Downtown Vancouver is open for business. With a property tax shift intended to make Vancouver a competitive spot for new businesses, there are even more incentives to set up shop downtown. Tractor Foods, purveyor of fresh, healthy meals with a loyal following in Kitsilano, recently opened a second location at Burrard and Cordova. We chatted with owners Steve and Meghan Clarke to gain insight on the rewards and challenges of opening up a business in the downtown core.
Once you decided to open a new location, why did you choose downtown?
For Tractor, downtown is about office workers needing access to healthy, quick, top-quality food. There is no better density in this city for mid-day customers than downtown.
Downtown also has a great overall vibe, including hotel traffic, convention visitors, and residents. We simply love the energy of downtown Vancouver. Not only is it a beautiful spot that showcases Vancouver as a whole, it is a very interesting mix of businesses.
Are you changing anything about your store to accommodate downtown customers?
Our downtown store is set up to be faster, because we know folks are in a hurry and speed is important. We have two payment terminals, and we’re looking to get an online and mobile ordering system up and running as soon as possible.
Our store design is also more refined. Compared to Kits, we knew the downtown location would serve a lot more customers in suits (and a lot less in yoga pants). We want our restaurants to reflect the neighbourhood.
What were the economic benefits to opening a downtown location as opposed to somewhere else in Vancouver?
For us it is primarily about density of customers who want to eat high-quality, healthy food. The Marine Building was such a great and unique location – we saw the potential in the space even though it wasn't very pretty when we took it over! Marine is a very special historical building and we loved the idea of being a part of that.
What challenges do you anticipate about the downtown market?
It will take some time to develop an evening and weekend business because we are on the edge of the downtown business core, which gets quieter during those periods.
We are open from 11 a.m. until 9:30 p.m. every day of the week because we want to be consistently available to our customers, whether it’s for a quick bite and back to the office, or for someone who is heading home and simply doesn’t feel like cooking.
Why is downtown a good choice for new businesses?
For us it’s about where our customers live. We believe our business has a lot to do with convenience, so if we try to be within walking distance of our core customer base, we’ll succeed.
But beyond traffic, there are also ancillary benefits. Finance is important as we open new stores, and our downtown location makes it much easier to host banks or new investors and show them what we’re all about. Also, by being part of the downtown community, we hope to grow our brand awareness while offering a unique and fresh food experience.
This interview has been edited and condensed.