Nooks- New Retail Concept in Danforth, Toronto, SEEMS INACCCESSIBLE :(
Colleen Imrie’s The Nooks – three storefront marketplaces on Danforth Ave. – give creatives a chance to sell handmade goods without the cost of setting up a shop.
Extract from the Article
I hold the door 🙁 🙁 🙁 so she can manoeuvre her wagon inside and notice a large display of her soaps, many shaped like cupcakes and doughnuts, that dominate the front area of the store. It’s reminiscent of a retro bakery or sweets shop — the soap looks good enough to eat, I say.
Toronto entrepreneur gives vendors their own brick-and-mortar retail nooks
Colleen Imrie is the owner of the Nooks, three stores dedicated to selling handmade, vintage and locally made goods.
Margot Stinson pulls a small red wagon filled with boxes of handmade soap behind her as she walks up Danforth Ave. She’s headed to DesignNook, a curated marketplace owned by a single retailer where dozens of vendors have set up shop.
I hold the door so she can manoeuvre her wagon inside and notice a large display of her soaps, many shaped like cupcakes and doughnuts, that dominate the front area of the store. It’s reminiscent of a retro bakery or sweets shop — the soap looks good enough to eat, I say.
Stinson laughs. “We sell a lot of products through the Nook,” she says.
Stinson’s Carberry Soap Company has been in business for more than 10 years — including a six-year stint when, as a single parent, she owned a brick and mortar shop. But these days, the hassles of running a retail shop are left to someone else.
Enter Colleen Imrie. The creative entrepreneur behind the Nooks: three shops all located within the same block on Danforth Ave. near Woodbine Ave.
The stores are dedicated to selling handmade, vintage and locally made goods. Each space is different and targets “different types of products depending on where people are in their business journey,” Imrie says.
Imrie had a furniture consignment shop called NiceNook Marketplace on Kingston Rd. when she recognized a gap in the market “between artsy-fartsy market and one-of-a-kind.”
It seems to be the perfect fit for Imrie, who studied art and design at OCAD and did a post graduate certificate in business entrepreneurship at George Brown College. She saw a need for a market for artisans just starting out who weren’t ready yet to take on the risks and commitment of leasing a retail space and handling the day-to-day tasks.
When her consignment shop building was sold, she closed her store and started the transition to what her business is now: “part retail but also part business development.”
Imrie knew she was on to something very quickly after opening DesignNook, so she opened two more similar shops in a six-month period.
“I opened (more) stores because I had a waiting list, so then I knew we were on to a good thing. We scaled very fast. We had a model that worked. We had a need to fill and it just unfolded,” Imrie says.
DesignNook, open since last April, is a marketplace made up of 78 boothlike “nooks,” each a mini-storefront for each entrepreneur. The atmosphere is similar to indoor antique markets, with a mix of refined spaces to more rugged displays: Hand-stamped price tags hang from dream catchers and local streetcar art sits beside vintage cameras. The vendors do all their own merchandising and booth design, while store employees handle day-to-day sales.
The second store, NiceNook Lifestyle, which is more of a boutique esthetic, opened in July. Carefully styled booths feature handmade and one-of-a-kind luxury products such as skin care, jewelry, clothing and accessories. Here, vendors drop off their products and the shop employees take care of the rest.
The Nooks General Store, which opened last October, operates in a similar fashion as NiceNook but is more of a foodie destination. Shelves are filled with gourmet sauces, artisanal olive oils, pickles and preserves. It’s an upscale general store, with a mix of specialty food and apothecary such as handcrafted soaps and skin care products, with textiles such as quilts, blankets, clothing and handbags added to the mix.
“People just starting out need to focus on brand identity, pricing, it’s a bit more hands on, like having a little shop . . . this is where you learn,” Imrie says. It’s an opportunity to learn the basics of running a small retail business without the upfront costs.
Vendors commit to a four-week nook rental period with fees starting at $160 per period. There is currently a waiting list.
Vendor Abby Rozen, who lives just a block away from the Nooks, has seen the neighbourhood change in a good way as more and more businesses move in.
“The Nooks have been well received and hears positive feedback from neighbours,” she says.
Sheri Hebdon, chair of the Danforth East Community Association (DECA), says that the Pop-Up Project spearheaded in 2012 that promoted the idea of stores opening for short periods in the neighbourhood has reduced the vacancy rate on Danforth East from 17 per cent to 6 per cent. This as well as the relatively cheap rent in what Imrie described as a great neighbourhood made it attractive to locate here.
How it works
At DesignNook, vendors commit to renting a “nook” for a minimum of four weeks at a cost of $160 to $220 per month. NiceNook Lifestyle and the Nook General Store rents are $220 for nonfood vendors and $300 for food vendors. Vendors keep 100 per cent of sales and get paid every two weeks. Sales are tracked through vendor codes.
“The safety net to our business is every four weeks, you can leave. So that’s what I think sits OK with people. They’re like, let’s try it out,” Imrie says.
The Nooks offers business-development services including: business coaching, support for writing business and marketing plans, monthly workshops, and help with website design and social-media development.
“We are always looking at what’s trending in retail so we can educate our vendors and say hey, this is what’s cool and hot in merchandising, this is your competition with pricing,” Imrie says.
Stinson takes advantage of the workshops and networking opportunities when she can. It’s a supportive environment, so most of the vendors are staying, she says.
Vendors helping vendors
The Nooks has become a hub for creative entrepreneurs since it opened its Community Room, a dedicated space for vendors to network, at the back of the Nooks General Store. If you aren’t a member of the Nooks, you can still drop in and connect with like-minded creatives for $7 per day.
This day, a group of vendors have come together in the Nooks Community Room to talk about their experience. It hasn’t even been a year but the group agrees it has been a success. Stinson says she sells hundreds of her bath bombs and soaps each week, averaging $1,500 to $2,500 in sales. “I think the key is that I have a disposable product, so people keep coming back for more.”
Julianne Robicheau, who makes Robi Luxury Skincare products, says that she wanted to go into boutiques, but couldn’t find the time to pitch her products when a friend recommended she try the Nooks General Store
“I now have a place where people can go see my products and test them out. I don’t have to be there,” says the mom of two children under the age of 3.
Abbey Rozen is a full-time psychotherapist who also owns Breathing Inspiration crystal bead jewelry. “I do shows and they are good for me, but I have two little kids, I don’t need more time away from them . . . This is perfect in that it allows me to have a storefront . . . it’s been really empowering,” says Rozen, who started selling at DesignNook in May and is earning, on average, eight to 10 times her Nook rent.
Laura Craig was looking for an opportunity to retail her brand, Lines of Elan: handmade natural skin care, including lip balms, as well as soy and beeswax candles.
“I think Colleen is brilliant. She’s brought together so many fantastic women. It’s so great because we have such a network that we have help with anything that we need,” Craig says.
Networking with fellow creatives has also brought about some interesting collaborations. Imrie connected Robicheau with Craig, who now makes Robichaeu’s products, giving Robichaeu time to focus on other aspects of her business, such as marketing.
Imrie says she doesn’t plans to open more Toronto stores, but will focus on creating programs for entrepreneurs. “I really want to develop programs that help people beyond the Nook, developing different platforms not only to grow but to support people who aren’t around the corner or in Toronto.”
She’s planning “NookFest,” a music, art, culture and food festival that she hopes to hold in East Lynn Park, as well as a Shark Tank-style program called NookStart, a competition to win a nook for a year for free, launching in February on the Nooks website.