VP Engineering employees

15 Reasons Why VP Engineering Employees are the Best

Earlier this year, VP Engineering reached a major milestone as a company — the 15th anniversary since first opening our doors as an MEP consulting firm!  We’ve accomplished (and learned!) a lot since that time, and thought it was only appropriate to create a campaign around the number “15” to celebrate. Since our employees are the reason we’ve been in business so long, we thought it was only appropriate to start with this blog highlighting all the reasons why they’re the best employees around. We hope you enjoy!

  1. Their Sense of Humor: At any given time, laughter is ringing throughout the office. It’s a clear indication of how much we love what we do and who we do it with!
  2. Dedication to Their Craft: Design is always at the forefront of our designers’ minds.  There’s no better example of this than how something as simple as a beer after work can lead to an in-depth discussion on the MEP design of that brewery or restaurant.
  3. Loyalty to the Company: We recognize that our employees are our greatest asset and our employees reciprocate this mentality by investing years of their lives into our firm.
  4. Willing to Share Opinions and Ideas: Our employees are smart (and we’re smart to hire them!).  They openly share their thoughts and opinions to provide our clients with the best possible experience and results.
  5. Their Diversity: We’re a melting pot.  Our employees hail from many different cultures, all of which add to the richness of our own company culture!
  6. Putting up with Those Pesky Bosses: Our three principals are as different as night and day. Navigating those distinct personalities can be challenging, but no less entertaining.  Besides, our employees are engineers.  Overcoming challenges is in their wheelhouse!
  7. Friendships In and Outside the Office: Our employees are just fun, plain and simple.  There’s no better indicator of this than how frequently our employees choose to spend time together outside of their regular 40+ hour work week.
  8. Always Looking to Improve: MEP design is a moving target.  Our employees appreciate this and actively research opportunities to build upon their already impressive skillsets.
  9. Open to Constructive Criticism: This builds upon #8.  Our employees understand there’s always room for improvement and graciously accept critiques and suggestions for that reason.
  10. Treat One Another Like Family: When you spend as much time together as we do, it isn’t surprising that our employees have become like family. They laugh; they argue, but they always support one another—just like family!
  11. Great Conversationalists: Our employees are both witty and sarcastic, making for some pretty humorous conversations throughout the day.
  12. Their Friendly Faces: This is at the heart of it all.  Our employees are genuinely gracious and approachable people.  They extend those characteristics to whomever they’re interacting with from their co-worker in the next cubicle to a client during a site visit.
  13. Their Fashion Style: Several of our employees are style mavens; some so much they look as if they walked off the cover of a fashion magazine.  Way to make us look good!
  14. Passion for Sports: As dedicated as they are to our clients; our employees are as equally dedicated to their sports. You will often find them gathered in a conference room during lunch watching the Olympics, ACC Tournament or most recently, the World Cup.
  15. Never Needing IT Support: Oddly enough, our employees’ computers almost “never” require IT assistance, especially for anything that could be a user-error.
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.

 

helping mep client evaluate their needs

Helping Clients Evaluate Their Needs

As a design engineer, it is tempting to provide the most sophisticated, energy efficient systems for every project. As a consultant, we need to provide what the client needs. Often, the client does not know what they need, and that’s why they pay us. Here are three questions to ask when helping a client evaluate their needs.

What are your goals for the project?

Does the owner want to own the building for 30 years or sell it before construction is finished? Does the owner want to pursue green building certifications? Will the hotel be considered high end or affordable?

Inquiring about the owner goals will help set a baseline for quality. You do not want to put a window air conditioner into a high-end hotel. Understanding the owner’s vision will allow you to present a design that will satisfy the owner and the building department.

What is the project budget?

Money, it’s something most people do not like to talk about. Get over it. If you design a system that doesn’t match the budget then you will not be in the next budget. Design engineers do not make great estimators, but a fundamental understanding of first cost pricing tiers is necessary. Metal pipe is more expensive than plastic pipe. Water source heat pumps are more expensive than vertical terminal air conditioners.

Large projects will often have contractors provide preliminary pricing. Request copies of the budget and review the line items. Familiarizing yourself with how budgets are prepared will pay dividends when an owner asks you to review a contractor change order request.

What do you think about…?

Present your initial design ideas to the client and solicit their feedback. Explain why you are proposing particular systems or designs. Have one or more alternate options for discussion and explain the main differences between the options, i.e. cost, energy efficiency, or maintenance.

Clients may have had a bad experience with specific systems in the past. Do your best to understand what went wrong and sympathize with their experience, but you should also stand behind your design ideas. We are paid to be consultants. Don’t be afraid to consult.

Hotel Projects Q&A Session: Adam & Daniel with VP Engineering

Q&A Session: Adam & Daniel

We spoke with Adam Cross, a Plumbing Design Controller, and Daniel Payne, an Electrical Design Controller, here at VP Engineering about hotel projects and how they keep up with the most modern design. Keep reading to hear their answers and learn how VP approaches boutique and national brand hotel designs.

What different hotels have you worked on during your career at VP?

Adam: I’ve worked on quite a few during my time at VP. I have designed for the Landmark Hotel in Gainesville, Florida, multiple Springhill Suites, and the boutique Chancellor’s House in Oxford, Mississippi. I have also completed quality control for Hampton Inn.

Daniel: Similar to Adam, I designed for Landmark in Florida and completed quality control for the Hampton Inn in Kansas City.

What makes hotel projects different from multi-family building or senior living projects that we design?

Daniel: Usually they are very prototypical. Each hotel has their own standards like particular lights and fixtures that we have to design with. Whenever we design we always have to design to code minimum – but with hotels, because they are building so many and operating them, a lot of time their requirements are above the normal code.

Adam: A lot of times there is a lot more amenities than standard multifamily buildings including kitchens, commercial laundries, indoor/outdoor pools, spas, and fitness centers.

What are we at VP doing to make sure that we stay up-to- date with the latest technology available to hospitality design?

Daniel: We have lots of reps that come in frequently and show us all of the new products and give valuable presentations during lunch-and- learns. With hotel designing sometimes it’s as simple as staying up to date on their design standards. If their design standard is to put a nice, extravagant lighting control system in, we design to that. You can only be as up-to-date as the brand allows you to be. They are continuously vetting different ideas because they end up using it over multiple properties so if they have issues there will be multiple issues.

How is designing for a boutique hotel different from designing for a brand?

Adam: The Chancellor’s House was unique as far as overall design. It was a very compact building and was uniquely laid out. It was also very upscale.

Daniel: It was a lot more free-willing. The owner made the decisions rather than the brand. AS a designer you have a little more leeway and the owner is given the chance to do what he/she wants to do rather than being restricted to brand standards.

Do you notice the design of hotels when you visit them?

Adam: Yes. Being a plumbing designer I definitely notice how long it takes for the hotel water to arrive. I’ll notice the type of showerhead used and if the water is just dribbling out or if there is good pressure.

Daniel: I’ll usually notice if it’s hot or cold in the room or if I’m walking down the hallway and it’s awfully dark I’ll think ‘maybe it’s not a good idea to design lighting this way.’

What are some of the greatest take-aways that you’ve gained while designing for hotels?

Adam: The biggest challenge when designing for hotels is absorbing all of their design standards and making sure that you pay attention to the details that they expect. They (the hotel brand) see these things on a daily basis and we have to make sure we’re meeting their expectations.

What do you see for the future of hospitality design?

Daniel: You might see an increase in boutique hotels but I assume that the majority of hotels that are going to be built are going to be prototypical in nature. One thing that you might see, especially in larger markets where land is at a premium, hotels may start going up rather than out.

Adam: With building codes being ever-evolving, we are seeing that ASHRAE is ramping up their minimum efficiencies to make the buildings much more sustainable. I see all lighting eventually becoming LED and fluorescent lighting becoming obsolete.

17 things you should know about Carolinas’ economy

17 Things You Should Know About Carolinas’ Economy

The 8th Annual Interface Carolinas Conference was held on June 1, 2017 in Charlotte and was, as usual, very informative. The Interface Carolinas Conference is a one-day affair that discusses the state of the Carolinas’ commercial markets. It focuses on retail, office, multi-family, and industrial sectors as well as capital markets.

I thought it might be helpful to share a few points that really stuck out to me during the conference. Continue reading for my greatest takeaways.

  1. Unemployment is down across the country. However caution should be exercised as a person is considered “employed” if they have worked only 1 paid hour in a given week.
  2. Migration across the country is at its lowest rate since World War II. Despite this, the southeast has had good population growth.
  3. GDP is expected to grow 1% in 2017 and 2.7% growth is projected for 2018.
  4. The inflation rate has been temporarily depressed due to a flood of merchandise requiring liquidation for retail store closings – this is temporary.
  5. Tax reforms are projected as the GOP needs something for mid-term elections.
  6. Two interest rate hikes are expected for 2017.
  7. Manufacturing has gained momentum.
  8. The Carolinas are one of the fastest growing areas in the country; however the growth is concentrated in the MSAs (Metropolitan Statistical Areas) and along the coast.
  9. Nationwide, 15 urban areas have accounted for almost all multi-family construction since the recession ended.
  10. Home ownership is projected to increase for the next 10 years as the millennial cohort average age reaches 37 years. This is the age where home ownership really takes off.
  11. From 2010 to 2016, 150,000 people have moved to Charlotte.
  12. Retirees are moving to the Carolinas in increasing numbers. 10 more years of strong growth for retirees is projected for the Carolinas. The Wilmington MSA has had the strongest growth.
  13. 105,000 jobs are forecast to be added to the Carolinas in 2017.
  14. The South Carolina single-family home market has recovered well and is not at pre-recession levels.
  15. The North Carolina single-family home market is more anemic as it is only 2/3 of pre-recession levels.
  16. HB2 did not have much of an immediate impact on job growth. The impact probably won’t be seen in statistical numbers until 2018 – 2019 due to the lethargy of corporate relocations.
  17. Mixed-use retail is doing really well. However, growing online retail sales are projected to deeply impact retail centers with an increasing pace of center closures expected.

In general, we are very fortunate to live in the Carolinas. The economy is humming along and indications are the immediate future will be bright.

does your hotel have a 'we' space?

Does Your Building Have a “We” Space?

When the general public became familiar with the internet in the early 1990’s, change seemed inevitable. What no one knew was how granular and ubiquitous those changes would become.

A prime example of this is social media. Through Facebook and Twitter (and countless other sites), we can tell the world as much or as little about ourselves as we want, while becoming entrenched in other people’s lives at the same time. We’ve become incredibly nosey, living a private life in a public (virtual) space, and expecting the same from others.

What is a “We” Space?

While living a private life in the public space started virtually, the phenomenon is now manifesting itself in the real world. It’s called the We Space trend.

A hotel is the perfect example of a We Space in action. Gone are the days when the hotel lobby’s main function was to check guests in and out. It’s been remade into a large, open expanse with Wi-Fi, electrical plugs, and food and drink. The tastefully decorated lobby invites the business traveler to pull out his laptop, order dinner, and work. It invites the soccer parents to meet and socialize between tournament games while their soccer stars huddle with their teammates and play on their phones. It’s where teenagers go to escape the watchful eye of their guardians and to be alone in a public place.

The We space trend isn’t limited to the hotel lobby, it’s also evident in the exercise room. No longer an afterthought tossed in the basement or tucked in the back corner next to linen storage, exercise rooms have become larger, brighter, and command a prominent location. They offer multiple TV’s with the ability to stream your favorite workout, allowing you to do your own thing among everyone else—who are also doing their own thing.

Another hotel We Space is the rooftop. While people like to socialize in bars, they LOVE to socialize in high places with a view. Operators have discovered that the revenue generated by rooftop bars and restaurants far outweighs the additional construction costs of those spaces.

Your Business Needs a “We” Space

Savvy owners and operators are starting to jump on the We Space trend and incorporate it into their hotels to increase guest satisfaction and generate more revenue. If you own a hotel, now is the time to add a gathering space or risk losing out on business. If the social media trend is any indication, We Spaces are about to become more popular than ever.

senior living design trends

Senior Living Design Trends to Implement Today

It’s easy to see that senior living facilities are thriving: just look at the demographics and industry numbers. The anecdotal evidence is there too – I pass three new senior living construction projects during my commute to work. As the Vice President of Business Development, my personal knowledge of senior living design has become limited to attending conferences and reading articles. While these are great opportunities to gain insight at a broad and higher level, there is a large difference between that perspective and what goes on in day-to-day designing. In an effort to stay well-rounded, I recently sat down with two of my Project Managers to get specific details on the current state of senior living and how we at VP Engineering are preparing for and reacting to the “boom.”

What different senior living projects have you worked on during your career at VP Engineering?

Zach: “I have participated as both a designer and project manager for senior living, memory care, and independent living for about eight years. The most memorable projects I have worked on are The Blake at the Grove, The Veranda, Mebane Ridge, and Chatham Ridge.”

Sanjay: “The first senior living project I worked on was in 2009/2010. It was Westinghouse, an independent living facility designed with Narmour Wright. I have also worked on Mebane Ridge, Chatham Ridge, and multiple Wellmore projects. We have been designing for senior living consistently ever since I started at the company about nine years ago.”

What makes senior living projects different from the multi-family buildings that we design?

Zach: “The life safety aspect is very different. With limited care facilities, you are required to have an essential electrical system with a life safety branch and critical care branch.  The code is specific with regards to what goes on each branch, so care needs to be taken to design them properly. That also includes the nurse call system as well as a generator for emergency power.”

Sanjay: “The amenity areas are a lot like multi-family, but it also has a lot of back-of-the-house necessities such as a full kitchen. It’s a lot more like a hotel than it is a multi-family building.”

What new trends are you seeing in senior living design?

Zach: “The number of projects is increasing because of the baby boomers. A lot more projects are coming in because of the need.”

Sanjay: “The facilities are becoming increasingly nicer. Even when comparing to the one the project that I designed in 2009, it’s much more luxury and top-of-the-line. Owners are asking for dining areas with dance floors, almost like a cruise. They have nice hair salons, therapy rooms, awesome gyms, entertainment areas for movie nights, and bars.”

What are we at VP doing to make sure we stay up-to-date with the latest technology available to senior living design?

Zach: “We’re attending conferences and reading industry white papers. We are constantly looking for and learning about systems that will give owners the optimum balance between life-cycle and cost. Best bang for the buck.”

Sanjay: “We focus on comfort. Owners are leaning to more high-end systems than they’d even have in a hotel. Instead of just putting a PTAC on the wall, in assisted living units they are putting VTAC units similar to hotels. They really care about the comfort. I could foresee eventually going with VRF systems for higher-end buildings. They are willing to spend the money necessary to ensure comfort for their residents.”

How has designing for senior living changed in the last 5 – 10 years?

Zach: “We are designing a lot more because of the baby boomers. Also, the operators are much more involved than they used to be. They now participate in meetings and give us insight on their needs and new trends. Facilities are also much larger because of the number of amenities.“

Sanjay: “The designs are no longer institutional. It has the same requirements, but it is now more of a luxury resort-style. These new senior living facilities are larger buildings with fewer floors. We’re designing for nicer finishes, so you have to take particular care when designing – especially in the common spaces. We meld our systems to coordinate with interior designers. Interior aesthetics are extremely important now to the extent that they affect the MEP systems and where they go. They don’t dictate the function, but they do dictate the location.”

What do you imagine for the future of senior living design?

Zach: “It doesn’t seem to be slowing down. It’s getting nicer and nicer. It’s become more like resort living. People are living a lot longer, so we’ll be building for longer stays.”

Sanjay: “The end of the baby-boomer generation isn’t for another 12 years. They will continue building up new facilities until that time. Following that, I think we’ll move on to renovation. Even after the baby boomer generation, people will continue needing facilities. Perhaps they won’t be building as more, but I expect a lot of renovating.”

Zach Joyce is one of VP’s Project Managers is an Electrical Designer. Zach has been in the industry for 16 years and has been a part of our team since 2009. (link to bio)

Sanjay Patel is one of our Project Managers and a Mechanical Designer. Sanjay is a Professional Engineer in NC, has been working in the industry for ten years, and has been a member of the VP team since 2008.

senior living mep engineers

How Lighting Illuminates More Than A Room

Picture this: you’re at your desk, working on a project, stressing about the deadline. The phone rings, emails come in; it’s a typical day at the office. At some point, you look up from where you’re hunched over and glance outside. It’s beautiful. Cloudless and sunny. Instinctively, you feel the pull to go outside, to get away from the chaos of the office for even just a few minutes.

So out you go.

The sun is bright; the air is warm, the rich green color of the trees contrasts amazingly with the sky. Within seconds you feel better, more alive, a bit more at peace, and the stress seems to ebb a bit. What you’re experiencing is biophilia, the hard-wired human need to connect with nature.

Thirty years ago, we didn’t have the technology to conduct the studies to acquire the data to tell us what we already knew – that being outside is good for us. Now we do, and the information coming out is fascinating. Interacting with nature, even in an indoor environment (think greenhouse and bio walls), provides a great many benefits. Lower blood pressure, better sleeping and eating habits, greater cognitive abilities, reduced stress, stress hormone reduction and improved cognitive performance are just a few of the quantifiable effects of exposure to nature.

How does this happen?

One way is how the body processes natural light. Natural light, with its spectrum of wavelengths, causes specific hormonal cascades in the body which we perceive as emotional and physical well-being. Fluorescent lighting doesn’t come close to replicating this outdoor environment. Color changing LEDs and other specialty light sources, with the proper controls, can be used to better reproduce the outdoor environment for seniors. This is a bit of the knowledge that has come out of the biophilic design field and was presented at EFA (Environments for the Aging Conference).

Savvy senior living designers are starting to incorporate biophilic design principles into their projects, and savvy developers and operators are starting to insist on them. Biophilic design bridges the gap between the holistic, aesthetic, and touchy-feely mentality of architects and the focused, quantifiable mentality of engineers.

efa conference

Lessons Learned from the Environments for Aging Conference

Photo Credit: Environments for Aging

For those who design senior living facilities, the Environments For Aging (EFA) conference is a must-attend. As an academic conference, those who attend learn about the latest senior living design trends and the data that set and guide those trends. Of all the conferences I have attended over the years, the EFA conferences stand out the most.

Like all other conferences, EFA has networking and business opportunities. What sets it apart is the sense of caring you get from the attendees. I don’t mean care in the sense of learning to design better buildings – that goes without saying. I mean the kind of care that comes from understanding the magnitude and responsibility of what you’re undertaking. As we age, our health fades. Some lose vision, hearing, and mobility. Some get struck with disease. The ravages of dementia return many seniors to child-like states and they need to be in places which are as stress and anxiety free as possible.

Taking care of these people is an awesome responsibility that doesn’t start with caregivers, but with the building designers. This is the type of care you sense at EFA: a deep seated obligation and determination to make the last years of life for our seniors as normal, comfortable and anxiety-free as possible. In my opinion, that is an example of the best of the human condition.

If you’re interested in more of what I learned, please contact me to discuss!