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Update on Flooring

BY Laura Klepacki

Whether it’s a high-end specialty store or a big-box discounter, flooring can go a long way toward setting the right mood — and making shoppers feel comfortable. “It’s naturally innate in us to look down at the ground,” said Nathan Lee Colkitt, CEO, Colkitt&Co., an architectural firm with offices in San Diego and New York City. “If we get the lay of the land, we feel safer and more comfortable.”

Ninety percent of a person’s visual field is below the eye sight line, Colkitt added, which helps make retail flooring “hugely important.” It is, he said, the single most important finished material in a space.

“We are all always in contact with the floor,” he added. “And we take it for granted.” Slowly, said Colkitt, retailers have been making more use of floors as image creators and information providers. A shift in flooring design or use of material can take a shopper from one area to another, with no signage or fixtures needed.

“You can demarcate a space using the floor,” he said.

One of the biggest areas of change in flooring is the emergence of printing techniques that enable the transfer of almost any image onto ceramic tiles and other materials. Also now available are “through color” tiles, meaning if the tile chips, the retailer won’t be left with an exposed white spot.

For Puma’s store in the SoHo section of Manhattan, Colkitt and two project partners carried through the urban theme of the space and imprinted a manhole cover on the ceramic tile floor in the fitting rooms. The flooring in the fitting room for a new Puma store in Miami will resemble a pool. “It will feel like you are walking on top of water,” Colkitt said.

Meanwhile, new vinyl tiles in wood veneer are becoming popular in supermarket deli and produce departments for their easy care, with vinyl tiles that look like slate being embraced as a cost-effective alternative to the real thing.

“Retail clients are now able to use different materials, such as porcelain tiles or less expensive vinyl, but with the same design,” said Gaston Olvera, project director for MBH Architects, Alameda, Calif. This is helpful for retailers with tiered stores — they can have a similar look in all stores but at a lower cost than a flagship.

Flooring materials have also become available in plank sizes — not just squares — which allow for the creation of different floor designs and patterns. And like a fresh coat of paint, thinner flooring products are emerging that can be laid over existing floor.

“With these you don’t have to take out the old,” Olvera said.

Durability and maintenance costs remain top concerns for big-box retailers when choosing flooring, although most are willing to spend a bit more to accent big-ticket departments, according to the architects. Polished concrete is still the workhorse.

A floor’s overall look, color and texture naturally come into play.

“Often retailers think about neutrals so they don’t overpower what they are selling,” said Olvera. He recently worked on a new Camper store in Santa Monica, Calif., that deliberately used only white floor tiles to help product stand out.

Sustainability has also entered the flooring conversation, with topics including not only the type of material, but what types of cleansers are needed to take care of it.

Laura Klepacki is a contributing editor to Chain Store Age.

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Buildings Go Green

BY Marianne Wilson

Green building is on the rise, with half of all new U.S. retail and hotel projects expected to be green by 2015, according to recent surveys. The boom is credited to a number of factors, including higher energy efficiency standards, a move toward greater transparency, decreased operating costs, increased sustainability awareness and a more responsible use of building resources.

According to Lux Research, an independent research firm specializing in emerging technology, the green building sector is expected to grow by $280 billion globally by 2020.

As stores and commercial buildings go green, here are the top trends* to look for:

Alternative energy sources: More businesses are turning to alternative energy sources in efforts to lower utility costs, meet green building standards and generate their own electricity. One increasingly popular choice is solar power, which harnesses the sun’s free, clean energy to power HVAC, lighting and more — while lowering electric costs and impact to the environment.

Increased visibility: The release of publicly disclosed building use in New York City is likely to set up a trend for other U.S. cities, making businesses more accountable for their utility use. Building product manufacturers are catching on, too, offering increased transparency with environmental product declarations.

Net zero: Net-zero building status once seemed impossible to obtain, but it’s becoming more common (net-zero energy buildings generate as much energy as they consume). Now, commercial building developers and architects are starting to showcase net-zero energy designs as a means of differentiation from competitors.

Daylighting: An increasing number of new building designs and retrofits rely on daylighting to reduce energy costs by up to one-third, positioning windows, skylights or other openings and reflective surfaces to take advantage of the sun’s natural light. This method also relies on a daylight-responsive lighting control system that automatically adjusts brightness when daylighting is inadequate, helping to keep energy use and costs in control.

High-efficiency HVAC: Heating, ventilation and air-conditioning can account for 40% to 60% of a building’s energy use, making it an obvious first item to tackle in greening efforts. High-efficiency HVAC units are not only equipped to meet current building efficiency standards, but also are built with features such as MSAV (multi-stage air volume) supply fan technology that can boost overall comfort while dramatically reducing electricity costs.

Local sourcing of raw materials: Local material sourcing reduces the amount of energy involved in transportation to the building site, resulting in lower carbon emissions. (*Trends source: Lennox Industries)

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Less is More

BY Dan Berthiaume

Bristol Farms has been outsourcing logistics management since 1996. The upscale specialty grocery store operator initiated logistics outsourcing to aid growth. But the retailer has since used it to improve delivery efficiency.

“In the mid-’90s, nobody had heard of the term ‘3PL,’” said Sam Masterson, executive VP operations, Bristol Farms, Carson, Calif., which operates 15 stores in Southern California. “But the owners at the time, who had purchased Bristol Farms from the original founders, had a rapid expansion plan.”

To support its growth, Bristol Farms started partnering with APL (at the time, the supply chain services provider was known as GATX Logistics). The plan required the retailer to move beyond cross-docking dry merchandise and produce, some of which had a shelf life as brief as 72 hours, from the pallet and container levels to the case and item levels, with as quick a turnaround time as possible.

APL modified the proprietary legacy warehouse management system to accommodate Bristol Farms’ unique requirements, resulting in an operation where the grocery store operator is able to ship and receive merchandise almost simultaneously.

The High Cost of Driving

In 2008, Bristol Farms faced a new distribution challenge. Faltering general economic conditions, coupled with sharply increasing fuel costs, bumped up the cost of distribution as a percent of sales well beyond historical rates. The company determined it would need to cut $372,000 annually from its distribution costs to reach its desired rate, and launched a project with APL to get there.

The project used total distribution cost as a primary success metric, with secondary metrics of truck fleet utilization, number of miles driven by the fleet and number of hours behind the wheel.

In addition, Bristol Farms sought to eliminate problems of a high in-store shrink rate of fresh prepared foods.

Bristol and APL determined the best solution to these various issues hiking up distribution costs would be to achieve a 20% reduction in delivery frequency by removing one day from the five-day delivery week.

As part of the distribution process overhaul, Bristol Farms began using a “single pass” ordering system where store associates go up and down the aisles scanning tags of items that needed replenishment. Orders then show up premoduled at the warehouse dock.

Less Truly Is More

As a result of successfully removing a day from its weekly distribution cycle, Bristol Farms has reduced the number of miles driven per month by 20% and the percentage of total driver hours paid as overtime by 45%.

In addition, distribution expense as a percentage of sales has fallen 18 basis points. Other “soft” benefits that have developed from the project in the past few years have included better planning resulting from having 20% less ordering opportunity, reduced receiving time at stores, having the fleet available for vendor pickups on Wednesdays and improved driver compliance with Department of Transportation regulations.

“Our stores get big chain distribution benefits without the big chain investment in warehousing and inventory,” Masterson said.

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