SPOTLIGHT ON: Ground-Up Construction/Remodeling

Saks’ Randy Pannell, left, and Gap’s Omar Carcamo, discussed open-store remodels.

Keeping a store open during a remodel versus closing it until the work is completed was the theme of the SPECS session, “Open Store Remodels: Best Practices for Maintaining the Customer Experience and the Focus on Sales.” The session was part of the Ground-Up Construction and Remodeling workshop track.

Although the speakers had experience with both methodologies, they focused more on ways to keep the store open during the process.

“There’s no question that the majority of the work we have done over the past year has been remodels,” said Matt Schimenti, president and CEO of Schimenti Construction Co., Ridgefield, Conn., who moderated the discussion. “And the intent of this session is to combine the perspectives of the contractor, the people in the field and the retailers to provide a full and comprehensive picture of the remodeling process.”

The first decision, agreed all of the panelists, is to decide if you are going to close down the store and execute an expedited rehab, or keep the store open and try to minimize customer and staff disruption.

“Over the last five years, our work has been 100% remodeling,” said Randy Pannell, director, construction, Saks Fifth Avenue, Merritt Island, Fla. He added that the department store retailer employed a variety of tactics, from doing open/occupied remodels, entire-store remodels and rehabbing isolated areas.

“The approach determines the process,” Pannell said.

The panelists agreed that there should be several clear objectives during a remodel: to maintain a productive relationship with the store staff, to keep customers comfortable and to make the least impact possible on sales.

“It all starts with planning,” Pannell said. “The phasing is most important, as it affects the final merchandising.”

Omar Carcamo, senior construction manager, southeast region, Gap Inc., agreed.

“That’s true in a small box like ours as well,” he said. “We have to try to make it easier for everyone involved — the teams have to work together to accommodate each other in a restricted space. In other words, everyone has to get their jobs done regardless of what is happening around them.”

According to John Colonnese, project executive with Schimenti Construction, subtlety during an open-store remodel can’t be overdone.

“The remodel process should be as invisible as possible,” he advised. “The success of the planning is what makes the process seamless and invisible.”

Because so many of the session attendees were retailers and restaurateurs responsible for their own remodels, the panelists opened the floor to suggestions and questions from the audience. When polled, the majority of the attendees indicated that they keep their stores and units at least partially open during a remodel, and they unanimously go into a remodel with a predetermined schedule, beginning with a kickoff meeting at the pre-construction phase.

(One exception in the audience was a representative from Denny’s restaurants, who said the chain only completes closed-store remodels, as it is against the company’s policy to execute a remodel while a unit is open.)

When one attendee asked how to execute an occupied remodel versus a closed remodel, Gap’s Carcamo suggested a temporary space as a solution. > 

“Temp stores can offer a potentially viable alternative to both types of remodels,” he explained. “You are able to close the space being remodeled but still remain open for business.”

While that solution might not be doable for a lot of retailers, there are plenty of other strategies that are. Saks, for instance, does multi-phased renovations, and the barricades become part of the building itself. The retailer has made it a practice to dress its barricades with color and graphics.

“It’s about protecting the customer experience,” Saks’ Pannell said.

Gap counts flexibility as key to keeping its process moving and its customers happy.

“Everyone has to understand the need for flexibility,” Carcamo said. “All teams and crews may have to adjust work schedules. There simply is no exact science when it comes to the operational interaction during a remodel.”

Saks employs block scheduling to keep operations moving smoothly.

“We know, in weeks, what it’s going to take to get a project completed,” Pannell said. “Our schedules are fairly fluid. Our superintendent meets with the store manager every day. We have started using consolidated warehousing, sending everything in ahead of time, which makes it a cleaner process.”

The panel participants and attendees concurred that another hot button during an open-store remodel is getting the marketing department involved in the process from the outset. Retail marketers can be charged with creating the signage that is used in the remodel and with keeping the brand image intact when it is being tested the most.

“You have to deal with it on the front end, and be proactive, not reactive,” Pannell advised. “We actually do that at store level, in that we have marketing personnel at each store. We go way beyond ‘pardon our dust.’ ”

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