Top 5 Considerations for Working with a Contractor

Why collaboration and engagement are imperative
Posted December 18, 2017

This isn’t what the initial store prototype looked like! What happened?” asks the chief marketing officer of a major retail chain with more than 500 locations.

Hopefully this is something you will never hear. To avoid a situation like this, here are five helpful tips to consider when working with a contractor (or group of contractors) on a major retail rollout:

Engage the contractor early in the process.

I once heard a good industry friend say, “If you don’t get in a fight with your contractor, something is wrong.” I don’t necessarily agree with this statement, because there are ways to avoid this. It’s important to engage your contractor at the very beginning of a project, listen to their concerns and be communicative with them. This will serve two key purposes: It will help to make them feel involved, and it will also provide an opportunity to recognize any challenges going forward. Many times, specialty subcontractors will have relevant and interesting thoughts to share that can influence potential design improvements.

Be mindful of lead times.

“What do you mean you didn’t order it? You knew this material had an eight-week lead time.” This happens more often than you think. Specialty or custom items (and even some stock items like light fixtures) can take several weeks to receive. It is critical to understand these lead times and review them with the contractor so they’re aware of this and can factor it into scheduling.

Be sure to check shop and engineering drawings.

“This isn’t what we discussed! Where did that come from?” Again, not something you want to hear. The only way to avoid this is to insist on shop or engineering drawings in order to review key design components. These drawings should be carefully examined to ensure compliance with the original design intent. Of course, sometimes adjustments are necessary for a variety of reasons. Make this an opportunity to review potential changes and discuss them with the contractor so there are no surprises in the end.

Develop comprehensive standards and conduct a first articles review to ensure consistent execution.

How can you make sure that store number 813 will look as good as the brand or retailer’s prototype location? In two ways: comprehensive standards and first articles reviews. Notice, I use the term “standards.” Standards are not “guidelines.” Guidelines provide direction on how things are going to work, either together or individually (such as space planning relationships, feature wall details, etc.), while standards are meant to set targets to be used as benchmarks for every single component and every single store without deviation. First article reviews are the first production runs of key in-store components, such as signs and store fixtures. The first articles should be reviewed and approved before the rollout commences so mistakes aren’t repeated.

Think of creative ways to control construction costs.

“I didn’t realize we could save that much. How did we do that?” Now that’s something everyone wants to hear. When it comes to major rollouts with multiple locations, it is possible to negotiate national sales contracts with key suppliers (such as lighting suppliers, cladding suppliers, flooring companies, fixture companies, etc.) to obtain the best costs possible. Saving 50 cents per square foot may not sound like a lot, but when it saves “X” amount on 1000 square feet of material on a 500-store rollout, that could mean upward of $250,000 in savings. It all adds up, and that’s only for one in-store component.

Managing a comprehensive store rollout or conversion with many locations does not have to be a problematic or stressful experience, especially with some thoughtful planning and collaboration. Use these tips to avoid the most common missteps and ensure that your next rollout is as smooth and successful as possible.

Kraig Kessel is a member of VMSD’s Editorial Advisory Board and is a licensed architect who has spent most of his 30-year career developing branded environments and international signage programs. He co-founded his own company, Kraido, in 2010, which creates retail interiors and develops customer experiences that are strategic, innovative and practical.