7 Secrets to Working with Retail Architectural Controls
What happens when a national (or international) retailer that works hard to create a uniform brand identity comes against a lone development that is subject to very specific architectural controls?
It is one of those rare cases in a business where the much smaller player holds the cards and has the ability to make the largest multinational submit to its design vision. If you want to be in their development or community, your business will have to adapt to fit in. It’s that simple.
An experienced commercial architect can help you successfully navigate this unfamiliar and sometimes delicate process. The goal is to conform to the overall aesthetic dictated by the retail architectural controls – while maintaining the identity and integrity of your iconic brand.
Dealing with architectural controls can cause great stress for retailers who feel they are being put under unreasonable and unrealistic demands. While most organizations and landlords are very cooperative, there are stories of others who let the power go to their heads – and go out of their way to make the process challenging.
We’ve dealt with both sides of the spectrum. Based on our experience, we’re pleased to share the following advice to make it easier when working with retail architectural controls.
1. Take the effort to understand the vision they are trying to achieve, and familiarize yourself with the requirements.
Developers and communities put architectural controls in place for a reason. They are usually trying to create a unique and unified look that reflects or defines the overall character or personality of the development. Architectural standards provide common guidelines to ensure all businesses conform to the vision. By taking the effort to understand the goals and objectives behind the guidelines, you are in a stronger position to meet them. This knowledge can also help you structure your case for variances if you can prove that your suggestions are aligned with the spirit behind the guidelines.
2. Establish a cooperative and collaborative approach from the start.
The fate of your design is in the hands of the individuals or committee responsible for overseeing the architectural controls. You need to show you are on their side and are working towards a common goal. Ask questions. Show that you are open to discussion. Rather than assuming something can’t be done, ask why not. Make allies; this could allow you to develop back channels so you can ask a question without having to go to the whole committee.
Instead of challenging every small detail, pick your battles. It will increase your ability to gain a favourable response to the elements that truly matter.
3. Work with your architect and your corporate head office to determine what can and can’t be done.
There may be some things that are easily modified within a corporate design standard and others that aren’t. Have an open mind and prepare to be creative. Determine if the architectural controls create any red lines that cannot be crossed and decide if any of the requirements are a hill to die on.
The most important consideration is whether or not a design request will negatively impact your ability to attract traffic within the context of the development. Don’t forget, all other merchants will be playing by the same rules – so try not to view your build in isolation.
4. Do a great job of selling your plans to the public and stakeholders when working with retail architectural controls.
Your designs will need to be approved by the developer, municipality or an architectural committee. In some instances, you may have to make a public presentation or share your concept at an open house.
Put the time and effort into creating a strong presentation that addresses all concerns and puts your design in the best possible light. Make sure you have a professional presentation (be it PowerPoint or mounted easel boards with concepts and renderings). Share your enthusiasm for the project and your desire to be a part of it.
If you are presenting to volunteer committee members or the public, don’t get bogged down in technical terminology. Be prepared for the types of questions community members may ask and show a willingness to work together.
5. Don’t get frustrated if you get sent back to the drawing board.
This is a normal part of the process and is to be expected when working with retail architectural controls. It may happen because a merchant is trying to make minimal changes to an existing design standard. Or perhaps an important requirement was misunderstood or overlooked.
It is crucial that you receive a clear explanation of why your submission was rejected, and what changes you are required to make. Be sure to get this in writing.
6. If your differences are irreconcilable, are you best to walk away?
In going through the approval process, you may determine the demands are too costly, are not compatible with the brand, or impose unreasonable restrictions. You may end up throwing in the towel because there are simply too many hoops to jump through. A negative or confrontational experience may be a sign that this development is not the right fit for your business.
At the end of the day, you have to determine if it makes sense from a business standpoint.
7. Celebrate the fact you’ve created a one-of-a-kind location.
There is something that is pretty cool about running a business that is unique from any other location in your retail family. Embrace this, and do everything you can to ensure you stand out for your exceptional customer experience!