Store Construction

Reducing Construction Costs: What Does It Take?

Reducing Construction Costs: What Does It Take? 1440 428 ASG

In commercial retail construction, costs can quickly become a headache, posing challenges for businesses seeking to bring their visions to life. To navigate this challenging landscape, it’s critical to maintain a clear project scope, engage an experienced store planning and construction team, foster open communication, and stay well-informed about industry trends, economic shifts, and local regulations.

Rapid changes in store planning and construction over recent years have slowed projects down once they leave the design phase. We sat down with Elizabeth Seitz, Jenn Crawford, and Trevor Boyle from the ASG Store Planning and Construction team to explore how they prevent projects from hemorrhaging when confronted by rising construction costs, labor issues, and sourcing/logistics concerns.

“It’s gritty, it hurts, it bleeds. That’s our job: to figure out how to keep us from bleeding so much.”
– Trevor Boyle, ASG

What are the first things to do when trying to reduce construction costs?

Elizabeth: It’s all about planning. You want to be involved early in the process with the details of the deal. What are you building? Where are you building it? Are we shipping internationally, cross-country, or locally? Are we using trucks, ships, planes, or trains? Logistics in various countries and regions can drive up costs. We procure and plan early enough to know all those details so you can bring them to light with the client. Then, together, we set priorities for the rest of the project.

Jenn: I start looking at what we can reuse within the space. Can we reuse the bathroom or keep the electricity in the same spot? What can we reuse that will help us reduce work down the road? Some clients want you to reuse everything; some clients want the space updated to their vision.

Trevor: When it comes to building, you have three primary points: scope, schedule, and budget. You have three ways you can approach all three together or one at a time: good, fast, or cheap. You can choose two out of the three, and the other WILL affect your outcome. What is your priority? If you do something good and fast, it won’t be cheap—which in turn affects your budget, scope, then schedule. You must establish very early on the quality of standard expected by your client and go from there.

So how do you balance client expectations with reality? How can you educate, guide, and make their dreams a reality?

Trevor: It’s my job to guide them into their lane. And sometimes that means informing them that what they need is different than what they want—what’s necessity versus wish list.

Elizabeth: It’s all about communication. “I want X, but save me money,” is what we hear a lot. Every client has needs and wants, so you must dig down into the why.

Jenn: For example, do your bathrooms really need to be super fancy? Especially if they’re tucked away in the BOH?

Trevor: Besides the fact that you think it’d be nice, it sometimes doesn’t translate.

In what ways has sourcing evolved over the past few years? What do you look for now when sourcing? What are your priorities and how have they changed recently?

Elizabeth: Sourcing has become so much more important these days. These conversations need to happen VERY early. If you are trying to source something (especially custom), there is a minimum time to get through the process. You need to plan all that before documents go out so that GCs [General Contractors] can bid correctly and get subcontractors for the work. It all goes back to planning because the last thing you want to do is say you’re over budget on week two—by then it’s too late. You must plan upfront with multiple options for value engineering to avoid all of these roadblocks.

Trevor: People get stuck on the idea that they must use a specific material or item. You could give people two items that are two identical items, ask them to say which is worse, and every time they’ll pick a different one. We often deal with the illusion of quality and encourage our clients to consider a difference in materiality. If it’s a prominent feature, then yeah, sometimes it has to be THAT material.

Elizabeth: Luxury brands might prioritize the differences when substituting materials. To Trevor’s point, they get in their mind that they want Carrera marble, so our job is to find other cost-effective methods. To some, taste equals expense. The illusion of expense equating to quality, however, can be enough to make customers feel better about spending more at fancy store.

With there being shortages in skilled labor, are there often long lead times or delays with preferred GCs and how do you navigate them?

Trevor: The last thing you want to do is replace subcontractors on a project. If you do it, you can get backcharged by the secondary sub for the work that was already finished by the first. It’s hard to find people to help because they’re so busy.

We never plan supplementation. We qualify bids by looking at each one. What did they miss, what are they not including, are they trying to buy the job? Will they really perform? Their bids should cover all labor needed without the need for supplementation. Supplementation comes in during the process if they need help.

Elizabeth: The contractors have to understand what we’re asking them to build. Qualification of bids takes more upfront. If we have rollout programs, we start up front, looking at how we plan out the construction schedule so that we can keep GCs that understand the build, moving from project to project, and growing with the account over time. We are trying to build relationships with General Contractors for the long haul. There is a shortage of skilled labor right now, and if we can build those relationships an establish a good work flow, we can keep them busy. There is a lot of competition for the smaller labor force out there right now.

The Modern Airport is the Destination

The Modern Airport is the Destination 1440 428 ASG

Imagine visiting an airport that not only serves as a transport hub, but also doubles as an adventure park, shopping mall, and sanctuary for relaxation.

In today’s travel landscape, airports are redefining themselves as destinations in their own right, offering travelers and locals alike experiences that go beyond the usual concept of an airport. Whether you’re looking for a taste of local culture, thrilling entertainment or an oasis to escape the stresses of travel, airports are evolving to cater to a diverse range of preferences and needs.

The timing couldn’t be more important. Industry experts say an expected 9.4 billion passengers are expected to travel by air in 2024, an important milestone as the global industry continues to recover post-pandemic. By comparison, the year 2019 saw 9.2 billion airline passengers.

The transformation of airports into dynamic, multifaceted spaces reflects a growing trend that enhances the travel experience, making the journey as memorable as the destination. Here’s how they’re doing it.

Amplifying Local: Airports Embracing Regional Flavors and Culture

At Adelaide Airport in South Australia, you’ll find 100 Miles, a restaurant with a unique philosophy: It exclusively uses ingredients procured from within a 100-mile radius of the establishment. Embracing the flavors of the region, this innovative eatery offers a menu featuring locally-sourced, seasonal ingredients sourced from the city’s Central Market and paired with South Australian wine.

The conceptual restaurant amplifies local flair and offers the nearly 6.5 million passengers traveling through the airport each year a taste of the region’s culture and products.

Yet 100 Miles isn’t just a restaurant; it’s a snapshot of the modern airport, reflecting the growing trend of providing authentic and locally-inspired experiences to travelers.

Across the ocean in Seattle, an expansion currently under way of the C Concourse at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport is inspired by the Pacific Northwest landscape. The more than 145,500-square-foot expansion, expected to be complete in 2027, adds four additional stories above the airport’s existing concourse.

With enhanced views of the surrounding Olympic Mountains as the backdrop, the project provides travelers with additional dining and retail spaces, as well as amenities like interfaith prayer and meditation rooms and a nursing suite. A marketplace located in the middle of the concourse will be modeled after Seattle’s famous farmers’ markets and will serve as a location for more retail kiosks and musician performances.

As part of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority’s multi-year redevelopment plans, Reagan National Airport and Dulles International Airport will see a boost of local flair. D.C.-area coffee shops, gift shops and apparel shops will add locations inside the airports, alongside a new restaurant at Dulles from Fabio Trabocchi, a celebrity chef and owner of the Italian restaurant Sfoglina, which is nestled in the northern D.C. neighborhood of Van Ness.

Revamped Retail: Transforming Airports into Entertainment Destinations

Airports are not only redesigning retail and entertainment spaces to cater to the preferences of today’s travelers, but also becoming entertainment hubs – not simply a necessary stop.

At Perth Airport in Western Australia, guests can escape a haunted house, explore a space station, or battle pirates on the high seas– all while never leaving the first level of Terminal 1 International. It’s all part of the airport’s enhanced VR experience, Gaming Point, which offers VR escape rooms to elevate the travel experience. Gaming Point also allows guests to choose from a library of more than 50,000 games to play on state-of-the-art gaming desktops. Once gamers leave the airport, they can continue to play using their own Steam network account.

Have a long layover? No problem. Check out the flight museum or the used book store at the Milwaukee Mitchell airport, or play interactive games in Buzz Zones at the Hong Kong International Airport. Immerse yourself in art at one of Miami International Airport’s galleries, or make sure you plan a special trip through the Munich Airport during the holidays where you’ll find a Christmas market that features an ice skating rink, carousel and an open market selling handmade crafts.

Airport Innovation: Setting New Standards for Comfort

It’s not all about entertainment. International airports are also elevating passenger comfort and relaxation during layovers.

At the forefront of innovation, Auckland Airport’s Strata Lounge boasts private wellness pods that visitors can book in advance. These pods create a calming ambiance through gentle, customizable lighting, immersive floor-to-ceiling photographic murals of tranquil forest landscapes, and modular sofas that can be converted into single and twin sizes.

At Dubai International Airport, global travel hospitality brand Airport Dimensions has installed its largest “Sleep and Fly” lounge where guests can unwind and even take a power nap in between flights. Afterward, guests can freshen up in luxurious showers stocked with Ayurvedic spa products, enhancing the sense of relaxation and rejuvenation.

The “Sleep and Fly” lounge is a prime example of how airports are setting new standards for airport comfort, reflecting a growing trend in which airports worldwide are redefining the passenger experience. As travelers increasingly seek unique and enjoyable layover experiences, these airports are taking the lead in offering services that elevate the airport experience to new heights.

Airports as Community Hubs: Enticing Locals to the Airport

While most people who walk through the automatic doors of an airport are on their way to somewhere else, more airports are reimagining what it means to be a community hub.

By transforming airports into hubs for socializing, recreation and even a whole day of entertainment, they are no longer simply places for travelers in transit. This shift in perspective is enticing locals to visit the airport for activities – many of which have nothing to do with traveling.

One example of this transformation that sets the standard for airports serving as the new mall is the Changi Airport in Singapore, home to the Jewel mall. Nearly 300 retail and dining outlets offer a variety of airport shopping center experiences at the mall. Near these airport retailers is a 150,000-square-foot Canopy Park that includes gardens, topiary walks, bouncing nets, mazes and giant slides that create a fun airport experience. While these areas are part of the airport complex, they are located in the landside zone and are accessible to anyone – flight ticket or not.

At the Detroit Metro Airport, visitors have access to two terminals with a DTW Destination Pass, and at Orlando International Airport, you can visit terminal C with a visitor pass. While these passes allow family and friends to surprise loved ones arriving at any of the gates near the terminals, it also offers an opportunity for locals to access a PGA tour shop, gather for a drink at a taproom, get a massage and eat at one of dozens of restaurants.

The distinction between travelers and locals blurs in these locations, as airports are increasingly working to invite everyone to explore a world of social interaction within their confines.

Wellness in Travel: Enhancing Passenger Well-Being

1 in 3 business travelers say the journey itself is the most stressful stage of their trip out of town. And in a post-pandemic world, only about a third of those traveling for business are happy to be back on the road, citing stress and exhaustion for their hesitance.

Even those traveling for vacation often experience stress. More than 90% of Americans say traveling can be stressful.

Many airports are seeing an opportunity to address this stress by enhancing the passenger experience. While comfortable lounge chairs, calming teas and neck warmers to relax tension may sound like pampering tools found in a luxurious spa, they are actually part of the Centurion Lounge space at Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport.

Airports like this one are increasingly focused on promoting passenger well-being by introducing a range of amenities and services that cater to holistic health, relaxation and mental peace. This shift in perspective reflects a broader trend in the travel industry, as travelers seek ways to alleviate the stress and anxiety often associated with journeys.

Other key developments in this wellness-centric transformation include:

Bringing nature into the terminal through incorporating natural elements like dog parks and walking paths.
Offering healthier dining options like at Newcastle International Airport in the UK, where you can find a range of vegan, vegetarian and other healthy food options.
Wellness-centric lounges that offer private sanctuaries to de-stress and take a break from the airport crowds.
Digital gyms like at the Incheon Airport in South Korea, where passengers can participate in interactive visual workouts for different ages.
Wellness services, including flu shots, IV infusions, diagnostic testing and even virtual yoga and meditation services offered through XpresSpa at airports in New York, Phoenix, and Salt Lake City.
Noise pollution reductions that eliminate loudspeaker announcements (and additional passenger stress) at Zurich Airport.

From celebrating local culture where passengers can embrace regional flavors to ensuring visitors are entertained or comforted, airports have undergone a remarkable transformation. With more than 9 billion passengers expected to travel by air in 2024, it’s crucial for airports to evolve and carefully craft elevated experiences so that they are not merely a means to an end.

The way and why people travel are changing. Read about The New Bucket List Travel:

The Retail Store Prototype is Dead

The Retail Store Prototype is Dead 1440 428 ASG

Once upon a time, when a store launched, there was a flagship on 5th Avenue in New York City that served as the prototype store. From there, a standard cookie-cutter rollout of smaller, but similar, stores proliferated across the country as the brand grew. In fact, it became so cookie-cutter that it led our CEO, Carrie Barclay, to write about the threat of retail homogeny in 2017.

As Carrie wrote then, homogeny is for milk, not for retail. Today, those prescient words are proving themselves again and again.

Time to Toss Out the Recipe Book

There is no cookie-cutter roll out anymore. In fact, without the right data, it’s hard to know where to locate a new retail store, let alone the design that should be implemented.
You might instinctively think New York City is where you need to be, but the data may point to better success in Indianapolis.

Most retailers vying for today’s customers must be able to deliver a hyper-personal, customized experience that is different in every location. The store a brand opens in Buffalo, New York simply cannot be the same store as the one in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Retail Location Strategy and Store Design Are Intertwined

Today’s retail location strategy and store design must be relevant and deliberate. Rollout is a complex dance where every store is now a prototype.

As retailers try to control the cost of building, sourcing materials from the local area is a smart approach, but that means different material boards for each region; styles and materials for stores in the Pacific Northwest will be different from those in the Midwest.

Rather than see this as another wall barring retail growth, brands can embrace the opportunity to use location, materials, and product mix together as a way to provide a unique experience in every store. Not only do local customers appreciate the local feel, but travelers enjoy going into to a store they love in a different location and noticing local or regional differences in the retail environment.

“Don’t go too quickly. Take it slow. You don’t need to go from 0 to 20 stores in a year—especially if you’re just starting out. You don’t have to commit to rolling something out across the entire fleet. Give yourself the chance to evaluate what works and what doesn’t. How does it work for the staff? Customers? What if we can’t duplicate it? Or if you must change it for every single store? Someone needs to be the keeper of the standards and organization, and that’s where we step in,” says Jennifer Crawford, Senior Project Manager at ASG.

Opportunity to Meet Customers Where They Are

Post-pandemic, consumers are shopping closer to home, but they still seek unique and memorable experiences when shopping in person – and they do love to shop in person. These factors are shifting location strategies for retailers, leading to store openings outside of the typical launch areas – and introducing unique store designs for certain neighborhoods and college campuses.

“You can maintain a national footprint and effectively leverage regional and localized design. Bringing these strategies to scale can be a differentiator for retailers who want to thrive, not just survive.”

—Carrie Barclay, President and CEO of ASG

When assessing retail spaces, location data emerges as a distinct form of insight, capable of revealing unexplored opportunities for every potential location. This data explores more than just traffic patterns, structures, and roadways. In addition to all that information, it also reveals extensive demographic data about the consumers living in the area, including median income, home values, and more.

With data-driven insights, brands can test a variety of different prototypes to see what works where. Small-format stores and flagships can benefit from the insights that give a human touch to the brand.

How Are Brands Repositioning?

Retailer solebox is a shoe company in which every location is specifically designed for where it’s located. Their website explains, “The stores all have their own design concept and stand for themselves – what connects them is the carefully curated assortment. The latest sneakers, streetwear from different continents but also some pieces from the high fashion world can be found at solebox.”

Jeni’s is a popular ice cream shop with more than 25+ locations. Travelers love seeking out Jeni’s in the towns they visit because they know they’ll find something different at each location. Jeni’s has developed a winning strategy of choosing a location, like Congress Street in Austin, Texas, and then creating flavors based on the local market. They also appeal to customers’ desire for sustainability and inclusivity by using Direct Trade ingredients, employing a diverse team of people, and working to improve our environmental and social impact.

“People go on first dates at Jeni’s Scoop Shops, people get proposed to, and have their weddings with us…Our customers send our ice cream for Mother’s Day, bereavement gifts, and anniversary gifts. We are a part of people’s lives,” said Chelsea Clements, former director of ecommerce at Jeni’s, to ShopperHQ.

American clothing and accessory retailer Vineyard Vines was founded in 1998 on Martha’s Vineyard by brothers Shep & Ian Murray, who still lead the company. They now operate more than 70 retail locations, including an outlet division, a successful e-commerce business, a domestic distribution center, and expanding corporate headquarters. Shep & Ian’s philosophy that “every day should feel this good” and “if you’re doing what you love, you’ll be successful” is a major part of their brand. In 2020, they reevaluated their location strategy and, working with ASG, discovered that the brand does best along the coastlines.

To compete effectively for today’s experience-driven consumer, retailers must toss out their old playbooks and develop location and design strategies that connect with consumers where they are. The traditional store prototype is dead; now, every store is a prototype that allows the brand to learn more about what customers want and fine-tune their approach.

Read more about ASG’s retail location and insights tool, ASGEdge, which helps retailers examine potential sites using a forward-looking modeling that scrutinizes an extensive list of variables, including proximity to competitors, demographic insights, and consumer behavior.

The Nuances of Retail Store Planning and Construction

The Nuances of Retail Store Planning and Construction 1440 428 ASG

The Nuances of Retail Store Planning & Construction

With ASG Experts Elizabeth Seitz + Jennifer Crawford

Ask ASG’s Elizabeth Seitz to describe what store planning and construction is like these days and she will tell you, “It’s kind of like horse racing, but with bulldogs who all scatter and move around. We veer between lanes to make the shortest and best path.” she says. “We all start off in our own lanes, but if you really want to be efficient, you must cross lanes and work together to get to the finish line.”

Seitz, ASG partner, construction, says working in store planning and construction is ever-changing, and to succeed, you must be adaptable. With over a century worth of combined experience, our Store Planning and Construction team has been navigating the rough industry waters for quite some time. We sat down with Seitz as well as Senior Project Manager Jennifer Crawford about the years they’ve spent becoming masters of the trade and what the current landscape for retail planning and construction looks like.

Q: What led you to a career in store planning and construction?

Elizabeth: I went to school for interior design and the first several years were the same as an architecture student. They wanted me to transfer to architecture after getting good grades in structures/environmental sciences, but I didn’t want to only stamp drawings. That’s how I ended up in design where I got my first internships— at RTKL, Genzler, and I. Magnin stores— which paved my way into retail design.

I found that I was evolving by being in in-house retail design, where you tend to do a little bit of everything from procurement to construction. I was very involved through the whole process of my projects, from concept through execution.

Jennifer: When I was little, I was always rearranging my bedroom every month; I was always into interior design. Over the summers, instead of getting a job, I’d redo the basement, build a deck, and take on other home improvement projects around my family’s home.

After high school, I went to The Ohio State University for interior design to get both an architecture and an interior design education. I ended up falling in love with interior design. I did one internship during school at The Limited. Post-grad, I started working at an architecture firm, and then to dELiA*s to do store design and construction (SD&C). I came over to ASG when dELiA*s decided to outsource their SD&C functions because they were already handling their real estate and I’ve been here for 12 years!

“Store Planning + Construction is all about being reactive all the time and twisting that into being proactive to get ahead of the game. You always want to make sure to keep the horse in front of the cart, even when it gets reversed.” -Elizabeth Seitz

Q: What are the challenges in planning and constructing retail stores?

Jennifer: Right now it’s permitting and construction manpower. Permitting changes from city to city, and the requirements are different every time. Everyone everywhere is facing understaffing, which can really clog things up in a project. There’s nothing you can do about either of those things, except to completely adapt, pull it together, and get things done as timely as possible. Adapting to all the different client programs and how they do things differently is a big hurdle as well, but a lot of the time they’re coming to us because of our knowledge to listen and partner with us.

Q: Is it always the same process between projects?

Elizabeth: There is a good general overarching process you need to know that you can carry between projects, and by knowing the overall process you can tweak the steps. It’s like planning a wedding— it’s all the same whether there are 5 or 500 guests. You can start to tweak based on the goal volume of stores to be built. At a wedding, you can go more over the top if you have 5 people vs. 500, but it’s kind of the opposite when designing stores.

When a smaller volume of stores needs to be designed, it typically comes with a smaller budget than a huge rollout program. You must think logically and use your partners to pivot intentionally. If you can partner better, then you can work faster and cut time out of the schedule to take shortcuts and save resources.

Q: What are the biggest differences when working on a prototype design, as opposed to a roll-out program?  

Elizabeth: Budget. budget. budget. The prototype is a different budget than the roll-out program. Revealing the brand image is the key focus when building a prototype all while knowing that when you go to volume, you’ll need to bring the original budget down to make it scalable.

Timing and schedules can’t be forgotten either. Prototypes are always bumpier— you’re in discovery mode regarding brand image. You always have multiple meetings with the client’s brand team to take inventory of what’s working. Once you get into rollout it’s a whole different group of levers you have to push and pull. It becomes all about timing: permitting time, scheduling time, and the number of stores they want to open that year so that they meet their sales goals and projections.

The prototype is where you really get to be explorative to the point where you’re looking at a million different options. In rollout, you home in to get the best price and best quality of materials. I try to use value engineer finishes— it’s just a look! The custom finishes do not always hold up nor have longevity. I love working different angles of the custom, brand-ownable layers to bring down costs with vendors and installations because as we all know, time is money.

Q: What is the most rewarding aspect of working in this field?

Elizabeth: Retail is fast-paced and that means you get to design a store, and within the year, it comes to life. You get a strong sense of accomplishment in being a part of the entire process— from dealmaking through opening the doors for sales. Planning and construction require expert-level problem-solving. Planning is like a giant game of Jenga; we make sure everything is perfectly coordinated and fits. It’s a fun challenge to think about building in any type of environment—an external street location, interior mall location, you name it. How do you translate the brand and execute that brand in multiple different avenues?

The other fun thing is that by the time it gets to us, the design concept is figured out; we’re just executing. When it gets into construction and planning, it’s all around the timeline. Get documents, permit, landlord approval, then construction. It’s a finite time we have based off possession date and rent commencement.

Inevitably something will always go wrong. You always must plan for that “oh sh*t!” moment. Having the ability to pivot quickly and bring in partners to solve issues in the moment provides a sense of accomplishment without delay.

Jennifer: I have a passion for value engineering. I’m cheap at heart, so I’m always eager to see what we can do to make things work better for less cost. There are tons of other options that will work just as great as the original that your everyday retail customer will never notice the difference. I love finding the needle in the haystack that fits the solution perfectly.

Q: What is your favorite project you’ve completed over the years?

Jennifer: Tonal 5th Avenue because it was a flagship. It was a fun challenge—a flagship on a budget. Your typical flagship in NYC is going to be millions, but I think we were at $500k at the end of the day here and it turned out amazing. It was super fast too! Our first time looking at the space was at the end of March, and it was finished by Labor Day. Collaborating with their small team— with one creative director— really gave us the opportunity to get into the details and work seamlessly together. We were able to interpret and implement everything from infinity mirrors, edge-lit backlit panels, etc all while reusing the shell as much as possible.

Store Planning and Construction

Q: What advice do you have for brands looking to build their stores and go into brick-and-mortar right now?

Elizabeth: Be thoughtful and planful. When it comes to store planning and construction, think about it not only from space planning but also brand image and store operational perspectives. In theory I can build anything or make anything work, if you give me the time and the money, but that doesn’t always work with the brand and their business projections. If it takes 1.5 weeks to build vs. 2 days, there’s materials and costs you can save. Often operations are not thought of until customers and employees enter the space.

Jennifer: Don’t go too quickly. Take it slow. You don’t need to go from 0 to 20 stores in a year—especially if you’re just starting out. You don’t have to commit to rolling something out across the entire fleet. Give yourself the chance to evaluate what works and what doesn’t. How does it work for the staff? Customers? What if we can’t duplicate it? Or if you must change it for every single store? Someone needs to be the keeper of the standards and organization, and that’s where we step in.

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