Sunday, July 12, 2009

Architecting the Retail Enterprise

Architects Stephen Kieran (left) and James Timberlake (right)

In their path breaking work, Refabricating Architecture: How Manufacturing Methodologies are Poised to Transform Building Construction, Stephen Kieran and James Timberlake argue that the architect of a complex structure must reassert the role of conceptual leader of designers, builders, product engineers and materials scientists. Too often, they argue, architects are relegated to the role of designer, as commercial builder/contractors have taken the lead in bringing cookie-cutter structures from design to completion. The cost of this abnegation of control to project engineers has been a failure to innovate and acceptance of a false choice between usefulness and artistry.

Similarly, our Retail Lifecycle Management model requires that the developer of the retail enterprise define and guide the physical design of store formats that connect the firm's commercial vision with its marketing message, operations capabilities and target customers. We see Store Development, the management of investment in retail structures across time and geography, as the purview of general management, an integrative function drawing as much on the disciplines of economics, organizational development and information management, supply chain strategy and contract law as on architecture, design and construction.

Since publishing our newsletter on Restaurant Lifecycle Management, we have tested these concepts with leaders in chain restaurant, architecture, software and design firms. Surprisingly few restaurant chains can answer a simple question: "Who is responsible for managing investments in restaurant design, construction and remodeling." Generally management admits to being frustrated by an inability to influence store design, while architects complain that management is unwilling to fund investment in the innovative technology that would help them become more integral to the business. Having long ago decided to leave design to the experts, management complains that its design process seems mismanaged.

Bridging this management chasm requires not an architectural solution, but an organizational one. Retailers are advised to establish store development organizations with full responsibility for managing their investments in store design, site development, construction, and equipment. Just as the Operations Group is responsible for managing store profit and loss, so should a Store Development Group control the substantial budgets for design, construction and remodeling. At the same time, retailers should go about reclaiming the intellectual properties tied up in their designs, CAD drawings and layouts that have been scattered among their many contractors, agencies and franchisees.

There are a couple of hopeful signs. One fast-growing restaurant chain where the store development function is managed by an attorney stipulates in its franchisee agreement that contractors of franchisees work from corporate prototype designs and then submit "as built" designs to corporate upon completion. At another equally fast-growing chain, a staff designer lists Refabricating Architecture on his on-line list of recommended reading.

For related posts see Retail Lifecycle Management.

To learn more about our work in consulting, please see our Profile or read a few of our Case Studies.

Contact JP Farrell & Associates, Inc.

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