Produce seller ripe for expansion

27-location Kin’s Farm Market to open new stores in Kerrisdale, West End and Coquitlam

Kin’s Farm Market vice-president of operations Queenie Chu is excited that her chain is back in expansion mode with three new stores opening in the next several months   

Kin’s Farm Market plans to open new locations in Kerrisdale, Coquitlam and the West End within the next few months, bringing the company back to 30 locations across Canada.

The 27-year-old Richmond-based company, which got its start as a fruit stand at Granville Island Public Market before opening its first location at Richmond’s Blundell Centre in 1987, had sprouted to more than 30 locations by 2011.

A few closures followed, but the company’s vice-president of operations, Queenie Chu, told Business in Vancouver that the time is once again right for expansion.

“Some of our new locations are in areas we have been looking at for 10 years,” she said. “In Kerrisdale, we have been wanting to have a store there for a long time.”

Kin’s has leased about half of the 5,800-square-foot former Shopper’s Drug Mart space at 2225 West 41st Avenue and plans to open in the next few months. Similarly, the company plans to open at the corner of Denman and Comox streets this fall in space that had housed South Van Produce for decades.

“We had been looking at Denman for a long time and then all the rents went up,” Chu said. “Everybody was asking for more rent. We waited for an opportunity. Because we sell produce we can only pay so much for a lease in a high-traffic area.”

The third Kin’s opening in the next few months will be in Coquitlam’s Como Lake Village, which is anchored by a No Frills grocery store.

“What Kin’s has always done well has been to have a tight business model, which is strictly to sell produce: fruits and vegetables in a very inviting setting,” said retail analyst and DIG360 Consulting Ltd. principal David Gray. “The stores are really clean and produce is well displayed.”

Indeed, although the chain does sell milk, it has not strayed into also providing canned goods or rice as have other grocers that started out as fruit stands, such as West Valley Produce on Bute Street.

Gray once examined customer buying habits at Vancouver’s City Square Shopping Centre on Cambie Street and discovered that shoppers tended to buy groceries at the mall’s Safeway and then went to the Kin’s market for produce. So, he said, locating near grocery stores has not hurt Kin’s.

The only misstep that Kin’s made was to enter Ontario in 2009 by opening only two locations, Gray said.

Chu agreed that the Ontario rollout has been disappointing.

One of the two Ontario Kin’s markets has since closed, with the other one remaining open in part for lease reasons.

“I would guarantee that that one store is staying open for financial reasons,” Gray said. “There’s no retailer of their size that would keep a money-losing store open unless the penalty of closing it was greater than what they might be losing.”

Chu said that a second attempt at cracking the Ontario market could be on the horizon but that it would take place only if the company were to open about 20 stores in quick succession.