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Construct with confidence: Early contractor involvement

Retail environments were already evolving to become more engaging spaces when Covid-19 hit, but the pandemic has underlined just how important the social experience is to us.

The evolution that was underway has found new importance. But for retail stores and shopping centres re-imagining the spaces they provide, just as important is the need to get construction projects right the first time.

Risk aversion is important and natural when embarking on a new build, refurbishment, interior re-purposing, or any other retail project. But now more than ever, the need to de-risk a project from the outset is critical.

This is where Early Contractor Involvement (ECI) comes in. ECI is the most effective way for construction contractors to help their clients manage their costs, establish accurate delivery timeframes and de-risk their projects.

ECI means the building contractor is engaged much earlier in the development of a new retail project, whether it’s a major new sub-regional asset, centre expansion, store refurbishment, precinct upgrade, a stand-alone store, or even a single shop fit out.

The contractor works alongside the design team to ensure that the concept design – the basis of the tender – can be efficiently delivered in a construction sense. No need to send back the design for re-working or reverse engineering because it is over budget or impractical to deliver. 

It happens all the time, and it can lead to major cost blowouts and significant time delays. Even when the design is workable, until tenders are received from the market, the client is typically unable to be confident of the project cost. It’s too risky.

Instead, having the contractor’s voice heard from the outset means many of the construction-related issues are identified and resolved before work commences.

With ECI, problems with the design are identified before work begins. Potential time delays and cost blowouts are ironed out before they occur. ECI enables the contractor to work collaboratively with the client and design team to deliver a much ‘cleaner’ and complete design, ready for a smoother construction process at the right cost. 

At Mainbrace, we invest in data that helps our clients in plenty of ways, including benchmarking. Our database of actual costs means we can create early and extremely accurate cost models of any retail-related work from the outset. We openly compare and benchmark between similar projects, giving everyone clear visibility and comfort in the costs.

Retailers, developers, and shopping centre owners can commence their projects with confidence, knowing they have done all they can to mitigate risk.

For Mainbrace, ECI is a key growth area. In March 2021, John Brunette joined the team as ECI Manager. We’ve now completed over 110 ECI projects worth over $1.1billion for clients. The dollar figure is misleading though, as the true value of ECI lies in relationships, and these relationships flourish when projects run smoothly, with no disruptions, and without the need for costly, timely re-works.

ECI was the key to success at Neeta City in Sydney. Mainbrace provided ECI services for Stage 1 of the project. It involved backfilling the vacant discount department store tenancy while a new car park and mall entries were created directly over the Woolworths supermarket. 

The challenge was to undertake the construction while minimising disruption to Woolworths, which would remain open. Through ECI, Mainbrace was able to investigate, plan and design the project to be safely delivered on time, with Woolworths trading throughout the works. 

However, at Neeta City, the cost savings generated through ECI were even more evident in Stage 2. This stage involved a new tenancy mix and Mainbrace, working with the design and leasing teams, played a key role in reviewing the different options for the increased space while reducing the budget by $4 million by value managing the scope.

These are just some of the possibilities of ECI. It’s the best way for retailers, shopping centre owners and developers to de-risk their projects, minimise costs, shorten project timeframes, eliminate re-work and duplication, and avoid material waste through construction.

The outcome is a more collaborative environment where the vision is aligned and the result is better for everyone – including shoppers, the most important stakeholder of all.