Editor’s note: This is part 2 the second in a series of articles by Judson Kline of Herschman Architects, written exclusively for Retail Design & Construction Today, with a different installment appearing each month. When concluded, these articles will be expanded into chapters of a book that will be published next year.
By Judson A. Kline, FAIA, LEED AP
Implementation of the retail project includes activities and support for the programming, design, production of documents, entitlement, bidding and selection of the constructor team, procurement, build-out, administration, commissioning (punch list), merchandising and opening procedures. These activities are supported by a variety of skill sets and competencies. They may also fall into the knowledge domains of different consultant resources. By examining each of these individual endeavors, the appropriate resource consultant can be more clearly identified.
Programming and design is fundamental to the retail project and is where the retail strategy gains expression and organization; connection with the customer is reinforced; the merchandise mix is established and quantified; and the product presentation and display methods are determined in driving the visual character of the facility. In accomplishing these objectives, the consultant resources are architects or store design consultants. Ideally, the consultant should be capable of developing the program with the retail team, produce the concept, translate it into a buildable facility, mindful of budget, building technology and scalability to repeat the concept cost effectively with visual consistency across the retailer’s geography.
Selecting consultants, who demonstrate a capacity for recognizing and illuminating the retailer’s objectives giving them expression, will provide a value added service by asking probing questions leading to the uncovering of hidden opportunities in the initial development process in creating the store concept. In posing questions about the customer and the offering, the consultant will reveal their understanding of the retailer’s business and the retailer will be better able to make a decision in choosing a resource.
Production of documents is a technical process that involves architectural, interior design, engineering and legal resources to complete. These activities relate directly to the three legs of the stool supporting the process: cost, time and quality. If the result is expected to be completed more quickly, costs may be higher and quality lower. If the result is expected less costly, time may decrease and quality may go down. Finally, if the result is expected at high quality, cost will likely increase and time extend. Therefore, the selection of two of the three legs needs to be considered in the light of the retailer’s goals and objectives. The consultants need to be able to define the requirements of these choices in working with their client to derive the best applications for the products, services and documentation required in producing the store to meet the retailer’s desired outcome.
The Entitlement process is an area where consultants offer a critical resource in delivering the project. Activities and processes falling within this domain include: planning and zoning approvals, permit application and prosecution, regulatory compliance actions and other activities related to gain local acceptance to produce the project. The consultant should have the resources to: investigate and report the requirements for the processes, define submission procedures and application documents, make the submissions, act in the interest of the client and report on responses, negotiate issue, “know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, know when to run”² and then communicate results, discuss options and respond to regulatory entities.
In the role of ombudsman and representative of the retail client, the consultant should be experienced in presenting to boards and commissions, articulate in presenting and well written in generating supportive documentation to gain approval for challenges which may be presented in the review process.
The Bidding and Selection of Contractors has two positions: either where the client utilizes the architect /design team to vet, qualify and manage the process or where the retailer has in-house staff and enlists their involvement to manage the bid process. There can be variations or hybrids of these positions emerging through discussions with the client and design teams. Upon determining staffing requirements and the protocol in the delivery process for projects, the contractor relationship can be decided.
In establishing the relationship desired with the construction team, the project leadership will consider building the connection most efficient, timely and the best value for delivery of their stores. The affiliation the retailer establishes may include: having a set of pre-qualified contractors, who bid all the projects and are selected on a project or geographic basis, an open bid process available to any “qualified” contractor or a single source construction team exclusive to the program. There are other models and hybrids for delivery of the project, but they are derivative of these formats. Each of these is distinctly different with a set of requirements, qualification and procedures for successful implementation of the project.
Procurement is another area where consultants may play a significant role and contribute to the success of the retail project. The impact of the procurement resources on the cost, branding, schedule and control of the outcome is an important consideration in building the project delivery team. How often in a project is the retailer faced with choosing alternate products due to timing or availability in avoiding cost increases, schedule changes and image compromises?
As a strategic approach to assure this does not impact the project, retailers utilize a resource provider whose processes include the selection, purchase, delivery and installation of the products, material and equipment required for the construction and merchandising of the store.
Some of these are floor coverings, special finishes, graphics, fixtures, signs, lighting equipment, security devices (i.e. security gates, surveillance equipment, etc.) and audio/video systems, etc.
The method for selection and acquisition of these commodities may involve single or multi-source providers. A single source provider is a one-stop-shop capable of purchasing and coordinating all of the commodities required for the project.
Multi-source providers purvey one product or a limited number of products such that the retailer may need to engage several resources to facilitate the needs of the project. In the assessment of qualifications for the procurement consultant, the retailer should consider the capacity for management of the selections, the ability to coordinate multiple sources, cost charged for the products, the fees for services and the processes the consultant utilizes to achieve the best results for the project.
An example to consider in hiring a consultant is to establish a fee for the service to set up an “on demand” approach, negotiating a minimum fixed price from the vendor for the specific product, instituting an order process to have the manufacturer/vender maintain quantities for project needs over an established time period and then set up a payment schedule based upon the quantity of product shipped to the project. Armed with this knowledge, the retailer can make a better decision on how to integrate a procurement consultant into the project team.
Build-out is an integrated activity involving the retailer’s project management team, the design team, the procurement team and the constructor. Once the permits are obtained and approvals of landlords or other authorities are cleared, the construction team focuses on its primary function to build out the facility. Their managerial and technical skills drive the schedule, address issues arising from the construction and assure the work is completed in the quality and within the budget agreed upon through the contract.
The qualities and capabilities of the contractor the retailer should recognize and value in the construction team include a record of multiple projects for individual retailers to demonstrate consistency in the quality and cost, delivery and management; project management organization to identify the quality assurance chain; collaborative practices to acknowledge and engage the other members of the team throughout the project; communication procedures to keep all participants informed of progress, issues and schedule; issues response mechanism to define how unforeseen situations (stuff happens) arising from the construction are addressed; and close out process addressing completion of punch lists, furnishing warranties and application for final payment. Examples of work and references are critical resources to establish expectations and demonstrate the success of the construction resources.
Administration has many facets, including the management of team members, the process, products, schedule, resources, program and budget. With a very complex matrix of responsibilities, activities and steps, retailers may choose to engage an outside project management firm to control the venture. This can be a very efficient way in which to limit the amount of in-house staff needed to deliver projects and free the staff to focus on the ongoing development of the store mission and the message communicated to the customer; the management of retail activities related to store operations; and maintenance of facilities.
The qualities and attributes of the administrative consultant combine many of the capabilities described for the constructor, including a record of multiple projects for individual retailers to demonstrate consistency; a package of organizational procedures to provide the documentation necessary to track and manage the variety of activities involved in the retail project; a clearly evident collaborative process to coordinate and integrate the various other team members; and a set of clearly defined communication tools to assure the messages reach the members responsible for action on a particular aspect of the project along with a high Retail IQ, value understanding and familiarity with the store design and construction process. These same capabilities would also apply for in-house staff where an organization does not engage a consultant as the program administrator.
Commissioning (punch-list) is a component of the project’s construction close out and turnover. Before a ship is turned over for its operational mission, it is taken out and put through the paces to assure all the systems work as designed and then commissioned for service. While stores cannot be taken out and driven around, nonetheless, it is essential to review the project to determine its fitness for commission.
The activities related to reviewing the project in preparing the commissioning report or punch list is a critical endeavor for the completion of the project. Not only does the process involve review of finishes, determination of conformance with plans and specifications and quality assurance, it also is concerned with the start-up of mechanical, electrical, plumbing, security systems and fixture performance in the assurance of proper function, warranty and operation. To the last point, the improper installation of fixture components can result in their inability to be fully utilized when the store is merchandised.
These responsibilities are often assigned to store managers, regional supervisors or to a construction manager, where the retailer has a project management department. In the situation where the duty for review is assigned to store management, the knowledge of systems, the ability to read plans and the experience in construction to recognize finish quality standards is not necessarily in their skill set or training. Wherever possible, the assignment should fall to the retailer’s project management team, the architect/engineer design team or the third party project administration team.
The skills and abilities needed to take on the responsibilities for this critical piece of the successful retail project include technical knowledge and experience, construction background, experience with retail store development, a thorough understanding of the intent for the store design and expected outcome, communication skills to prepare and deliver reports, collaborative capacity to work with the team in resolving issues arising from the process and familiarity with cost and scope development. The successful performance, operation and overhead costs of the project are directly linked to the delivery of this service. Therefore, the outcome for the project is dependent upon all the moves along the way, the aspect of commissioning is as critical as any of the others and should be managed by an experienced resource to gain the maximum benefit and return on investment.
Merchandising in the context of the store design, construction and operation is not the determination of the offering or the quantity of product in the store, activities addressed through the business management, buyers and marketing teams. In this context, merchandising is the process of delivery of the store experience, location and placement of product, adjacencies and focus.
It is a design process beginning in the conceptualization of the store and ending with the arranging of product in the completed project. This endeavor involves tuning the store to make sure lighting is properly adjusted to give full benefit to its use as a means to draw attention to specific merchandise or create separation of product lines and departments. Merchandising is the visual arrangement of the store to draw customer’s attention and enhance sales using all the resources built into the design such as signage and graphics, floor patterns to distinguish departments and lead the customer through the store, display systems to present the product offerings and point of sale display to take advantage of opportunities to extend the shopping experience right up to the transaction.
The responsibility for merchandising the store is often under the purview of a store manager, regional manager or visual merchandiser within the retailer’s organization. However, based upon their understanding of the intention of the store layout, design, fixture selection, lighting and finish patterns, the design team can often contribute significantly to the final display and organization of the store. As the skill set necessary to facilitate the store’s merchandising has a significant visual foundation, understanding of the store’s customer and business plan, high Retail IQ, creative style and communication clarity, the design team posses many of these skills and should be considered as a resource for this concluding activity in setting the stage to present the store to the customer.
Opening Procedures are the activities undertaken by the store manager, regional manager, store staff and store opening team in preparing the store sales team to meet the customers and promote the store and its product offering. This is where the project comes together, the volume gets pumped up and the staff is excited to contribute to the business’ success. The strategies and theatrics associated with this critical piece of the successful retail projects are orchestrated by an in-house team that is charged with writing the store opening manual, training the staff and supporting the event. The procedures involve marketing, branding and sales, visual merchandising and promotion. Most retailers produce the program, but some do choose to go outside and enlist specialized promotional teams focused on this very short duration effort.
Whether the program is produced within the retail organization or delivered through outside sources, the fundamental characteristics remain the same. In order to be successful, the team must fully understand the store’s customer, the product offered and the value proposition of the merchant; they must be able to communicate well and gain buy-in by store personnel and management; and they must have unbridled enthusiasm able to transmit their excitement to others involved. In recognizing these attributes, retailers can identify the best candidates for this task. The proof is in the record of opening days’ sales.
Through this article the domains of knowledge and experience in retail; retail design portfolio; implementation capabilities have been investigated to consider the qualities and aptitudes necessary to consider in the selection of consultants in building the team to produce the successful retail project. The fundamental requirement for this consultant is in the chemistry and confidence the retail organization has with the consultant. The chemistry comes from building a relationship and the confidence comes from knowledge as the STARR (Strategic Trusted Advisor Retail Resource) can demonstrate consistently.
By paying attention to these two elements, the retailer can engage the resources they need to contribute to the successful project.
Next: The journey continues in Chapter 3 by exploring the leasing process and the impact of the lease documents in contributing to the outcome of the retail project.
Judson A. Kline, FAIA, LEED AP is senior director of Herschman Architects, Inc., a Cleveland, OH-based retail and shopping center firm where he has practiced for 36 years. He has authored numerous articles and contributed to two ICSC published books. He has spoken at ICSC, AIA and IREM local, state and national conferences as well as colleges of architecture. He can be reached at 216.223.3224 or email@example.com.