvement centres, says Chekhter. For one, it has much larger selection of every kind of product, while big box home improvement stores have a limited range.
“In a big box store, you might find 15 or 20 different types of floor tiles, for example,” he says. “Here, you will find 15 or 20 stores selling tiles, each with hundreds of different ones.”
The other differentiators are a high degree of customer service. Chekhter says as vendors specialize in one type of service or product range (such as flooring, bathroom fixtures, etc.), they have in-depth knowledge about what they are selling. And customers will have the ability to negotiate a deal directly with a vendor.
Improve will also hold special events. At the grand opening in April, home improvement personalities such as Scott McGillivray, Steve Sabados, Mike Holmes Jr., and designers Colin and Justin appeared, and other special events will be held in future.
The concept is also attracting interest south of the border, says Chehkter, who has plans to open two Improve centres in major U.S. cities soon, with plans to expand to more.
To learn more about Improve, visit https://improvecanada.com
Tracy Hanes is a Greater Toronto Area freelance writer who specializes in real estate topics.