Retail companies operating in the modern and fast paced retail environment have two key challenges when designing their outlets. The first is to get the latest outlet open and ready to trade as quickly as possible, whilst keeping the project cost under control. The second factor is to ensure the optimum use of space in a way which maximises the leasable areas but ensures that the retail brand is consistently served to customers. These two challenges apply to new and existing outlets that require continual updates and complete re-designs in most cases. The need to get the outlet opened or re-opened quickly and the need to maximise space mean that the design and design process needs to be more accurate than ever before. The use of modern design tools, including BIM software options for retail provides many advantages but the challenge is to ensure ample, skilled resources for the detailed planning that is required in the modern outsourcing world. Large retail firms typically have in-house architectural design teams; however, the need to scale their operations without increasing direct overheads means that many firms are increasingly looking to outsource some of the design process. Where an in-house team is not in place, retailers typically use specialist architectural and store design firms that also require the additional resource that outsourcing can provide.
Deciding to use the services of an architectural CAD outsourcing services provider into your workflow is a positive move to drive profitability, cut delivery times, maintain retail design standards and keep costs in check. However, it is very important to exercise due diligence when selecting the most aligned offshore design support partner for retail projects. Factors such as the complexity of the project involved, the elements that are considered options for outsourcing and the core expertise of the partner will have a bearing on the selection. The following provides guidelines that no retailer can ignore:
- Domain experience and track record
The importance of evaluating the core areas in which the outsourcing partner specialises cannot be emphasised enough. For instance, if the client’s design team seeks expertise in CAD design support for retail extension, refurbishment and upgrade projects for a fast food restaurant chain, it is best to select an offshore CAD team which has a track record of working on similar projects. Besides project expertise, the offshore provider should have expertise on the software platforms used by the client team to deliver schematics, concepts, detailed designs and construction documentation to facilitate seamless collaboration and interoperability.
- Compatibility with your in-house design team
The cultural fit between the client’s in-house design team and the outsourcing team is a vital factor that can make the client/vendor partnership successful. Both the in-house and offshore teams need to be on the same page on aspects concerning CAD/BIM design standards, project workflow, brand direction, sustainability objectives, project goals and time schedules. The best way to ensure team compatibility is to ensure that face to face meetings take place – especially at the pre-selection stage. Such meetings should include a formal and informal get-together so that the business culture and the social culture can be evaluated by the retailer/retail design team. By taking the opportunity to meet the partner at their own location, the retailer/retail design team can review a number of technical and non-technical elements. However, the opportunity to meet the management and design team, that will in effect become an extension of the retailer’s team, is the most important aspect of the face-to-face meeting. Indeed, as well as the initial face-to-face meeting, the most successful partnerships also involve continual face to face meetings as part of the ongoing governance of the partnership.
- Technical expertise with requisite tools and processes
To serve as a reliable retail design extension to the in-house team, the vendor should have a team of technically proficient resources as well as well-established work processes and quality control procedures with quality accreditations (such as ISO9001:2008 quality control standards) in place. Again it is advisable to visit the partner/vendor and see their team and their processes in person. This will provide a clear picture of whether the firm has a diverse mix of architects, design consultants and project management professionals that have an in-depth knowledge of modern CAD and BIM tools (such as AutoCAD, Revit and Navisworks) and if they can handle your quality and time expectations. It is also very important to assess the relationships that such partners hold with key software resellers. For instance how does the partner purchase software from Autodesk and is the software purchased with subscriptions.
- Communication tools and methods
Evaluating whether the outsourced CAD services provider has systematic processes and protocols for day-to-day communications, file sharing, query resolution and quality control is critical to a fruitful partnership. Having virtual collaboration tools in place indicates that the firm is available for continuous interfacing with your design team. Also important is the cultural and linguistic fit so that the offshore support team is not just ready but also aware of the discussions and resolutions whenever the need arises. Communications tools, frequency, modes and timing are all important elements to consider. It is the underlying communication culture of a partner and his employees that will dictate the flexibility of team members to discuss their issues openly and honestly with your own in-house design teams. It is very important for example that partners understand and respond to your own culture when it comes to communication. For example, communicating potential delays very early on in the process is not something that some cultures understand while others will just not be ready to say ‘No’ to a request which is impossible to deliver upon.
- Local market presence
The availability of local contacts for an outsourcing partner is an important consideration. Although not always possible, the availability of a local partner (in the retailer’s own region) provides additional benefits, such as a standard time zone, local contacts and local insurance requirements being met if needed. The local contact can also facilitate the process of project start up, ongoing project management and regular communication. In cases where outsourcing is new to a retailer/retail design team, this level of local support may be useful when selecting a retail design outsourcing partner.