It’s not surprising that the man who’s spearheading one of Canada’s biggest retail projects is in high demand, but the sound of Oleg Chekhter’s cell phone ringing for the eighth time in less than an hour solidifies it. Dressed in a pinstriped navy suit, the retail industrialist is relatively relaxed, despite the fact that he’s standing on over 300,000 sq. ft. of impending innovation. “We’re lucky that we got this place,” he says of the Vaughan structure, which sits at the nexus of Highway 407 and Keele Street. Chekhter and his two partners’ vision for Improve — the nation’s largest home improvement centre — will materialize in the summer of 2013.
What stemmed from Chekhter’s personal frustration in renovating his own properties evolved into plans for a full-service centre that will act as a beacon of light for fellow homeowners who lose time and money through improvement ventures. No longer will consumers have to hop from store to store to shop for windows, doors, countertops and floors. By putting over 300 design-related businesses in one spot, the lengths that clients go to compare prices, receive expert advice and purchase materials will be abbreviated to a few quick steps. “It’s like a permanent home show,” says Chekhter, a former mechanical engineer who emigrated from Latvia to Canada in 1992. “Everybody renovates, it’s a huge market,” he says, adding that in the GTA, approximately $8.7 billion is spent on renovations.
Improve is poised to become a network of design-build entrepreneurs who will use their strength in diversity and numbers to attract buyers, builders and decorators to their base. “What I’m really asking businesses now is, ‘can you afford not to be inside?’” says Chekhter, who expects at least 2,000 visitors on a bad day. Easy to navigate, technologically sophisticated and esthetically striking, the commercial condominium concept of Improve will have an upscale, stylized atmosphere that will be heightened by elegant amenities such as common areas, meeting rooms, cafés, restaurants and a 200-person auditorium for vendors to launch products and present ideas. “Each vendor becomes a shareholder of the whole idea,” he explains. With more than 70 per cent of the units sold thus far, which include Canaroma Bath and Tile, Design to Fit Interiors, Kitchen Designers Plus, Super 7 Group, Classic Crystal, Bosch, Best Brand Appliance, Omni Surfaces and Snaidero Kitchens and Design, Chekhter is thrilled with the progress.
While there’s nothing like it in Canada, Chekhter concedes that the idea isn’t entirely new. “It exists in
many countries, but somehow, there’s a gap in this market.” Unabashed to admit that obstacles arise when fulfilling a vision of this magnitude, he also reveals that, by deconstructing difficulties, he’s been able to build and perfect a business model that will act as a template for future Improve centres. “We want to continue and we want to go to other major cities, so that’s why we don’t want to cut any corners,” he says. “And I’m learning along the way.”
Excited about the commencement of construction, he makes his way to a massive concrete-clad space, where a sample condo unit of Improve stands out like a mirage in the desert. Its glistening glass walls offer a transparent glimpse towards a new era on the home improvement horizon. “I’ll tell you, it’s lots of work, but it’s worth it.”
7250 Keele St., Vaughan, Ont.