New body launched to streamline shopfitting

ANTS, shop, shoes, fashion, store, fitoutA new organisation has been launched that aims to demystify and declutter shopfitting and streamline the shopfitting process for retailers, shopfitters, and store designers.

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ANTS, which stands for ‘Australian Network Tendering Solutions’, is the brainchild of Jessica Balasa, who has worked in shopfitting for nearly a decade, and shopfitting industry veteran, Will Harich. Balasa is director at ANTS, while Harich will act as global business development manager.

Nearly two years in the making, ANTS seeks to achieve greater transparency between retailers, shopfitters, lessors and designers.

ANTS will act as a trusted matchmaking service, of sorts, that will connect retailers with pre­approved shopfitters, designers and tradies who have been put through a stringent vetting process to ensure they can deliver on service, quality and experience.

The organisation will also conduct education and networking initiatives aimed at helping retailers learn more about the shopfitting industry.

Balasa and Harich developed the ANTS concept as a reaction to observed inefficiencies in the shopfitting industry.

“Will and I have worked for a number of shopfitting companies, both medium and large, and were amazed at how inefficient some were, continually disappointing clients through not being able to deliver tender requests in peak seasons, mainly due to taking on too much work without the correct structures in place,” Balasa said.

“Over the last 40 years the shopfitting industry has been resistant to change,” Harich added. “While the industry has grown, the way we do things hasn’t changed. There hasn’t been anyone to stand up and show both the shopfitters and retailers that there is room for improvement.

“ANTS is impartial to all parties – it’s simply a service that offers delivery. For retailers, it’s the opportunity to work with a company that has researched their members, and who can be trusted within the industry. They may not be mainstream shopfitters, yet their portfolios are impressive.”

Beyond avoiding inefficiencies, retailers who engage ANTS (at not cost to the retailer) for their store fitout and redesign jobs can also benefit from a level of trust that may not otherwise be present in the transaction. Balasa said that it’s common in the shopfitting industry for less than reputable operators to go into liquidation, only to emerge under a new name within 12 months and continue trading with a ‘clean’ track record. However, this may not be common knowledge to clients, and can lead to a lack of trust for retailers.

“The key is trust, honesty and the ability to deliver when working with clients [retailers and hospitality venues],” she said. “Some went into liquidation half way through projects, leaving the clients and lessors with major headaches – unfinished projects, the need to appoint a new shopfitter, loss of deposits and delays in opening.

“In the shopfitting industry I noticed that the companies I was working for weren’t able to keep up with the amount of work being generated, and in turn we were letting clients down,” Harich added. “Furthermore, when work was quiet I was required to go and chase the same clients that we had let down previously. This wasn’t the foundation to cementing long­term relationships.”

ANTS is building a network of five shopfitters or project management companies in each state and has to date signed up shopfitters in Victoria, NSW and Queensland.

The ANTS vetting process for shopfitters involves pre­qualification, followed by investigating their business, answering a stream of questions, talking to their existing clients, and then visiting their facilities.

“Some of these companies are state­based and others national – this way no one should be over committed and we have the resources to draw from during peak season within the shopfitting industry,” Balasa said.

“The goal is to have a number of pre­qualified quality shopfitting companies around Australia. We still have opportunities in each state and our network is national for both shopfitters and designers.”

ANTS, which is headquartered in Melbourne and also has offices in Sydney and on the Gold Coast, also offers shopfitters it partners with access to a tender list that they can then bid on.

Vanessa Cullen, a Sydney­based designer who runs her own design company and was one of the first designers to partner with ANTS, said that being able to offer tenders to a list of pre­approved shopfitters will help streamline the overall process from the retailers’ perspective.

“Currently we run tenders in­house, but far too often we struggle with invited shopfitters failing to provide their quotations on time, or declining the invitation at the last minute,” Cullen said.

“ANTS have selected motivated shopfitters and have put the processes in place to ensure structured quoting that should be easier for both designers and clients to understand and compare.

“I believe ANTS is a great resource for store designers looking to outsource the tender process while still offering this service to their clientele.”

A win for retailers
While shopfitters, designers and tradies pay an annual fee to be a member of ANTS, retailers can engage the organisation at no cost. The primary tendering service at the centre of ANTS is free for retailers to access.

“We understand that costs for a retailer are astronomical, from leasing, design, council requirements and the fitout itself,” Balasa said. “Our tendering service is at no charge to our clients.

“We have seen over the years that retailers struggle to receive tenders – we know our shopfitters’ workflow and their upcoming projects and where there might be gaps. It’s simply a phone call to ANTS, a discussion about the project, and we are on our way.”

ANTS will provide at least three to four tenders from well­ established companies per project. The client has one point of contact at ANTS, who will run the tendering process.

“All quotes are vetted by ANTS to ensure all elements are covered, creating an even playing field and minimising variations.

“Quotes will then be handed direct to the client to keep it transparent and above board – no additional margins or charges from ANTS on top of the shopfitters quotes.”

The client then decides which shopfitter to engage for their service requirements, based on price, service location, and reputation.

Additional ANTS services, such as project management and maintenance programs, are available at a cost to the retailer. These services are aimed at helping retailers better plan their shopfitting work. Balasa said that retailers can easily get caught out by signing leases prematurely, while underestimating the time required to fit out their newly leased space.

“Many do not take into consideration the four to eight weeks required to have drawings approved by the regulatory identities, then the two weeks for the tendering process – all before anything can commence onsite,” she said.

“Then there’s usually a four to six week fitout period, depending on project requirements.

“The industry has seen many clients paying rent from day one, so the added pressure on all parties is abhorrent and causes much friction. We work within a multi­billion dollar industry and it’s well overdue that a more professional approach is taken.”


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