Nations Experience Plans to Revolutionize Canadian Retailing [Feature]

  Photo: Craig Patterson  

Photo: Craig Patterson 

By Craig Patterson

Nations Experience plans to revolutionize Canadian retailing by occupying under-utilized real estate with its highly interactive retail concept, which can be described as a hybrid grocery store, food hall, shopping centre and theme park. The plan is to roll-out the concept nationally with at least one Nations Experience in each major Canadian city. 

The unique concept was unveiled in Toronto in the fall of 2017, when grocery concept Nations Fresh Food unveiled its 155,000 square foot Nations Experience at Stock Yards Village. Nations took over a former purpose-built Target space to create a spacious retail centre that includes a value-priced grocery store as well as a dining area with different food options themed from around the world. The complex also includes a children’s play area, games rooms and party rooms, as well as a retail corridor that is in the process of seeking tenants, including services as well as restaurants. 

 Dining area. Photo: Nations

Dining area. Photo: Nations

 Busy dining area. Photo: Nations

Busy dining area. Photo: Nations

‘Nations’ references multiculturalism and Senior Vice President Frank Ho explained that the success of Nations Experience involved bringing in people from diverse cultures to shop in the "FoodTainment" centre. Rather than have food offerings catering to just one ethnic group, Nations has drastically expanded its potential reach by embracing all cultures — in its food hall area, offerings range from dim sum to sushi to lasagne to burgers. The store’s expansive grocery offerings are well displayed and equally diverse, with palm trees above display shelves and unique elements such as a live seafood room with special ventilation so as to not carry over into other retail areas. 

Mr. Ho said that he now considers the Stockyards locations’ 30,000 square foot entertainment area to be ‘too small’ — it’s proven to be quite popular with shoppers, and he thinks it could be triple the size. It’s designed for families — after enjoying a meal, parents can leave their children in the supervised entertainment area while they shop. 

 Grocery Area. Photo: Nations

Grocery Area. Photo: Nations

A mall-like corridor at the Stockyards Nations Experience is available for lease, and tenants sought range from full-service restaurants to convenience retailers such as dry cleaners. Mr. Ho explained that Nations waited until it tested out its core grocery concept before leasing out to tenants, to ensure traffic is in place. With its successful traffic patterns established, now’s the time to expand the existing Stockyards location, as well as to open Nations Experience centres across the country. 

 'Eastern kitchen' area. Photo: Nations

'Eastern kitchen' area. Photo: Nations

 Photo: Craig Patterson

Photo: Craig Patterson

Nations Experience provides an opportunity for landlords to tenant spaces that might otherwise be a challenge to lease. Some of Canada’s secondary shopping malls are struggling and are seeking new uses, and Canadian landlords have also been hit with the closure of Target’s Canadian stores in 2015 and more recently, the demise of the Sears Canada chain. Not only could Nations Experience occupy a vacated Sears store, as an example, but it could even take over an entire existing centre to create something akin to a ‘mini West Edmonton Mall’ that would feature ample entertainment options as well as a core grocery offering, expansive international food hall component, as well as other hosted retail concepts in a corridor or other configuration that would be part of the Nations Experience centre. 

Mr. Ho explained that the company is already looking to markets such as British Columbia to expand the Nations Experience concept, and that potential investors are being solicited to help fund the ambitious expansion. The goal is to have at least one Nations Experience centre in each larger city in Canada, and potentially multiple locations in markets such as the Greater Toronto Area, which could house large Nations Experience centres in markets such as Mississauga, Brampton and Oshawa. Families and those seeking value-priced, high-quality groceries are the targets for Nations Experience, which embraces ethic diversity with its offerings. 

 Arcade area. Photo: Nations

Arcade area. Photo: Nations

 Playground area. Photo: Nations

Playground area. Photo: Nations

 'Phase 3' of Nations includes a mall area that is now accepting tenants. Photo: Craig Patterson 

'Phase 3' of Nations includes a mall area that is now accepting tenants. Photo: Craig Patterson 

Nations Fresh Foods was established in Woodbridge, Ontario, in August of 2012 as a multicultural grocery store. The company operates stores in downtown Hamilton as well as in Mississauga, though neither of those are as large or as entertainment-focused as the new Stock Yards Village location, which will act as a prototype for future Nations Experience centres. 

Nations Experience is a made-in-Canada concept that is also uniquely Canadian in its embracing multiculturalism. Given how popular the Stockyards location has already become, it would appear that this could be a winning formula for a national rollout.

For business investment or partnerships, please contact Frank Ho, Senior VP at: 647-889-6818, nationsfreshfoods@gmail.com.

As well, for parties interested in subleasing in the multi-tenant retail area at Nations Experience in Toronto, contact:  Top Cats Realty Inc.:Gary Lazar: (416) 464-2271, gerry@topcats.ca, or Kelly Laughton: (416) 419-7470, kelly@topcats.ca.

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Craig Patterson, now based in Toronto, is the founder and Editor-in-Chief Retail Insider. He's also a retail and real estate consultant, retail tour guide and public speaker. 

Follow him on Twitter @RetailInsider_, LinkedIn at Craig Patterson, or email him at: craig@retail-insider.com.

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