Mirror Adds Purpose to Columns

In my last column, I touched on a number of suggestions for scouting existing sites for establishing a kitchen and bath showroom. But, what if you decide to build a new showroom? Along with the decision to build comes a seemingly endless stream of other decisions, big and small, but all-important to the outcome of the final product.

To shed more light on exactly what is required to manage a project of such grand scale, I consulted Bob Garner, CMKBD, director of design for Reico. A multi-branch kitchen and bath retailer, distributor and wholesaler, Reico operates 19 showrooms in Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Delaware. Its typical showroom comprises 5,000 square feet, with a place for everything: office space, client meeting rooms, selection areas, literature, children's areas, along with an array of displays that feature products in "room applications," not just simple vignettes.

Along with a plateful of other responsibilities, Bob is charged with the mammoth task of managing Reico's new construction projects. As we discussed his work, I found the challenge to be an amazing feat of juggling multiple jobs, and quite interesting as well. While other showroom projects may not encompass the same large scale as Reico's, it occurred to me that project managers likely face many, if not most, of the same decisions. But perhaps most intriguing are the diverse roles a project manager must assume when shepherding a new building from start to finish.

Role Playing
If you have pondered the possibility of building a showroom of your own, take a test-run by imagining yourself in the following roles:

Role Number One Job Interviewer: Bob says that because the company does not have a traveling construction crew to build its showrooms, Reico works with local contractors in the areas where it builds. As anyone who has built a home knows, hiring a contractor presents a plethora of challenges. For Bob, it means interviewing potential contractors five to six months in advance of an upcoming project. And, since it is difficult to find one contractor that can handle everything from framing and rough work to specialty finish work, Reico usually must hire two contractors, one for each of these phases.

But, that's not the end of the hiring. Aside from the general contractors, Bob works with architects, engineers, electricians and designers. He also coordinates intricate aspects of the project, down to the countertops. For example, he contracts with local fabricators to create countertops of concrete, soapstone, solid surface, granite, laminate and other materials. Besides fostering a good relationship with local businesses, this step is necessary because of the distances and added expense involved with hauling in these fragile materials.

Role Number Two Project Expert: Once Bob finds a suitable contractor (or two), he must bring the crews up to speed by acquainting them with the expectations of the job. Usually, this means asking the contractor(s) to travel to an existing Reico showroom to see it and price out the work required to build a similar project. This also requires a thorough knowledge of previous projects and what it took to build them so any questions the contractors might have can be answered immediately.

For projects where no predecessor exists, this task requires not only a working knowledge of construction, but also an inordinate amount of patience the knowledge, so everyone understands the project expectations and requirements, and the patience, so these important elements can be communicated through conversations and blueprints.

Role Number Three Liaison: When building, it is necessary to obtain all of the necessary permits and inspections as required by the city (or county or township, as the case may be) and state. This step requires a familiarity with the local government structure to determine which officials, boards, commissions or councils are in charge of approving new projects. To complete the permit process, one must contact the proper authorities at the government level and "jump through the hoops," so to speak.

Role Number Four Coordinator: Making everything happen as it should, and when it should, is arguably the greatest challenge facing the manager of a large construction project. Accomplishing this goal means everything from keeping your workers on track to ensuring that orders for products are placed in a timely fashion and deliveries are received and kept track of at the project site. Bob says keeping the work site clean and organized is the key to making sure none of the hundreds of products received at the project site are misplaced or damaged. It seems simple enough, yet this task requires diligent management so that individual small messes do not spread to meet and create chaos.

Other vital operations that require constant coordination include:

  • Working with all contractors and designers involved in the building process.
  • Ensuring timely physical deliveries of kitchen and bath products to the project site.
  • Formulating and maintaining a method for cataloging and storing all of the "stuff" until it is needed for installation or placement within the showroom.
  • Communicating with manufacturers regarding products that are backordered or damaged and arranging for timely deliveries so the showroom can open as planned.
  • Orchestrating which and how many crews can be working at once and determining the proper order of the installation process.
  • Selecting (or approving) d'cor and accessories for the consumer showroom.

Role Number Five Counselor/ Human Relations Specialist: Bob says dealing with different human personalities creates its own set of challenges. In Reico's case, workers often travel to the worksite and spend the week there, returning to normal life with their families only on the weekends. This can go on for weeks, sometimes months. This emotional stress, along with deadline pressure and the inadvertent obstacles that find their way into any construction project, can combine to form a volatile psychological cocktail. Keeping a cool head in heated circumstances is essential for maintaining harmony among workers and ensuring an intact crew throughout the life of the project.

Hopefully this abbreviated peek into the world of one designer and project manager provides a fuller understanding of the tireless efforts required by many people to bring a new showroom from concept to reality.