Site Planning Approaches to Borrow from Multi-Site Retailers

27 February, 2023

How did multi-site retailers become so good at realizing aggressive development goals quickly while keeping costs in check?

The answer lies in their approach, process, and tools.

By utilizing carefully crafted due diligence and site selection strategies, prototype models, and design standards, developers and retailers use proven, effective approaches to streamline their process, including:

  • Providing design consultants with the right tools for site assessment and layout.
  • Ensuring their brand’s non-negotiable factors are considered upfront.
  • Enabling project teams to make fast go or no-go decisions, preventing them from wasting time or money on sites that won’t work.

This approach has become standard for program retailers, and similar lessons can be applied across market sectors.

Here’s what you can borrow from multi-site retail development to streamline the site planning process, increase its effectiveness, and protect project budgets in your market.

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Leveraging Multi-Site Retail Program Standards and Checklists

Development standards provide a reliable, flexible guide for design that minimizes the need to significantly alter or recreate the design for each project. This saves developers from having to start from scratch with each project and keeps their project delivery on track.

Even if you’re developing a single property, the comprehensive site factor checklist below can help your development team make design decisions faster.

Consider these factors early in the site planning process to help you determine the ideal site layout, envision how people will move within and around the site, and think through how the building(s) will be used.

Site Factor Checklist
  • Drive-thru layout (if applicable)
  • General site circulation
  • Parking requirements
  • Preferred parking space locations
  • Loading needs
  • Entrance requirements and traffic movement
  • Visibility and branding requirements

Use this checklist to walk the site with your design professional to help them learn your preferences, identify where jurisdiction or transportation agency delays might occur, and ensure the layout meets the client’s or end-user’s vision, avoiding costly redesigns down the road.

Applying Multi-Site Retail Program Standards to Industrial Development

Although industrial developers may not have standardized design specifications or prototypes as multi-site retailers have, many industrial end users do follow a specific operational model. Learning tenant or end user operations can help the design team maximize site layout efficiency for warehouse and distribution center development.

For example, setting standardized bay rectangle sizes and the required number of bays can streamline the layout and design of other features, like employee parking, lighting, and truck parking.

Understanding areas of repetition can also be a useful tool when optimizing site circulation and flow. If a layout requires every truck to slow down unnecessarily at the same point on a property, for instance, it affects every single truck every single time. This results in countless lost time for the tenant over time.

To avoid this type of site planning design flaw, consider using the following checklist for warehouse and distribution center projects.

Warehouse and Distribution Center Project Checklist
  • Location of building(s) on site
  • Existing features
  • Number of truck parking spaces
  • Employee parking spaces
  • Circulation routes
  • Standard building sizes
  • Bay dimensions
  • Number of bays
  • Exterior lighting requirements
  • Parking ratios
  • Ceiling heights
  • Track and loading dock size needs
  • Aesthetic preferences

Standardizing exterior aesthetic, as multi-site retailers do, can also help warehouse and distribution center developers find creative ways to comply with zoning or land use requirements.

To illustrate: If the exteriors of self-storage or warehouse facilities are designed to look like office buildings, they will be more attractive to municipalities – even though their interiors still meet industrial expectations. Make this exterior design standard to avoid facing the same design challenge again and again.

Standardization could also allow industrial developers to order materials ahead of time. Bohler Associate Tung-To Lam recommends preordering construction documents and materials whenever possible, “This way, when you’re ready to go to construction, you don’t need to wait.”

A knowledgeable consultant who approaches the project with a standard checklist of design considerations can help developers make more informed decisions, maintaining a focus on speed to market.

Applying Multi-Site Retail Program Standards to Residential Development

A solid understanding of a developer’s products and preferences leads to better outcomes for residential communities. This means that large and small residential developers can benefit by establishing a set of design standards and prototypes as much as multi-site retail developers do.

A Programmatic Checklist for Residential Development

Make sure your checklist includes the following:

  • Preferences for community look and feel
  • Model and unit options
  • Intended market and density factors
  • Planned amenities
  • Grading parameters
  • Elevation considerations
  • Ways to avoid waste

Standards for earthwork, especially, offer opportunities for massive savings in residential development.

With a full understanding of a developer’s specific preferences for grading – both in between units or homes and for roadways and driveways – the design team can work with a contractor to develop the most efficient earthwork phasing from the start.

Bohler has shaved millions of dollars off phases of contracts on earthwork alone. We achieve this by being very detailed in asking questions about how the contractor is planning to grade the site. While it may appear to be a small factor, getting the information we need to phase earthwork correctly early on pays off tenfold when multiplied across many units.

Connecting residential developers with home builders early in the process has the same benefit as connecting multi-site retail developers with tenants and end users prior to site planning completion – it helps residential developers get projects under contract before the design is final.

The Bottom Line

Regardless of your industry, an experienced land development consultant – one that asks the right strategic questions at the optimal time and provides a market-tested checklist to guide your decision-making – will streamline your process and prevent or minimize delays long before they become an issue.

When that consultant also works across many markets (multi-site retail, industrial, residential, and more), they’re able to transfer invaluable knowledge across the sectors. As a result, you benefit not only from your consultant’s experience in your market but from their experience in every market.

About Steven Fortunato, PE
Steven Fortunato_Bohler Rehoboth

Steven is a Senior Project Manager in Bohler’s Rehoboth Beach, DE office. With more than 10 years of land development experience, he leads a team of ambitious site civil engineering professionals who look beyond the immediate plan set to understand the bigger picture of what’s possible. Steven played an integral role in developing Delaware’s latest sediment and stormwater management regulation updates. This unique opportunity continues to allow Steven to provide valuable insider knowledge and experience to projects across Delaware and the Delmarva Peninsula.

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