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Building the illusion of business as usual

The current state of the retail construction market is categorised by a greater focus on refurbishments, extensions and interior re-purposing projects, as opposed to new greenfield developments.

These types of works are periodic and most shopping centre owners, managers and landlords will have been through re-purposing projects before. In fact, it’s likely that the people on the ground will have weathered a few difficult projects in their time.

Perhaps in days past, the ends justified the means. Disruptions to tenants’ trade and consumer comfort were deemed worthwhile so long as the project, on completion, could be deemed a success.

But it’s no longer the case.

Today, with growing pressure to derive maximum value from shopping centre assets, managers and landlords want to be increasingly involved in these re-purposing and refurbishment projects to ensure they’re done right.

They recognise that there’s a greater need for all stakeholders to collaborate from the outset to deliver a better, smoother project not just on completion, but throughout the building works.

One of the main reasons for this is a levelling of the power balance. As shopping centre tenancy mixes change to respond to shifts in what consumers demand from shopping centres, tenants have more power in their relationships with centre managers.

This extends to expectations that the centre will provide the best possible environment for them to succeed in, even during building works.

For builders, this necessitates a change in mindset. Instead of thinking of a retail precinct to be re-purposed as a ‘building site’, it must be viewed as an operational shopping centre, at all times.

Take presentation, for instance. Tenants – and shoppers – increasingly demand a shopping centre environment that is familiar and comfortable, one that provides a convenient, welcoming atmosphere from open to close. One that gives the impression that there are no building works taking place.

So how can a retail builder achieve the illusion of business as usual?

It comes down to staging. Smart hoarding solutions and noise minimisation are crucial, and public safety is obviously a top priority, but the most significant benefits are derived through the use of an Early Contractor Involvement (ECI) model.

This requires the builder to be engaged early in the process to work with the design team to ensure that the concept can be delivered efficiently in a construction sense. Using an ECI approach also lights the path as to how a re-purposing project can be staged to minimise – and where possible eliminate – disruptions.

As shopping centres change, for instance as department stores seek to optimise their use of space, and medical and childcare facilities become more prominent, specialist retail builders must recognise these trends and prepare for their efficient, economical delivery.

ECI makes this possible while enabling the centre manager to dictate the level of involvement they wish to have in the project.

The ultimate goal of an interior re-purposing project is to unveil the new retail space with the appropriate fanfare once complete, without shoppers or tenants having been inconvenienced in getting to that point.

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About the author

Rob Doust

Rob Doust, Managing Director, Mainbrace Constructions

Mainbrace is Australia’s leading retail construction company. Since 1989, Mainbrace has delivered more than 1,500 projects valued at more than $4 billion including high-profile projects like Narellan Town Centre in western Sydney, Yamanto Central in Queensland and the $200 million redevelopment of the iconic David Jones Sydney CBD store. Mainbrace’s specialist retail expertise includes Early Contractor Involvement (ECI) and covers the breadth of retail construction, from supermarket upgrades, interiors, bulky goods rollouts, logistics facilities, national rebrands and refurbishments, to the construction of major retail infrastructure on greenfield sites.

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