Building Stores: Best practices that make a difference

By Jeff Raber, jeff.raber@us.schneider-electric.com

With the recession easing, many retailers are once again building new stores. Motivated to get the fastest possible return on investment (ROI), they face the challenge of balancing their construction processes with potential risks that might delay a store opening or negatively impact the bottom line.

Last-minute changes tend to create a ripple effect. So it's important to review existing construction processes and incorporate best practices that smooth the path to desired results -- bringing projects in on time and on budget for the fastest possible ROI. The following best practices help retailers do just that.

Follow design consistency to avoid cost overruns and missed deadlines.
A little design change here ... another there, and suddenly a commitment to design consistency vanishes. The underlying purpose of design consistency, though, is to effectively manage a company's construction plans, costs and schedules.

One way to avoid cost overruns and missed deadlines is to engage Store Ops from the outset even if some tension exists between that group and those responsible for construction. Engaging Store Ops (or anyone else in a position to request changes) minimizes the potential for problems once a project gets underway. Store Ops understands why the design is the way it is, whereas someone focused on the budget might miss the impact of cutting corners during construction. 

Changes made to a fast-tracked project already underway will definitely have ripple effects. For a retailer, that might translate into added costs or delayed schedules. For a vendor subscribing to the "just in time inventory" strategy, that might translate into pulling something out of queue and resetting the production clock, leading to additional costs and potential delivery delays.

Bring a general contractor on board as early as possible.
All too often a retailer begins a construction project by hiring the architect and then hiring a general contractor only when the project is about to start. The general contractor, however, is responsible for ensuring that everything in the design plan works as specified. Any delay in hiring this key player can affect the entire construction process, including the outcome.

It's important to hire a skilled, experienced general contractor and to assemble a competent core construction team. Ultimately, the general contractor serves as the linchpin for a project. So it makes good business sense to give this professional sufficient time to review construction plans and offer feedback about scheduling, equipment selection and coordination of vendors and trades at the site.

Adopt a collaborative approach that leverages vendor relationships.
It's mutually beneficial to leverage the experience and expertise of vendors and what they bring to a project. Collaborating with vendors and keeping open the lines of communication might even spell the difference between a very successful outcome and one that falls short of expectations.

For instance, someone needs to coordinate and closely manage the delivery of materials to the site, making sure everyone involved has the correct location of the site and knows when someone will be available to receive the materials. Someone also needs to direct placement of vendor deliveries, ensuring that placement does not obstruct the path of other deliveries or impact trades already working at the site.

In addition, an experienced vendor can alert a retailer to potential pitfalls. For instance, a vendor's understanding of local codes can minimize the potential for violations and facilitate meeting the requirements for a certificate of operation (CO). Or a vendor's review of the design plans before a project begins might provide an opportunity to suggest alternative products or solutions to shorten the construction schedule. And for retailers employing a "prototype engineer," a vendor's counsel might save time and money by providing insight into the rationale for specific requirements or equipment.

Leverage online, real-time tools for project management.
Not long ago, designers shipped blueprints or emailed autoCAD plans to everyone involved with a project. If someone made a change, there was no guarantee that everyone would be relying on the latest version.

Today, online collaboration tools make it easier to manage projects involving multiple vendors and/or internal resources. Changes are usually sent automatically to all affected parties. Online tools might even trigger an email to alert everyone about changes so that everyone could determine how that change might affect everything from their costs to their delivery schedules.

Ultimately, online collaboration tools save time and money for everyone involved in a construction project. All changes and notifications occur automatically in real time, making it easier for retailers to do business with vendors  and vice versa.

Some vendors offer free access to these online tools. Or retailers may choose to buy their own software and require all participating vendors to use the tools. Either way, online tools provide a more efficient way to manage a project in real time, boosting everyone's confidence that they have access to the latest information.

Best practices serve as the underpinnings for successful projects. Incorporating them into the construction process enhances a retailer's ability to deliver quality construction projects on time and on budget while achieving the fastest possible ROI and goals for sustainability.

Jeff Raber is a director of Strategic Accounts for Schneider Electric, a global specialist in energy management with a focus on making energy safe, reliable and efficient. He can be reached at jeff.raber@us.schneider-electric.com, or visit schneider-electric.us/ for additional information.

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