Parking Lots: Keeping up Appearances
Parking lots serve as the first point of entry for customers and, as such, are an important brand touchpoint. Chain Store Age spoke with Dan Flaherty, national accounts executive, Ultimat/Crius Corp., about how retailers can maintain a positive first impression without breaking the budget.
What, if any, impact does a badly maintained retail property have on customers? Can it affect business?
Studies have proven the negative financial effect of a poorly maintained property. Essentially, you only get one chance to make a first impression. People don’t want to shop at a run-down store or shopping area. This was shown years ago at Times Square in New York City. The city adopted a zero tolerance policy for graffiti, broken windows and litter. At that time, Times Square was a run-down, crime- and drug-ridden area. Numerous boarded-up buildings, strip joints, graffiti and trash all contributed to the overall horrible presentation of the area. Tourists did not want to go — or be — there. After the zero-tolerance policy went into effect and Times Square was cleaned up, it became a huge attraction to the city.
While Times Square is an extreme example, it does apply to parking lots. The parking lot is the company welcome mat, so it needs to look good. We are all shoppers, and I don’t know anyone that goes out of their way to shop at a run-down store. None of these even addresses the potential savings from preventing lawsuits related to accident or injury on the parking lot. Yes, it absolutely pays to maintain the pavement at a high level.
What is the most common mistake retailers make when it comes to taking care of parking lots?
Being reactive instead of proactive is the biggest source of problems with parking lots. Many owners have a wait-and-see approach to pavement problems. By the time a problem is repaired, it has caused extensive damage and is no longer a small problem.
What are some best practices in preventive pavement maintenance?
The single best practice is to have a maintenance plan and to follow it diligently. This plan should recognize and address small, active and ongoing problems. If a regular system is in place, the probability of a major defect is minimized.
How is Ultimat positioned in the marketplace?
Ultimat is an asphalt resurfacer and is an alternative to traditional methods. It’s a proven alternative to traditional repairs that are often short-lived, unsightly or expensive, and an alternative to the high cost of a mill and overlay.
Asphalt overlays are still necessary in some situations. However, Ultimat provides a solution that in many situations won’t require installing new asphalt. Ultimat is a cost- effective product that helps property owners address pavement needs without breaking the budget.
How can Ultimat help retailers with their paved surfaces?
Ultimat lowers costs and provides long-lasting solutions in lieu of short-lived repairs. This allows the retailer to touch more stores on the same budget. In 2010, a retailer was able to complete nearly 25% of the stores being repaired that year for 10% of the budget using Ultimat. So I say Ultimat can act as a financial alternative as well. It resets the pavement quality and aesthetics.
How is Ultimat different from competitive processes?
Ultimat is different from traditional processes in several ways. Ultimat is a cold overlay process. It is non-caustic, non-hazardous, nonvolatile, and it requires no additional heat during installation. It is as green as a pavement product can be. It does not soften in hot weather.
Also, it doesn’t oxidize, it remains black throughout its life, promoting increased melting of ice and snow in northern climates. Ultimat is a two-lift installation, utilizing two different custom aggregate loads. This provides a strong, tight surface that can stand up to heavy traffic.
Tell us a little about the company.
Ultimat is a product of the Crius Corp., a manufacturer of asphalt cold overlay and asphalt recycling products. The Crius product line is designed to be as environmentally friendly as possible; our products make use of the existing pavement as much as possible.
Crius also has a unique pavement management system: MyPave enables facilities managers to look closely at their properties, review a comprehensive evaluation and then decide which stores will be moved into the upcoming budget. This allows better decisions to be made regarding more comprehensive projects, such as remove and replace or complete reconstructions. Nearly everyone has asphalt, but only Crius has Ultimat and MyPave.
Reduced Costs With Site-Recovered Energy
Retailers and other building owners are caught between two powerful and conflicting forces: the need to lower energy and equipment costs, and the need to meet or exceed outdoor air ventilation regulations for the health and comfort of customers and employees alike. Indeed, studies have proven that outdoor air ventilation creates a healthier work environment. However, as outdoor air rates increase, so does the size, cost and operating expense of HVAC systems.
To address the challenge, many owners are deploying site-recovered energy technologies, such as energy recovery ventilation (ERV). Designed to operate with new or existing HVAC units, ERV technology provides an affordable means to simultaneously cut HVAC energy costs without compromising outdoor air ventilation requirements.
“Energy recovery wheels, also known as enthalpy wheels, resolve the conflict between indoor air quality and energy conservation by recovering site energy contained in building exhaust air,” said Stephen J. Pargeter, VP product engineering, Airxchange, Rockland, Mass., which manufactures energy recovery ventilation wheels. “Up to 80% of this energy is recycled to precondition outdoor air, resulting in reduced HVAC load and operating cost.”
For new and replacement projects, energy recovery costs are typically offset by lower HVAC system first costs, while up to 80% reductions in outdoor air fuel consumption provide healthy returns for the life of the HVAC system, according to Pargeter.
Energy recovery wheels may also be used to improve the efficiency of relatively new HVAC systems by up to 40% with one- to three-year paybacks when supported by the local utility. They also can help retailers with their environmental initiatives.
“Energy recovery wheels enable building owners interested in marketing green, healthy buildings to increase outdoor air levels above minimum code, earning LEED points and reducing the risk of indoor air quality complaints,” Pargeter explained.
Energy recovery wheels work by transferring energy by rotating between outdoor air and exhaust airstreams to transfer heat and moisture from one airstream to the other.
The total energy saved depends on the wheel’s effectiveness and the difference in temperature and humidity between the two air streams. A bigger differential drives larger energy savings.
The Container Store Deploys Voice Picking
The Container Store credits its “employees-first” culture as integral to its success, believing that if you make employees your highest priority, they in turn will take better care of customers. It’s a business model that extends to all facets of the chain’s operations — including the decision to deploy a voice-directed warehouse picking system.
“As a company, the first thing we consider in anything we do is: How is this going to help our employees?” said Christy Parra, logistics systems director, The Container Store, Coppell, Texas. “It’s very important that any new technology we install be something that is going to make life better for our employees, in addition to the company, our stores and customers.”
After reviewing voice-directed warehouse applications, the chain decided to deploy Jennifer VoicePlus, from Lucas Systems, Pittsburgh. The tool, in essence, creates a conversation with warehouse workers that frees their hands and eyes to focus on the job at hand.
“Our distribution center employees had a big part in selecting our voice system,” Parra said. “We had to make sure it was right for them.”
Parra said employees preferred Jennifer’s human voice and voice-enabled help functions.
“We also liked the ability to tailor what the user hears, not just for ease of use and efficiency, but also to keep things fun and interesting,” she said.
The application integrates with The Container Store’s warehouse management system and supports order picking in the 1.1 million-sq.-ft. center for direct-to-consumer fulfillment and store replenishment. It includes the flexibility to use speech recognition and bar code scanning interchangeably using a standard multi-modal mobile computer.
Also, Jennifer gives distribution center supervisors increased visibility into real-time operational information and the tools they need to effectively manage their work.
Parra emphasized that for The Container Store, voice picking is about more than efficiency.
“For us, it’s not just about being faster,” she said. “It’s about safety and making things better for our employees.”
Parra said that the new system makes picking easier and also more consistent compared with the RF-bar scanning system that The Container Store used previously.
“With Jennifer, you just have to follow directions,” she said, “as opposed to reinventing the wheel on an RF device. Also, the RF bar code-scanning device is big and a little clunky to hold. Voice picking frees up both hands, which is a big plus.”
Prior to deployment, the retailer conducted training sessions for every employee who would touch the system.
The training was less about the actual operation of Jennifer — the system is easy to use — and more about getting employees comfortable with the new technology.
“Change can make people feel nervous,” Parra said. “We wanted to make sure everyone felt comfortable the day we went live, so we did a lot of training and let people practice on the system.”
The retailer also assured employees that they were not going to be “automated out of a job” by the new technology.
“We try to be as transparent as possible and make sure everyone knows the end goal,” Parra said. “So we held a meeting for everyone in the distribution center and made it clear at the outset that [the voice-picking system] wasn’t about cutting anyone. Instead, it was about helping employees be safer and do their jobs better and allowing us, as a company, to stay ahead of our growth, keep pace with technology and be continuously evolving.”
The actual deployment went very smoothly and only took two to three days.
Since going live with voice picking last fall, The Container Store has seen steady increases in picking productivity, and a sharp reduction in employee training time.
“Our employees think it’s much faster, and it is,” Parra added. “We can pick 10 to 12 times faster than before. Employees also like that they don’t have to ask someone what to do next. We deploy the work and Jennifer takes them through the day in a very fluid manner.”