Building Luxury Brands: Construction Management Perspective by Oliver Holland

Oliver Holland

By July 11, 2023People, Practice

High-touch Project Management Drives High-end Retail Construction Projects

Luxury retail locations are becoming more than just a place to buy designer handbags and forever jewelry. For example, breakfast at Tiffany’s is now a reality at Daniel Boulud’s Blue Box Café, and other luxury retailers are following suit, offering dining, digital, and other immersive experiences. With the growth of online shopping, luxury retailers are focusing on turning their physical locations into brand-building opportunities where customers can have unique, in-person experiences.

Often, these experiences are created with innovative partnerships, fully immersive experiences, complete store redesigns, or brand-new locations. In creating these new spaces, luxury brand leaders expect the design and construction process to match the high-quality, service-oriented product they provide their own customers. To meet these expectations, construction firms must have proven skills and experience to deliver quality results, including impeccable project management skills, flawless execution, and superior client service.


Integrated Project Delivery Method

As the complexities of luxury retail projects reach new levels, contractors and clients are required to execute more collaborative methods of delivering flagship projects. With brands purchasing much of their own millwork and fixtures and contractors being expected to support the design development of these bespoke projects, the traditional methodology of bid, buy, build becomes less and less feasible; the key to success lies in the integrated delivery model.

For luxury retail projects, project management is a delicate balance of art and science, and the hard-and-fast processes and project management skills that work for most commercial projects won’t address the complexity and nuance needed for a luxury project. With a luxury retailer, it’s necessary to go beyond typical scheduling and estimating services and provide customized solutions that align with the client’s design vision, as often, the client provides their own finishes too. Having an experienced project manager with strong financial aptitude and excellent architectural design capabilities is crucial to the success of an integrated pre-construction team.

The partnership starts immediately in the pre-construction phase, which on a luxury project can be up to six months long on its own, given the complexity of luxury retail projects today. That timeline makes sense when you look at all that needs to be accounted for. We are currently working on a new project that not only has the expected high-end finishes of a luxury retailer but has unique themes and finishes in every zone of the store. This retailer will also feature multiple restaurants and complicated digital installations in its new space. Planning is everything on projects this complicated, especially knowing that the contractor may manage only around 60 percent of the total build, on average, as the owner and select vendors will be heavily involved.

Given that, as the project lead, it’s important to establish relationships with all parties involved during the pre-construction phase. Often, there are complicated relationships involving the owner, contractor, and many vendors. As contractors, we’ll lean on our trusted vendor relationships, but still, owners will bring in long-standing vendor relationships to provide specific high-end finishes that are custom-made by artisans or sourced from global manufacturers. The project manager needs to establish relationships with these vendors and work to mitigate any risk while ensuring design, budget, and schedule alignment.

That can be even further complicated in a mall setting with multiple stores and client contacts. For example, the recent development of Hudson Yards, the largest private development in the United States, in New York City is home to The Shops at Hudson Yards, a seven-level mall that houses over 100 luxury stores. Schimenti managed ten different clients within the iconic space, which required dedicated project teams working together to adhere to a strict schedule, ensuring the projects were completed with ample time before the mall’s grand opening.


High-end and High-tech Finishes

While having a team with strong collaboration skills is crucial, having proven experience executing luxury retail construction is also necessary. Much like their own customers, luxury retailers have high standards for the construction and finishes of their spaces. Meeting those expectations can be challenging for the construction partner, mainly because these projects are almost always more complex than they may seem on paper.

For example, Schimenti is currently building a flagship luxury store for renowned luxury brand Cartier in the SoHo neighborhood of New York City, custom features like a new grand, curved feature staircase, custom millwork, imported stone and light fixtures, new elevator machinery and finishes, new windows, and a roof terrace for private events were a few of the finishes that were specified. Installing these high-end finishes became more complicated as the new store was in a New York City landmark building, and much of it was sourced from overseas. Through careful design and construction management, the project result will be a luxurious experience curated for their high-end customer.

“Cartier is just one of many European luxury brands increasing their presence in the U.S. and specifying high-end bespoke finishes that require a high level of craftsmanship,” says Haris Gacevic, project manager at Schimenti leading the SoHo project.

Our team developed a road map of control points and quality control gateways throughout the entire project to ensure the parameters set by the multi-stakeholder team in France and the U.S.

– Haris Gacevic, Project Manager

Gacevic is also leading the current renovation of Balenciaga’s store at the American Dream Mall, which features a luxurious design with custom millwork and high-end lighting fixtures requiring precise coordination. This is typical of European brands, and we also see other high-end finishes like precious metal leafing, decorative cast plaster, custom carpet, tiles, wall coverings, and fabrics. Sourcing and installing these materials can be time-consuming and expensive and may involve collaborating with specialized suppliers and skilled artisans to ensure the desired level of quality is achieved.

Modern luxury retail stores often incorporate advanced technologies to enhance the shopping experience, and integrating technology seamlessly into the store’s design and infrastructure can be complex. With luxury shoppers getting younger and younger, not only do these customers demand a traditional, luxury retail experience, but a phygital store experience resonates with these young shoppers, where they can blur the lines of an online and in-person shopping experience. The goal is to combine the convenience and personalization of online shopping with the sensory and tactile experiences of physical stores, resulting in a unique and memorable retail experience. Many luxury retailers are influenced by major tech brands like Apple and Tesla, resulting in sophisticated, highly immersive experiences. Having trusted technology subcontractors and a project manager who understands the challenges is essential as the retail and digital worlds come together.


Client Service and Communication

While a construction firm is hired for its ability to execute a project on time and on budget flawlessly, even the most brilliantly executed project can fail if communication falters. The true measure of success lies not only in the quality of the work but also in the clarity, transparency, and effectiveness of communication throughout the process. Luxury retail projects must be approached differently, focusing on delivering value beyond the client’s expectations, so developing a trusting rapport and viewing the project through the client’s lens is essential. As with any project, regular meetings and updates ensure that both parties are aligned and that any concerns or issues can be addressed promptly. Addressing a project’s unique situations can be the difference between success and failure, whether working with European client contact and a six-hour time difference or producing detailed, custom millwork.

As a trusted partner, demonstrating an understanding of the process complexity and providing a high level of service is key, as these high-end brands place a premium on craftsmanship, attention to detail, aesthetics, and customization. Construction professionals can successfully undertake luxury retail projects when supported by high-touch, collaborative client service.

The success of any luxury retail construction project hinges on applying best practices with an integrated delivery method, execution, and superior client service. Luxury brands recognize the significance of physical retail spaces as opportunities for brand-building and unique customer experiences, and having the right construction partner can be the difference in whether the new design succeeds or fails. It’s important to remember that what works for skyscrapers will not work in luxury retail, and with the ability to cater to the specific needs of luxury retail construction clients, construction firms can provide the literal foundation for the unique and exclusive shopping experiences that reflect these brands.


About the Author
Oliver Holland, a seasoned professional with extensive experience in the construction industry, serves as the Senior Director of Project Management at Schimenti. With over 15 years of international construction management experience, Ollie has a proven track record of effectively leading teams of 50 or more project and cost managers. He brings a wealth of experience, overseeing projects in excess of $500 million, and has a portfolio of successfully completed projects, including high-profile clients such as Tiffany & Co., Nike, Apple, and others.

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