shopping mall interior view

The Value Of Forward-Thinking MEP Design In Retail Environments

Retail design comprises a large portion of our work portfolio. In fact, it’s occupied a sizeable percentage since VP’s very inception. We’ve designed across the entire retail spectrum over the past 15 years and have subsequently witnessed the rise of several retail trends from big-box power centers and the advent of discount retailers to the upsurge in frozen yogurt storefronts. Market forces driven by ever-changing consumer taste start, grow and mature these same trends in an ever-repeating cycle where each builds on the foundation of the last. However, the life of a retail trend is often finite. When it plateaus, it must find the means and the measures to overcome the lack of continued support. To achieve this, the trend must utilize new technology, new attitudes, new markets, new demographics or even a new trend to support it.

In the same 15-year period since VP’s founding, E-commerce has grown tremendously. Online retail now allows consumers to purchase anything from the convenience and comfort of their own house or phone. According to multiple industry articles, this ease in accessibility has spurred discussions on the impending (and potentially inevitable) retail apocalypse. Retailers fear that the growth in e-commerce is not merely a trend, but a new way of life that will not simply eclipse in-store retail, but dominate it.

However, a different picture emerges when general trends within the retail sector are examined more closely. Melina Cordero, the Director of Retail Research for the America’s at CBRE, did just that. I recently had the pleasure of hearing Melina speak as the keynote at a local ICSC event. In her presentation, Melina offered some surprising statements about the retail industry, backed those statements with hard numbers, and put the “bricks-vs-clicks” debate into perspective.

Below are just a few key highlights from her presentation :

  • The year-on-year e-commerce sales are over 3 times the year-on-year in-store sales. However, over 90% of retail sales still occur in-store. And in reality, nearly 50% of e-commerce sales go to brick-and-mortar stores.
  • Brick-and-mortar retailers are leveraging online sales: ~22% of Nordstrom’s revenue and ~53% of Williams-Sonoma’s is earned online.
  • An omni-channel platform is expensive; free delivery is anything but free, and returns cost even more.
  • Many brands, which got their start online, are now opening physical stores: Bonobos, Peloton and Untuckit to name but a few.
  • Millennials live and spend differently than the traditional consumer, preferring to spend on services and objects that allow them to live in the moment more fully.
  • The shopping mall is not dead. That said, landlords will need to rethink their tenant mix and what actually attracts shoppers, as well as re-examine the traditional tenant-landlord relationship.

So, what does all this mean? While consumer preferences are clearly changing, and more customers prefer to shop online, this doesn’t signal the end of brick and mortars. Rather, this ebb and flow is merely indicative of an age-old characteristic of capitalism. Business will continue unfettered regardless of fluctuating trends; it’s only in a company’s response to those trends that they will ultimately determine their success.

yes or no check box

Let Them Down Easy: The Art of Saying “No” by Saying “Yes”

In our 15 years as a Charlotte-based MEP design firm, we’ve come to learn and appreciate how truly critical flexibility is to our success.  It’s why we go out of our way to accommodate changes in a project’s scope, budget and timeline, even if that means shaving our fees, working late or rolling that extra conference room into our design. We always place our clients first—our objective to leave them with the best possible design, no matter if it’s a small restaurant or a LEED-designed multi-family high-rise.

There are times, however, when no matter how much we want to accommodate our client, no matter how much we want to deliver, it becomes impossible to meet their expectations.  When I’m placed in these situations, I’m faced with the potential of doing the one thing I hate doing — telling a client “No.” “No, I can’t meet that deadline”; “No, I can’t reduce our fee”; “No, I can’t design that.”  I loathe saying “No,” because “No” is a definite, in-your-face word of rejection which immediately creates an atmosphere of contention.  In the professional services industry, if you tell a client “No” often enough, they’ll find someone who will tell them “Yes.”

So, what do you do in a situation where circumstances dictate the only answer can be “No”?  For me, it’s simple. I say “No” by saying “Yes.”  This sounds as if I’m contradicting myself, but I assure you I’m not.  It’s all in the semantics.

Exactly how then does one disagree by agreeing?  You say “No” by saying “Yes” when you tell a client what you can do instead of what you can’t.  For example, a client calls to discuss project scope for a new senior living facility.  Eventually, the conversation turns to due dates and deliverables.  The client asks for plans on a date you can’t possibly meet and they’re waiting for you to respond.  If you tell them, “I can’t get you plans on Wednesday,” it will be interpreted much differently than if you tell them, “I can get you plans on Friday by noon.”   In the first statement, you blatantly tell the client they can’t have what they want, while in the second statement, you bypass that negativity by stating when you can deliver.  You come across as being agreeable and a team player.  You say “No” by saying “Yes.”  It’s a small linguistic difference, but it’s perceived very differently, and as they say, perception is reality no matter if you’re in MEP design or not.