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By Chris Bachler
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A well-built store—one that is consistent with others under a retailer’s umbrella—is a powerful tool for communicating a brand. In fact, arguably nothing (beyond the product itself) is a more tangible signifier of the brand than the store environment. This puts the store planning team in the position of acting as brand managers and means that for the construction manager, whether he/she is employed in house by the retail company or as a contractor specializing in retail construction, understanding the brand (the retailer’s goals, visions, and marketing strategies) is a cornerstone of day-to-day work.
Even though brand-oriented goals reside outside the scope of the traditional architecture/ engineering/construction professional, retail project management job descriptions regularly include such tasks as performing store surveys and market analyses, strategic sourcing and procurement, the development of environmental graphics, and more.
Adding what amounts to a second job description to a project manager’s busy schedule can end up detracting from his/her key responsibilities: to manage construction from the design phase through store opening. Stretching project managers too thin can lead to inefficiencies during the construction phase which negatively affect the built product... and because construction details can make or break store performance, ironically, project management shortfalls become harmful to the brand.
Furthermore, while retail construction involves a cross-disciplinary, big-picture focus, it is also more detailed and nuanced than many other types of construction. Design program requirements are never vaguely de ned or composed of simple, general guidelines. They are extraordinarily specific, being determined by teams of designers and branding specialists, and must achieve consistency with other store locations worldwide. Quality standards, too, are extremely stringent.
As is the case in so many industries, the key to taking on an escalating number of tasks is to harness the power of technology. Every retail construction project manager knows the value of using IT or software strategies to manage his or her work. In today’s construction environment, forsaking the use of software is not an option. Outdated pen and paper methods simply cannot scale up to meet the timelines, budgetary constraints, and other demands of the retail job site. Most companies have a suite of computer programs that they have come to rely on, with Microsoft Project and Excel being two of the most commonly used.
Retail-specific software applications are also popular. After all, with duties that spill over into other areas of management, construction professionals may believe that having a dedicated construction project software is too narrow; the comprehensive range of a retail software application may seem to be a clear fit. However, given the critical nature of the construction project execution phase, a wiser approach is to make a robust project management tool the cornerstone of a store building effort. Glossing over day-to-day details of the job site in favor of focusing on high-level milestones can allow errors and inefficiencies to mount and ultimately undermine the entire project. The “devil is in the details,” as the saying goes.
Recent developments in software as a service (SaaS) are bringing countless improvements to the construction management workflow, and allow project managers to more effectively communicate with all project stakeholders. The mobile, cloud-based applications that are intrinsic to SaaS permit project managers to integrate a broad range of project information with their own core systems and data sets. For retail construction projects, mobile apps can be used to create synergies across the entire project effort.
Increasingly, software companies are expanding the range of tools they offer their customers by becoming platform as a service (PaaS) providers. By forging partnerships with other software vendors in the industry—covering accounting, scheduling, storage, reporting, and more—they make it easy for project owners to integrate construction information with other systems. Furthermore, some software providers are making open application programming interfaces (APIs) available. By providing creative developers with the computer coding necessary to invent new add-ons and applications, the number of valuable tools available to the entire construction team can grow exponentially.
The case for using this kind of project management system becomes strong when one considers that without it, retailers are more likely to experience project delays, budget increases, lack of proper documentation and higher risk. The costs add up when these problems occur on multiple projects within a retailer’s portfolio.
To understand how project execution contributes to both brand perception and a retailer’s bottom line, it is helpful to examine the construction process from its inception.
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Branding considerations overlap with construction considerations from the very first stages of store planning. A particular challenge for retail construction project managers is the aggressive timeline that is typical in the industry. Not only are quick rollouts of individual locations desirable—since a closed store is a store with no revenue-generating ability—but retailers need to constantly update their image in order to stay competitive and keep up with their market. An image update can take the form of a brand refresh, in which branding strategies are tweaked in a way that leverages the brand’s historic image and value proposition.
It can also take the form of a rebrand, in which the company image is completely reworked. In either case, tremendous pressure is brought to bear on construction activities, as changes to physical store locations are often part of the process. Furthermore, rebrand/refresh efforts must take place across all store locations nearly simultaneously, kicking o a construction boom. This increases pressure on the construction timeline.The preconstruction phase is appropriate for establishing overall project objectives, getting a grip on the project schedule, and the time in which detailed plans and estimates can be assembled. The right software platform can begin capturing data during the preconstruction phase, and carry it through the entire project.
Improving data capture and the ow of communication is key during material review and supply chain planning. Accurate, specific information helps pin down costs as well as enable value engineering. In addition to identifying actual market costs, the construction team can use a detailed planning platform to discover which items require long lead times.
In retail construction, design documents don’t simply go out to bid directly to general contractors and trades. They must loop in landlords, property owners and developers,and perhaps international store planners. It is therefore immensely helpful to have bidding documents and contracts that have been well organized during the preconstruction phase, and to have them easily accessible, as they are when using construction project management software. With most SaaS solutions, bid documents can be any format, including PDFs and file types from other construction software packages such as CAD applications or spreadsheets.
Using SaaS, subcontractors can download bid packages and provide bids that quantify their contributions to the project in terms of material quantities, productivity rates, worker hours, wage rates, material dollars, overheads, and indirect costs—and this information is integrated into the overall project database as well.
During the bidding process, SaaS allows owners and project managers to:
When bids are in, SaaS facilitates quick evaluation of the key factors used to derive the best price for a specific subcontract. By creating a bid history, users are able to consider bids based on the total number of bidders on a project, the backlog of individual bidders, the bidding history of individual vendors, the physical location of specific bidders, and the speed with which a bidder is able to both respond to a bid and amend the bid based upon additional information.
Project management software automatically maintains comprehensive bidding history for every project and bid packet. Emails—both sent and received—are attached to vendor records and changes are tracked. For retailers, who have many stores in their portfolio, this is particularly valuable.
The primary goal for any construction project is on-schedule delivery, and in the retail sector this is particularly true since store open dates are critical. It is also vital to stay within the project budget. And retail construction projects involve a third key factor: quality assurance/quality control measures...because the final, built store must be an asset to the brand.
In order to be on schedule and on budget, as well as end up with a high-quality deliverable, a host of discrete tasks need to be managed. Project management—enabled in no small part by technology—is the glue that holds these tasks together and allows the end product to support the brand.
In general, when construction projects are managed using isolated or “point,” applications (such as Excel), information cannot be standardized across the various programs in which it is housed. Data remains siloed instead of being integrated, organized, and correlated, making it difficult for various team members to gain project insight. Having siloed information also necessitates repetitive manual data entry, or the copying and pasting of data from program to program, and this opens the door for mistakes to be made and spread throughout the system. In contrast, data that syncs automatically between programs not only reduces the workload for all team members, but maintains a high level of accuracy.
With dedicated project management software, all project information is stored in one place. Tasks that would involve multiple email communications for team members working without the bene t of collaborative software can be completed in minutes using cloud-based apps. For example, requests for information (RFIs) can be created and assigned directly from the job site. Product specs attached to submittals can be accessed in seconds. All communication is tracked, ensuring that team members are automatically notified when RFIs, project changes, and updates are made. This comprehensive process gives owners visibility into the complete body of project activity.
Want to read more? Click here to download the free eBook, "Building a Retail Brand with Construction Software."
The Anatomy of a Request for Information (RFI)
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