In today’s environment, controlling electrical costs can sometimes mean the difference between running in the red and operating in the black. And in an age of the shrinking store footprint, additional advantages can be gained by maximizing selling space despite the smaller store. Senior editor Katherine Field talked with Michael Pluff, VP sales and marketing for W.R. Controls, a division of WESCO Distribution Inc., about the systems and technologies designed to reduce cost and maximize revenue-generating space.
With store expansion grinding nearly to a halt for most chains, what are you finding is the most reliable path to monetary returns—energy savings, operational efficiencies or both?
From our perspective, it’s actually both. Integrated distribution systems are now incorporating energy management systems that are saving both on space and on energy costs.
Can you elaborate on that?
Absolutely. In the backroom there is, of course, the electrical distribution system, or electrical panel, which can take a substantial amount of wall space. The latest iterations have incorporated energy management systems plus other low-voltage equipment in the panel, reducing the size impact overall and resulting in a significant space savings in the backroom.
An integrated system can reduce the wall space used by about 50%, even when taking into consideration the gear depth, giving retailers and restaurant operators double the revenue-generating capabilities. And by offering an integrated system, such as our Integrated Facility System, we are also removing the electrician’s pricing for the backroom equipment, since the system is assembled and tested off-site rather than assembled and installed from scratch by an on-site electrician. This saves time in the field and gives the retailer a much clearer idea of what to expect in terms of budgeting.
What specific areas of the retail business are delivering the greatest returns in terms of across-the-board savings?
I think right now retailers are looking at real estate. The reality is that most retailers are looking to build smaller stores, while still achieving optimal output of floor space. We work with engineering firms and retail chains every day that want to shrink things down because their footprint is smaller. They want to keep the same floor space but in a smaller building, so something has got to give. And inevitably that is going to be the backroom, the storage area, the manager’s office area, that have to be shrunk down significantly.
And an integrated system is going to allow the retailer to reduce the backroom size.
Since the downturn, have you found a modified focus among your current and prospective retail clients?
I think what we’re seeing is retailers taking stock in what they’re doing. Now is the time to look at construction schedules, to streamline the process, enhance output or flow and get stores opened more quickly. A lot of retailers are being smart and looking at what they used to do or what their current practices are, then putting a pencil to the processes and examining ways to improve upon them. And toward that end, they’re looking at energy management systems.
If there is one thing you can take to the bank, it’s that energy costs are going to go up. They aren’t going to go down, and they aren’t going to stay the same. You need to learn how to contain it and use it and work with it. The smart retailers today are looking at exactly that.
Is sustainability having as much of an impact as cost efficiencies?
Sustainability is very important, obviously. Retailers are looking at how they can incorporate sustainability into their operations on an ongoing basis. Our integrated product reduces the carbon footprint, and that is something they’re looking at. But what we are seeing across the board is that retailers are indeed moving forward with sustainability initiatives, but those programs and initiatives have to fit in with the budgeting requirements. There is reluctance to move forward unless there is tangible reward or savings tied to it.