Focus on: Tools and Technology
Last fall, Los Angeles-based mega mall owner Westfield Group announced it had partnered with tvsdesign on an innovative Web-based solution that would transform the art of common-area interior design into a more consistent and reliable science.
The Atlanta-based architecture and interior design firm created a series of a la carte furniture and accessories packages and made them available through a third-party-developed interactive website. The solution, which went live in spring 2011, allows internal design staff and mall-based management teams at all 57 Westfield U.S. malls to customize retail common areas with furniture arrangements and accessories appropriate to specific locations and demographics, while maintaining a consistent Westfield brand.
To develop the amenities packages, tvsdesign — over about a four-month period — visited Westfield’s design studio in Los Angeles, participated in workshops, visited current mall projects and collaborated with the company’s internal design team.
“Westfield’s in-house design staff is very up-to-date on current and industry trends, and its international arm has kept them open to new ideas,” said Donna Childs, principal, tvsdesign. “But they are also very keyed into ROI and maintenance concerns.”
Coupling Westfield’s need for fashion-forward, cost-effective and durable furnishings with tvsdesign’s own investigations into furniture styles, color psychology, price points and retail trends, the firm was able to present an end product that impressed Westfield with its clarity of information and concise delivery.
“They provided us with creative furniture recommendations that were consistent with our financial, operational and design objectives,” said Chris Kitchen, VP design, Westfield.
A major challenge in pulling together the various furniture packages was the sheer size of the Westfield portfolio, which spans the country and encompasses a variety of demographics and regional tastes.
“Some of the Westfield malls are more geared toward the everyday shopper, while others are decidedly more high-end,” Childs said. “Anything we selected had to be appropriate for both.”
The website features the full range of furniture and accessory choices — from sofas to chairs, to sectionals and side tables, as well as lamps, area rugs, planters and more — but not every item is accessible to each user. Designers, whether at the Westfield corporate office or at tvsdesign, have full access to every item with complete pricing. “Designers aren’t intimidated by the range of offerings, whereas mall-based personnel would be,” Childs said. The design > teams, which are recognized at login, can search by piece, by style, by price point or even by size of space; then choose the finishes such as wood or metal; select upholstery options that have been pre-approved by Westfield for style, color, price and durability; and then place the selected items in a shopping cart, just the way a consumer online shopping site works.
Mall-based personnel have limited access, and use the site mainly for furniture replacement or special additions, such as an outside bench for smokers. Prior to the Web tool, mall managers would typically shop locally for products that may or may not match Westfield’s design criteria or durability requirements. Today, a mall employee can log on to the site, view pre-sorted items that have been screened by Westfield and make selections based on need, space and budget. For those users who are purchasing a full grouping, the website provides a floor plan detail that shows where the various pieces are positioned.
“With this technology, we can all be confident that the mall teams are using items that are embedded at a corporate level and don’t have to resort to sourcing their own products and solutions,” Kitchen said.
The tool will also allow Westfield to better adapt its common areas to specific users. Because the mall owner often tries to group its retail tenants by category — arranging teen retailers in one area of the mall, for example — the adjacent common area can potentially be customized toward that demographic. Teen retailers may face out to a common area designed toward young people, with hip furnishings and accessories. That, Childs said, could lead to more tech innovations one day. “Imagine teens being able to sit in a common area and literally window shop, using their smartphones to access information about an item in the storefront window and making a mobile purchase for in-store pickup,” she said. “There are so many possibilities.”
The website itself will continue to evolve. Both Childs and Kitchen emphasize that it is a work in progress. “Our furniture will always change so the contents of the catalog will change accordingly,” Kitchen said. “As well, we are tracking customer response to our furniture offerings and will respond by removing some items and modifying others.”
Collaboration between Westfield and tvsdesign has been key to the tool’s success. “Not only did it give us the opportunity to see design through Westfield’s eyes, but we developed a level of trust that allowed us to help them look at some things differently and explore new ideas together,” Childs said.
Sustainability Drives Use of Modular Barricades
Mall barricade systems have evolved greatly in recent years, in terms of both the way they are engineered to their graphic applications. Perhaps the biggest change has been the transition from drywall barricades to modular ones. Chain Store Age spoke with Bob Putnam, president of Boston Barricade Co., Vero Beach, Fla., about the latest trends in barricades.
How have mall barricades evolved over the years?
Today’s barricade systems are engineered using structural aluminum framing with panel faces specifically designed to enhance full-wrap graphic applications. Double doors have been replaced with invisible swing panels, allowing the graphic to flow across the face of the barricade uninterrupted while maintaining access for fixture delivery and storefront construction.
How much waste is eliminated by using modular barricades?
The total potential waste stream from barricades is about 12,000 tons annually. Currently, modular use represents 75%, or about 9,000 tons of solid waste, eliminated annually. The bad news is there is still 5,000 tons of solid waste going to landfills every year.
Are developers requiring the use of modular barricades?
All developers recognize the problem with drywall barricades. Sustainability initiatives have driven most developers to require modular barricade use.
Are retailers embracing this requirement?
Sustainability is important to all of us, including the retailer’s customers. We actually find more and more retailers specifying modular barricades in their plans.
Is there a benefit to the contractor?
Although sustainability is important to contractors, making a profit takes precedence. The benefit to the contractor comes when the retailer works directly with the barricade provider and takes the process and the responsibility out of his scope.
Why would the contractor prefer not to be responsible for the barricade?
The line-item profit, if any, doesn’t come close to covering the hours spent dealing with the mall, the barricade provider and the graphic installer.
If the retailer is handling the barricade, how does it benefit them?
A retailer that uses a managed barricade and graphic program can save a substantial amount of time and money. On average, a retail project manager will field 20 to 50 emails regarding a single barricade installation.
Explain how Boston Barricade’s managed barricade and graphic program work.
We start by using our extensive database of mall specifications (developed over the past 25 years) with the store plans, to create a virtual 3D as-built of the barricade before it is built. This allows us to accurately print the graphic in advance to ensure the barricade and the graphic are installed at the same time.
In addition, we secure approval from mall operations and marketing, coordinate with the GC and take full responsibility from start to finish with a single point of contact.
How does Boston Barricade differ from other modular barricade providers?
Boston Barricade is the largest full-service provider of modular barricades and graphics in North America. We are the only full-service barricade provider with a national footprint. Boston Barricade is the required barricade provider for all Simon properties nationwide and the only national preferred provider at GGP. Our wall system is required by more developers in North America than all the other wall systems combined.
How does the wall system from Boston Barricade differ from other systems available?
We manufacture our modular wall system to be used exclusively in our full-service program. This system is designed and engineered to a higher structural and service standard than any other modular wall system available.
Snow and Ice Liability Management
By Rich Arlington
Record snowfall last season spelled trouble for many roofs and parking garage decks. The continuous storms that dumped more than 2 ft. of snow in New England alone had facility owners frantically addressing weight load issues as heavy snow and ice threatened, and in some cases caused, roof and deck top collapses. The fallout: a rise in lawsuits as owners, insurance companies and snow contractors battle over snow and ice procedures followed, or not, in comparison with written contracts.
As an expert witness and consultant on risk and liability due to snow and ice, I see many cases in which the scope of work for snow services is not clearly defined, incomplete or inconsistent with the actual work performed. This opens facility owners up to enormous risk and liability exposure. Consider the case of Standard Landscaping (all names and dates have been changed), a 20-year snow contractor hired by Property Management Co. (PMC), which managed the exterior maintenance of a two-level parking garage for a retail complex. Standard signed a three-year contract with PMC to perform the snow and ice management of the parking garage, which clearly stipulated that Standard was responsible for the removal of snow and ice from all paved surfaces from “curb to curb.”
For two winters, however, Standard had followed the instructions of the mall property manager who instructed them to push the snow on the top of the garage away from the curb and pile it at an opposite side. The day before a 4-in. snowstorm arrived, Standard checked in by phone with the mall manager who simply said to them, “You know what to do.” There was no discussion about expected snowfall or how heavy it might be. Two days later, the parking garage structure collapsed in the section where the snow was piled and everyone involved began to point fingers at each other.
This case is not settled yet, but in the eyes of the court, the one item that the judge will hang her hat on is the contract and whether there was a change in scope. PMC could be held liable since the mall property manager had set a precedent with specific instructions for clearing and stacking that contradicted the contract. The insurance company’s lawyer might try to show how Standard, a veteran contractor, should have known the dangers of snow piling on the top of a parking garage deck. Regardless, each party will incur significant costs.
If PMC and Standard Landscaping had pursued snow education and training, they would likely learn it is the consensus among snow industry professionals that piling of snow on a parking structure deck top is not proper practice. They would also understand another hazard of this is the chance of thaw and refreeze where there is pedestrian foot traffic.
Rich Arlington, CSP, CLP, of Rich Arlington & Associates is an expert witness and consultant to the facility management industry ([email protected]).