Suburban Shift: How Multi-Site Retailers Are Pivoting Strategies

26 February, 2024

Navigating the shifting retail landscape is challenging. Urban markets, once promising, now present heightened costs and loss prevention challenges. In response, major retailers are recalibrating their development strategies, choosing to breathe new life into suburban stores to meet consumer preferences. 

Guided by retail program methodologies to cut costs and enhance efficiency, Bohler’s teams are playing a pivotal role in assisting developers in expediting their projects amid this transformative shift. The current sentiment among our clients underscores a heightened awareness of the need to mitigate risks, particularly in aspects such as site selection and design features.  

Our clients are increasingly recognizing the need for a nuanced approach, prioritizing risk mitigation in both site selection and design features.

Cornelius Brown, Principal

Streamlining Multi-Site Retail Development

Retail programs streamline the development process by utilizing pre-existing layout prototypes tailored to specific site requirements. These programs use checklists to assign optimal layouts based on factors like road location, parking needs, and loading requirements. By adopting standardized layouts, developers can efficiently repeat processes, ultimately reducing development costs. 

Our larger clients, with decades of experience, have well-established design standards that we adhere to. They often have one or two preferred building layouts that they can recycle, resulting in cost savings for their development.

Eric Dubrule, Associate

Typically established retailers not only have consistent standards but also adapt them regularly. Any changes made by these experienced entities can usually be traced back to a specific issue, whether it’s related to safety or operational efficiency. These retailers promptly address concerns and update their standards accordingly. 

For less established retailers, Bohler helps to develop prototypes, design standards, and program guidelines to help the client scale.  

Building Realistic Timelines with Due Diligence

Developers are not only highly selective in choosing prime, high-traffic locations, but they also conduct thorough due diligence to anticipate and address potential project issues beforehand. This proactive approach helps avoid unexpected costs during development. 

Mitigating risk goes beyond site selection; it includes a retailer’s decisions in site design, structural features, and the arrangement of parking, buildings, utilities, and open space. Established brands often rely on well-honed development programs that guide these decisions, adhering to best practices to streamline development, minimize costs, and enhance customer traffic through pre-made retail program plans. On the other hand, smaller chains and independent operators, while having more design flexibility, typically adopt mainstream strategies that resonate with their targeted customers. 

Expanding Drive-Thru and Curbside Pickup Trends

The popularity of drive-thru and curbside pickup, driven by customers seeking speed and convenience, is now crucial for retailers, extending beyond quick-service restaurants to include grocery stores and large retailers. Post-COVID, a surge in delivery services has prompted restaurants to prioritize drive-through efficiency, leading to reconfigurations like adding order stations or allocating space for delivery drivers. 

For existing locations, retailers must weigh the benefits of efficiency improvements against the costs of reconstruction. Our teams collaborate with clients to minimize project costs through meticulous design, approvals, and compliance with zoning for an efficient construction phase. Despite construction costs and potential disruptions, the investment in a more efficient operation and improved customer experience is typically considered worthwhile for the long term. 

Reimagining Parking

When grocery stores or big-box retailers consider adding drive-through lanes, curbside pickup, or electric vehicle (EV) charging stations, repurposing existing parking spaces is a common approach. However, such changes demand a thorough review of zoning and land-use regulations, as even a configuration that maintains the total number of parking spaces can conflict with utility placement, traffic patterns, or other parameters set by zoning, building codes, or site plans. 

The process can be complex, requiring meticulous planning and engineering to integrate new features seamlessly into site functionality. Additionally, zoning ordinances may not always address these evolving uses, requiring the developer’s team to educate municipal staff or assist in establishing local rules. While some municipalities keep pace with development trends, outdated codes can elongate the approval process for zoning and site plans. 

Planning a multi-site development program or expansion? Find a Bohler Program Management specialist near you.

About Cornelius Brown, PE

Cornelius is a highly accomplished site civil engineering professional with an impressive career spanning over two decades in land development consulting. As the Principal and Regional Manager of Bohler’s Pennsylvania region, he holds a vital role in overseeing all of Bohler’s projects within the City of Philadelphia and its surrounding suburbs. With a keen focus on client relationship management and project team coordination, Cornelius excels at facilitating effective communication among all key stakeholders to ensure successful outcomes.

Beyond his role at Bohler, Cornelius is deeply involved in contributing to the betterment of his community. He serves as an active member of the Board of Directors for the BIA of Philadelphia, where he plays a crucial role in supporting the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee as well as the Government Affairs Committee. Through these positions, he actively promotes inclusivity and advocates for positive change within the industry.

Committed to the empowerment of the youth, Cornelius is also a dedicated member of the Board of Directors for Breakthrough of Greater Philadelphia. His contributions to this organization demonstrate his passion for education and his desire to make a difference in the lives of young individuals seeking opportunities for growth and success.

With an unwavering dedication to his profession and community, Cornelius Brown continues to be a driving force in the field of civil engineering and an exemplary advocate for positive change in the Philadelphia region.

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