5 Key Tips for Commercial Construction Projects: How to Hire a Retail General Contractor for Retail Remodeling

5 Key Tips for Commercial Construction Projects: How to Hire a Retail General Contractor for Retail Remodeling

Are you planning to renovate your retail space, franchise, QSR, or mobile phone fix-it store?

Over three decades, The Beam Team has learned quite a lot about what it takes to make your plans a reality. Serving retailers, restaurants, hotels, and other major brands across the U.S., our Georgia-based general construction company knows how to refresh, remodel, and make the most of most any building and location. Although we serve America’s top brands, no matter the size of the project, we know our customers need high quality delivered on time and on budget.

How will you decide who to hire for your commercial construction project? Let us explore what many share in common when embarking on a new project—and what kinds of qualifications do more than pay lip service.

Make or Break

Delivering on time and on budget is easily said—but not so easy to do consistently. Each project introduces variables, deadlines, special materials, and other unpredictable elements. The right building contractor can make or break your project. Obvious things, like checking their references or walking through a recent project, says a lot about who trusts the GC (general contractor) and what their finished work feels like.

Many big brands have a regular stable of GCs that they call upon again and again. But others may need to seek out new commercial general contractors. Maybe it is in a new geography, maybe the project manager is new to their employer—and expected to raise the bar.

Project managers, franchise owners, and other decision-makers may seek advice from a “friend-of-a-friend.” Others tend to stick with firms they used in the past. Either way, the reputation of the GC is critical to their future. When it comes to retail construction, the GC’s reputation may get built over time. But every project counts.

So, think for a moment about the in-store “customer experience” you aim to achieve. This is created by something more than the right electrical and plumbing. How your brand “feels” walking in the door?

The right GC comes with the experience and the skilled people to satisfy big brands that invest a lot of time and money in the customer experience. Their GC is critical to the achieving how the brand feels—and the range of variables run far and wide:

  • Compliance to corporate-level brand standards
  • Meeting the specs or standards on the mechanical details, like outlets, safe distancing and shields, ADA-compliant restrooms, ovens or fridges, and other installations specific to the business
  • Procuring only the right colors and grades of paint or finishes for the brand, like countertops and signage, at competitive prices

Quality retail construction almost always involves a brand. How can you meet your deadlines and bottom-line goals—and find a GC that knows how to turn sets of blueprints into polished customer experiences?

5 Key Questions for Your New General Contractor

1. What are some of your past projects in our sector?

GCs that work with major brands, like McDonalds, REI, or Walgreens, do not grow on trees. These tend to be specialized contractors that attract and keep employees having certain skills and knowledge. They also have subcontractors—those capable of consistently high quality at competitive rates.

You could ask business contacts if they liked working with a local general contractor. That may carry some weight. Then it comes down to real experience. Do they have processes to run projects? Do they understand local and national requirements impacting your line of business? Can they readily describe experiences that show they know what it takes to build-out a store, hotel, or restaurant like you want…?

  • Have you built out a retail store (or restaurant or fitness center…), something like what we are building? Is there one I can visit or see in person…?
  • What typically goes right and what can go wrong on this kind of build-out?
  • What other brands in our space or business have you recently done work for?
  • When you bid, how do we both make sure the specs get followed? Tell me about your process.

2. How do you track that projects are done on time, on budget, to a certain quality?

It is easy to say that your firm—in your own opinion—delivers on time to the highest quality.

Claiming that is rather easy, and most are not being dishonest. But if you do not formally measure and track quality, for example, you are likely to believe that what you do is great. The customer signed off; you cashed the check.

Being honest, you may not consider the delays on materials, delays on getting permits, delays caused by subcontractors, as part of the equation. However, for the customer trying to open a new location, all those delays add up.

So, general contractors for large brands rarely hide behind delays on materials or permits. Big brands are well-oiled machines with experienced project managers. They seek out GCs that agree with their definitions of “quality, on time, on budget.”

If opening your business on time matters to you, then having your remodeling project run by a GC with strong, hands-on project managers can make all the difference.

3. How do you measure success?

When you ask a GC about being on time and on budget, do they have a scorecard? The best GCs track how they are performing—for continuous improvement over time. How do they score themselves? How do they stay objective when it comes to claiming they do quality work, on time, on budget?

If the GC works with large national retailers, you might expect that they keep a scorecard. They need a way to measure success that goes above and beyond winning the next bid or cashing the next check.

Try open-ended questions to learn the culture and management style of the GC. Commercial-grade GCs rely upon their reputations, so bravado only lasts for so long. If you approach the General Contractor with frankness, respect, and openness, you will learn a lot about what makes them successful and how it might feel to work with them.

While we all want to hear, “on time and on budget,” look deeper for their focus on your concerns, your grand opening, your customer experience. Do they respond to those pain points and goals? How have they overcome delays or obstacles in the past—to keep things on time, on budget for those big customers?

The right GC can speak about the customer’s brand and own ideas of success. Lots of deals get awarded in every business based on the lowest bid. Try to tune into the GC’s deeper motives. Do they really care and have a passion for continuous improvement? Declaring success because they have won a volume of deals is easier to do than proving that you consistently perform to certain quality levels.

4. Can you integrate my project, beyond construction, like fixtures and other set-up?

To those newer to retail, restaurants, financial services, and similar construction, this may be among the most underappreciated benefits of an “integrated general contractor.”

Integrated means having people and a business model that delivers more than electrical, plumbing and painting services. The integrated GC has people and partners to turn most any retail construction project into a turnkey experience for customer’s head of the project.

The integrated GC not only builds or remodels, but also installs the fixtures and literally sets the stage to open the doors on Day 1.

The integrated GC can make the project run “turnkey,” responsible for managing all the details, the various vendors, and suppliers, to make the space ready for the grand opening.

  • They install checkout lanes and point of sale systems for grocery stores.
  • They ensure the drive-through and its lighted menus comply with local ordinances for the Quick Serve Restaurant chain.
  • They organize products on the shelving that they installed for the hardware store.
  • They integrate the services and materials to see that you can open your restaurant, cell phone store, or other business on time and on budget.

The integrated GC does not insist on being all things to all people. But hiring an integrated GC gives you more leverage and options. Very likely, they understand complexities and nuances to timelines and how needs can shift suddenly. They cannot just “pass the buck” to another contractor or supplier. They are supposed to be in control of all those variables.

5. What kinds of changes did you make to be productive and maintain quality and safety during COVID?

Without a doubt, the pandemic changed how the construction industry thinks about construction projects. What does safety mean? Where do we do business? How do we react in the face of the unexpected? Commercial GCs needed to quickly accommodate new safety practices in the field if they were to keep projects going. Even with vaccines, how will contractors and subcontractors adjust during a crisis?

Forward-thinking GCs came up with new methods and practices. They innovated ways to keep projects moving—and created procedures to protect workers, customers, and consumers along the way. Can the GC you plan to hire respond to a crisis?

How did they react to care for their people, their customers, safety, and productivity?

All that counts, too, not just “on time, on budget.”

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