Whether you own a smaller business and are looking to start on your first expansion, or you work for a much larger company and existing spaces have been part of your growth strategy for years, it’s essential to know what you need before signing a lease on any existing space.
It can be tempting to postpone engaging your architect until later in the design and construction process. However, in coordination with MEP, structural, and civil engineers, an architect can help you review locations and suggest considerations to empower you to make faster and better decisions about site selection.
Deciding what you need
After the COVID-19 pandemic forced a record number of retail strategy pivots and bankruptcies, over 11,000 stores have closed their doors[i]. If your business is lucky enough to be expanding, you have much to consider with potential takeover and remodel projects from these existing spaces.
With so many existing space options available now, it can be an overwhelming task if you don’t have your criteria defined and easily accessible by all parties looking to secure your potential locations.
Consider all the areas you’d possibly need to touch and the implications if they don’t already exist.
- Does the location include a drive-thru window if you need one?
- What about a multi-story floor plan?
- Does it have outdated or inadequate MEP systems?
- What are the structural impacts if changes need to be made?
- Do you have specific requirements for ceiling heights?
- Are there non-compliant accessibility concerns?
Do your locations need a drive-thru window? If the site you’re looking at doesn’t have one, it may prolong your schedule due to permitting approvals and add costs associated with reconfiguring the parking lot and site ingress/egress issues. The location also may have to be re-zoned, which requires longer zoning approval times.
Does the location you’re looking at have a multi-story floor plan? This may work perfectly for your needs, but it could also pose some issues with ceiling heights and weight capacity.
If the structure or mechanical, electrical, or plumbing systems need major overhauls, you will need to strongly consider the cost and time needed to upgrade or replace those.
Chances are, local codes and federal ADA standards have changed since the space was initially constructed. So you’ll want a thorough evaluation of what updates need to be made. This could require moving toilets or walls to allow for appropriate clearance at doorways, fixtures, etc.
After you’ve determined the needs for your location, define a process that’s efficient for your business. Make sure all necessary stakeholders, including real estate professionals and design consultants, are involved from initial site selection through grand opening.
Defining the process
- Make sure everyone is on the same page
- Determine the appropriate professionals to enlist
- Scope before you sign
Ensuring all of the stakeholders are on the same page about key site selection criteria can help reduce the number of sites approved that don’t meet your needs for new locations. When a uniform process is defined, it can be consistently followed and ultimately reduces construction costs associated with sites that won’t meet your brand standards.
If your standards are clearly defined and accessible to all parties, it’ll help eliminate some sites right out of the gate. The standards need to address much more than traffic counts to avoid costly oversights or updates
You should also determine the appropriate professionals to enlist and when.
An architect will help with a professional evaluation of the space. They will assist you in determining accurate concepts for the use of the space or adapt your current prototype to fit the space. They’ll also help you document existing conditions with as-built drawings, identify critical design and operational issues that must be addressed, advise on permitting requirements, and incorporate necessary code updates.
Depending on the location, you may also need to enlist civil, structural, and Mechanical, Electrical & Plumbing (MEP) engineers from the start. If there were no locations in your desired area that include a drive-thru, civil engineers would help you with vehicular traffic flow to and around the building. Civil engineers can also help determine if utilities are available and sufficient for your intended use, or if work needs to be done to satisfy the needs. You may not know before you send out a team to scope the site that the MEP systems are outdated and in need of repair or replacement. Unless you had already planned on adding all-new systems, this could add a significant amount of money to your remodel of the space. MEP engineers can evaluate systems in place and provide an assessment to guide negotiations with landlords.
The last thing you want is for your project to fail an inspection before your scheduled opening. This is precisely why enlisting all the appropriate parties from the beginning is key to your project’s success. Codes change from state to state, city to city, and year to year. You can never assume that what worked before or somewhere else will be sufficient for the next project.
To help you gather better initial information, invest in hiring a team of consultants to “scope” a site before you make any final decisions. You’ll have fewer surprises and be better positioned to manage unexpected costs. You’ll also be able to more easily adhere to brand standards for footprint layouts, ceiling heights, and MEP systems. This upfront investment will also result in a clearer scope of work for all design consultants, enabling the project to move along faster.
The team you send out to scope the location will also note other issues you can’t easily assess without having boots on the ground. Some items they might find that would create a potentially longer, more expensive construction schedule include:
- Multiple elevation changes throughout the space
- Unsafe conditions within the space
- Accessibility compliance issues
- Roof leaks
Without looking at these things before signing the lease, you could end up having to foot the bill for major modifications.
While converting existing spaces can be less expensive than ground-up construction, it comes with unique risks and warrants a different approach. Many budgets have tightened over the last year, and no one has money to burn. With a population weary of quarantine and social distancing, now might be the perfect time to invest in growing your business before the market rebound is in full swing.