Small-Box Construction: Challenges of dealing with unexpected rollouts and permit roadblocks
The small-box construction track at SPECS/2007 was designed for retailers with smaller store formats. Sessions offered insight on a variety of topics, from the impact of Sarbanes-Oxley on retail construction build-outs to managing accountability through the design and construction process.
Managing resources: The session, “You Want How Many Next Year?” focused on the challenge that comes when a retailer is suddenly faced with a greatly increased number of projects.
“Specifically, we will look at what happens when you move from 10 or 20 locations to 100 or 200,” said Dave Handera, VP, store construction and design, Charming Shoppes, Bensalem, Pa.
The first thing to do, according to Handera, is to assess the situation.
“Understand what you are being asked to execute and deliver, and understand the time frames for deliverables,” he advised. “Carefully look at your current workload, analyze your staff and current resources, both in-house and outsourced. And identify your obstacles to success.”
In evaluating the current organization, there are a number of issues to consider, Handera said, including available competencies, organization structure, in-house vs. outsourced functions, and the performance level, qualifications and experiences of the team.
When evaluating outsourced vendors, look at their performance and skill sets and also consider whether they are large enough to handle your growth needs.
“Consider your resources,” Hand-era said. “What do you have in-house? What do you outsource, or what can and should be outsourced?”
He urged attendees not to get caught in the “We have to do everything in-house” trap or “Outside vendors do not know our processes” trap.
“It is not easy to ramp up and execute successfully,” Handera added. “Do not think you can accomplish everything in-house.”
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Typically, retailers will outsource architecture and engineering (A/E) and project management. Handera advised using multiple firms to handle this part of the project.
“It mitigates your risk in the event there are issues with a particular firm,” he explained. “And it allows the firm to flex and handle multiple assignments.”
The speaker recommended using firms with full in-house competency for MEP (mechanical, electrical, plumbing).
“And track your drawings through weekly calls with your A/E firms,” Handera said.
Attendees were urged to establish a training program for their contract project management (PM) firms. The tracking of projects is critical in a high-volume environment, and weekly reports are needed with weekly or bi-weekly conference calls.
“Opportunities for failure here include hiring a PM team and not training them in your processes, deliverables, needs and quality,” Handera said, “and expecting a PM firm to hit the ground running. Don’t believe them if they say they can—it could mean the difference between success and outright failure. Dedicate all internal resources to ensure knowledge is transferred to your external teams.”
General contractors also play a critical role in the process.
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“Shorten bidding times and ensure there is a cash flow and that payments are not held up,” Handera said.
To anticipate a big rollout, Handera urged attendees to stay close to their company’s growth plan and ask senior management for direction.
“Establish a base of vendors that you can draw from in the event this occurs,” he added. “And start planning now—you don’t have to enter into any contracts.”
Permit process: The session, “Let’s Talk Permits,” focused on an ongoing challenge for retailers: how to work through permit roadblocks. In roundtable discussions, attendees shared best practices relating to securing timely permits, and discussed the pros and cons of expediters, third-party reviews and new permitting options in Arizona, California and Florida.
The session also included the results of an electronic survey that was sent to SPECS registrants and other retail professionals. The length of the permit process and restrictive ordinances ranked among the critical issues, according to the survey.
The session also featured “success stories” and tips as offered by the survey participants. These included:
Use a hands-on national expediter for permitting;
Never use runners;
Use architects to apply for permits. They are viewed as an almost neutral party in the eyes of the reviewers. They also have the best vantage point in negotiating items and/or disputing items that may be requested;
Get construction drawings done early so as to have a lot of time to permit; and
To expedite the permit process, have thorough online documentation, guidelines, published contracts and deadlines for complete plan review. Also, maintain a dedicated Web site with all the information critical to permits and code, and have a list of local expediters approved by the landlord.