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Retail Construction

The Unique Challenges Of Retail Construction

We have all heard stories of how online retail and e-commerce are changing the shopping world. And yes, it’s true that the ability to have nearly any product ordered and delivered through digital platforms has lowered the need for physical stores bursting with merchandise.

Yet, you will find that despite the clickbait headlines announcing the decline of the physical retail industry, many major brands and small independent shops are increasingly opening brick-and-mortar stores. More importantly, they are posting strong overall growth and profits with high customer traffic.

It can’t be denied that a profound change is taking place in the world of retail. The power has now shifted to the customer, who can find whatever they want online and only visit stores in person when there is something to entice them. An overload of information, an abundance of choices, and an increasingly distracted consumer have made it essential for a retail store to stand out and command attention. 

What Is Retail Construction?

Retail construction encompasses the design and construction of commercial retail space, such as malls, clothing stores, home goods stores, sporting goods stores, specialty shops, and other shopping venues. This type of construction is typically overseen by a retail developer, who works with architects and contractors to ensure that the project is completed according to the agreed-upon schedule and budget.

The goal of retail construction is to create a space that is functional and inviting to customers, while also being able to withstand the wear and tear of multiple visitors each day. Factors such as layout, lighting, signage, materials, and storefront design are all crucial aspects of the retail construction process. To achieve an ideal space, high-quality materials and construction methods must be used throughout the project. In addition, the layout of the space must be well thought out in order to create an efficient and effective shopping experience for customers.

Retail construction projects can be challenging due to the need to meet strict deadlines and budgets. Plus, there is often a lot of coordination required between different project managers, contractors, and suppliers. However, with proper planning and execution, retail construction projects can be successfully completed on time and within budget.

Challenges and Complexities of Retail Construction Projects

For retailers, it is of paramount importance to have a persuasive value proposition – a reason for customers to choose your store over other stores or online commerce. Just meeting your target customers’ needs is not always enough. The most successful stores create a remarkable experience that the customer feels compelled to share with others. If you want your retail space to be unique, memorable, exciting, and intensely customer focused, you must pay attention to each aspect of the construction.

It is easier said than done unless you’re working with architects and builders who are highly experienced in commercial construction projects. While design consistency, brand standards, and proven buildout processes are obviously important factors, they can lead to unique developmental and logistical challenges. Here are some other areas that should be carefully considered when developing a retail construction project.

Size and Layout

Before you create a design for your retail construction project, you need to generate a well-thought-out brief. This brief should define all the aspirations of your project and recognize the constraints. Some elements of the brief, like the brand storytelling and aesthetic direction, can be expressed through mood boards. Other elements like product range and store capacity can be expressed through hard data.

You also need to estimate the project constraints (these could be time-critical or budgetary) – this step is often missed by some commercial construction teams. The size, shape, and location of the site are very significant constraints that can cause challenges down the line if not planned out properly. 

Similarly, the design of your store must reflect the brand’s culture and tell the brand’s story, which is vital in promoting the brand to the customers. The quality of the store should reflect the quality and price point of the merchandise on sale. For example, presenting high-value merchandise against a low-quality backdrop will create a psychological barrier to sales.  

Store Planning and the Customer Journey

While doing the internal planning for the space, you must consider the circulation route through the retail areas within. You should also consider how this route links the products on display and connects those parts of the store that service and support the customers’ needs, like the fitting rooms or point of sale areas.

Circulation routes and the sequence in which they are experienced are often referred to as the “customer journey”, They are essential in creating a mood, encouraging impulse buys, promoting sales, and telling the brand’s story.  


There are countless ways to arrange the goods and visual merchandising, but it comes down to free-standing displays that are designed to be experienced in a round form, or a perimeter display that’s designed to be seen from one side only. The choice usually depends on the nature of the merchandise, but other influencing factors include material aesthetics, product density, and ergonomics. Customers should also be able to locate the major non-display elements easily, such as stairs, elevators, customer service areas, and entrance points to adjacent departments (in larger stores). 

Store Layout

The layout will determine how the retail space is experienced and used by customers – but it will also determine how the goods are presented and can affect how things like lighting are planned and installed. If you understand the store layout in terms of the customer journey and ask yourself what might draw a customer to find what they are looking for, you will be able to tempt and delight them into buying something they did not plan to buy originally.

Answers to this question vary depending on what type of space it is; it would be a mistake to think that a one-size-fits-all approach will work here. The customer journey through the store for a regular visitor will very likely be different from the journey of someone who is exploring the space for the first time. 

In the past, builders used to gain this understanding from observation and the retailer’s experience and intuition. Today, it comes from analytics based on real-time data gathered in stores. This is why it is important to hire a construction company that specializes in retail facilities. They will have the knowledge and experience to plan and execute your vision perfectly.

Floor Plan

New business owners tend to underestimate just how much retail sales space they will have after accounting for components like walkways, restrooms, and storage areas. These must be designed to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and other code clearances. For example, the ADA code requires that certain areas maintain a 60-inch wheelchair-turn radius.

The need for additional exit doors, wheelchair ramps, hallways, or extra restrooms are design elements that may be required in your floor plan that you likely didn’t consider when you made a rough sketch of the space. These items can quickly eat into the overall square footage of the store’s concept, reducing the available retail sales area.

Clothing retail shop owners are notorious for overestimating how much inventory their space can hold. Have you ever been to a store and wondered why the racks and displays are so close together? Odds are good that the owner envisioned a much larger room, but didn’t realize how much space a pay station and storage room take up or that they’d need a bathroom and an additional exit door to meet certain building codes.

Sound Abatement

When designing a retail concept, attention to the acoustics is often nonexistent. If your retail store sells products that make noise, like musical instruments or children’s toys, you’re likely dealing with a noisy concept. Designing for sound abatement today is easier than fixing it once it becomes a problem and local neighbors don’t want to patronize your business.

To reduce sound, you need to reduce reverberation and echo by adding surfaces with absorptive material. One of the most effective sound-reducing methods is the installation of acoustic panels. For instance, if you have an open ceiling (i.e., the building’s roof is visible) or a ceiling made of hard materials, consider adding acoustic panels. Sound abatement panels are typically made from wood fiber strands, solid foam, and cloth-wrapped frames. These panels can be installed on interior walls, ceilings, and floors.

Changing Customer Preferences

Why is it so important for your retail space to be well-designed? As a retailer, you exist in a highly competitive market where shoppers are free to choose their purchases on the basis of price, quality, and – these days – availability or speed of delivery. When a customer decides to buy something, an incredible amount of choices are waiting for them.

The reasons customers choose a certain item are generally inconsistent. Sometimes the price is the deciding factor; other times brand recognition or convenience is the deciding factor. In today’s world of endless retail options, people can choose to visit an online store, a brick-and-mortar store, or a combination of the two. This is why great retailers pay special attention to both their online presence and their physical stores, ideally with each complementing the other.

As we have already mentioned before, even if you have a truly unique service or product, getting noticed and commanding attention is increasingly difficult. The exploding world of choice that’s just a tap away, thanks to the internet and smartphones, has created all kinds of distractions. Your challenge is to determine how to get customers to pause, take notice of your goods, and be persuaded to take action. 

Instead of blaming online platforms for the “failing state of physical retail” and trying to compete by offering insanely low prices or flashy promotions, you need to focus on what online retailers do that you can use to the benefit of your customers and your bottom line. Trying to match prices and/or convenience is not always the smartest move, especially if you don’t have the resources and capabilities that the mega-brands have. 

What you need to do is build a store that makes your brand more customer-relevant, more unique, and more sustainable over the long term. Focus on nurturing the advantages of having a physical space, such as well-curated selections, rare or one-of-a-kind products, compelling visual merchandising, personal service, instant gratification, and social experiences. In other words, embrace the choice to be an extraordinary retail store with elements that e-commerce platforms can’t match.   

Regulatory and Safety Challenges

Keeping up with constantly changing compliance rules and regulations in your city, state, and country is not easy. It’s not uncommon for updates regarding building codes to get lost in the daily flood of news, which can be disastrous for building owners. 

To make sure this doesn’t happen, define who is responsible for handling the permits. Look through your architect and builder contract. It should show “file for permits” or “permit submittal” as an inclusion or exclusion. In fact, you should ask the retail construction services company whether they handle this part or not before hiring them.

Technically speaking, you or your legal team could handle getting permits, but it can be a laborious and complex process. You will need to know what permits you need and where to file for them. For retail construction, it’s often the local building department or local fire department. An application for a single department can be 30 pages or more and missing one application page or failing to submit plans to a single agency can prolong acquiring building permits for weeks or months. 

It’s best to hire a commercial construction company that has a designated permit handling department, like Corporeal Visions. We have extensive experience with similar commercial projects and know exactly which departments need which applications, what needs to be hand-delivered vs. what can be emailed, how long it will take to get permits on average, and other special sequences of submittals. Our team also has existing relationships with specific plan reviewers/agencies.  

Time and Budget Constraints

It’s important to be realistic about how long it will take to get your retail building open. Most people who are new to the world of construction underestimate the time, usually by a long shot. The initial step of securing real estate alone can take several months; some people spend close to a year trying to negotiate letters of intent (LOI) on multiple locations that fall through.

Of course, the timing differs depending on the type of concept, the scope of work required, and local market conditions. Hiring a construction company experienced in commercial retail will speed up the process considerably.

Then there’s the matter of underestimating construction costs, which can blow the entire budget. Accurately estimating construction costs is hard if you haven’t engaged with an architect to produce plans or taken those plans to contractors for hard bids.

Again, this is where a retail-experienced commercial contractor can come in handy. Find someone who has built a concept similar to yours and ask them what it costs to build. At Corporeal Visions, we provide estimates based on the type of concept, square footage, proposed work, finishes the client hopes to see, and the condition of the space.  

It should be noted that increases in construction costs have only accelerated in recent years. When estimating your building’s construction costs, keep in mind the economic conditions in the area where you’re building. It’s also vital for you to set a clear brief for the construction team so the timescales and budgets are understood.

Choosing a Retail Facility Construction Company

Most retail store owners pick a contractor based on cost, but it is not always the most important factor. Find a contractor whose area of expertise matches your concept – which, in this case, is retail construction. A contractor who primarily does residential construction doesn’t have the capabilities to deliver the special points you need.

Failure to choose the right contractor for your project and only considering their price is a recipe for disaster which can result in delays, disputes, additional costs, poor quality, and even accidents. Poor quality finishes can impact your brand reputation and poor safety practices could damage your property and injure people.

So, before you hire a retail building construction company, ask them the following questions:

  • Have you worked on similar retail projects and for similar clients?
  • Are you experienced with providing the services and carrying out the tasks required under this contract?
  • What other projects are you currently working on? Will these projects have an effect on this project?
  • Do you have resources, i.e., sufficient people with the required skills and the right equipment in the required quantities to carry out the work? (Don’t hesitate to ask for details of the team.)
  • Do you have the financial means to carry out the work? Will you be able to sustain the cash flow?
  • What is your safety record? Can you produce the safety statistics for the company for the last few years?
  • Do you understand the retail project requirements?
  • Can you meet the required quality requirements and standards?

Work with a Retail-Focused Construction Specialist 

The majority of the construction industry still hasn’t caught up with much of the advancing technology. There are several new technologies that are not being used by most companies.

We do things differently here at Corporeal Visions in order to provide you with a great customer experience. We are one of the first commercial construction companies in the country to use augmented reality (AR) for project presentations. Our designers use AR to layer details and elements onto the building plan so clients can get a better understanding of the project. We also use it to showcase 3D models and provide virtual tours of the design mock-up, giving clients a clear idea of what their building space would look like before they choose us as their construction company.

Whether you are building from the ground up or remodeling existing structures, we can handle your project from initial planning to site inauguration. Our reliable team covers every single detail and will coordinate each project phase. You can count on superior workmanship, quality materials, and effective management strategies for your retail construction project.

No matter how ambitious or unique your retail business goals and benchmarks are, we will work hard to turn your vision into reality. For more information, call us at (703) 909-4193 or contact us online.

If you have questions, concerns, or you’re ready to begin the process, we can’t wait to hear from you. Contact us today via phone or online.

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