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Adjusting to a New Reality: Advice From the Retail Space

By: John Biggs

The retail industry has faced a convergence of challenges and opportunities in recent years, from the rise of e-commerce competition to ever-changing customer demands. Then the pandemic hit, creating a whole new set of obstacles overnight that forced companies to rethink everything from their supply chain strategy to stores’ physical layouts.

Procore recently hosted a webinar, entitled Adjusting to a New Reality: Advice From the Retail Space featuring retail construction professionals who are directly employed by retail companies. Like many other leaders in various industries, they are learning how to adapt to the new normal we find ourselves in. The in-depth discussion covered retailers’ most pressing challenges today related to the built environments they manage, as well as opportunities on the horizon for how retail companies can ensure continued profitability as they move onward and upward.

Panel participants included host Shelley Koegler, Senior Director of International Customer Success, Procore Technologies; Mike Stoner, Manager of Construction & Engineering Project Controls at Speedway; and Tony Lesley, Sr. Principal Construction Program Manager for Whole Foods Market.

Adapting to a New Reality Successfully

Two perennial concerns where retail and construction overlap are the acquisition of real estate and capital planning, which can be challenging even in the best of times. Last year threw a major curveball everyone’s way, forcing everyone from site teams to managers to executives to rapidly adapt.

“We’ve had to face the reality of resources being very, very dynamic, all resources: time, people, and money,” says Speedway Manager of Construction & Engineering Project Controls Mike Stoner.

“We are trying to be as flexible and nimble as we can, which is difficult for a larger organization with as many points as we have. That’s what we’re really trying to embrace and adapt to, how we fluctuate our business, our capital spend, and our real estate buys with all those twists and turns that have come our way in the last 12-plus months.”

A pandemic hallmark has been the consumer shift away from visiting brick and mortar stores in person, instead favoring online grocery delivery services. This rapid change in consumer preference has made retail brands scramble to keep pace.

“We were always moving to an online delivery model,” says Tony Lesley, Sr. Principal Construction Project Manager for Whole Foods Market.

“What the pandemic really did was cause us to escalate and move and react a lot quicker so we could meet the huge demand that was going on. When you take a 40,000 square-foot building as a grocery store and have maximized everything you can for the sales area, you have a small back-of-house as it is. Trying to accommodate space for another operating entity within our store, and adding all of the shoppers in there, it becomes quite challenging to do it safely.”

Lesley said one way stores adapted was to transition focus away from its well-known prepared foods department, and instead devote that space and those resources to other, more pressing store needs.

How Procore Helped Speed up Processes

The need for large companies with many locations to transform their business models so quickly required immense flexibility, which was made possible in part through Procore.

“One of our biggest problems was pulling reports off our current site. A lot of manual manipulation had to occur in order to get that report to read properly. What we’ve seen with Procore is the ability to pull custom reports very easily, automated, which gives us multitudes of different looks at the data and what it tells us,” says Lesley.

Uploading multi-hundred-page drawing sets or thousand-plus page land law sets used to be resource-intensive processes. Procore helped speed things along.

“The time to upload those kinds of sets of drawings previously compared to now is night and day for us. The ease to work within Procore, marking up drawings, redlining some metals, things like that we just did not have with our other system,” says Lesley.

“For us it’s a big time-save and a big resource save as far as the energy it takes to do all the work you have to do, and the automation is a big factor. The mobile app is a key one for us too. We have project managers in the field that have never had the mobile capabilities we see with Procore, which is huge for time management for an on-site project manager.”

Software Integration Done the Right Way

Construction is known for its cautious, sometimes reluctant approach to adopting new technologies, but in a crunch time like we faced in 2020, time was a luxury companies couldn’t afford. The panelists shared some sage advice for ensuring a smooth integration.

“I simply say crawl, walk, run. Don’t just try and jump in and take it all in one big bite. In Speedway’s case, we took specific contractors and projects and eased our way into it, found out where the low hanging fruit was,” Stoner says.

“Key to our success was to have that internal champion and executive sponsor. The internal champion in our case came from the project management world, knows the processes, knows the existing tools, and has that aptitude to embrace technology. They learned Procore on their own and then put together our rollout plan and executed it.”

Lesley echoed Stoner’s suggestion of taking a measured approach, emphasizing the importance of becoming familiar with the software before implementing it company-wide.

“We actually did six or seven of the certifications ahead of starting with Procore to get familiar with the product and have a better understanding going into it. I think that was key for the smaller working groups because you felt somewhat familiar with it and at least it wasn’t all brand new,” explains Lesley.

“We didn’t put such a tight timeline on ourselves that we felt pressured to get things done. We wanted to take our time and build it out correctly and make sure we’re out of the gate in the best condition we can be in.”

Embracing New Technology Pays off Going Forward

With so much emphasis on the present state of construction in retail, one would assume there’s little time left over to think about the future. Not so with the webinar panelists.

“Technology is always a big element in any business these days, and it’s no different in the grocery store. I think the biggest change you’ll see in the industry will be on the technology side. The more you embrace the newer technology the easier you’re going to find it makes things going forward,” Lesley says.

“I’ll add that with Procore comes a lot of data, and the ability over the foreseeable future to mine that data will help us with everything from predictability to quality to safety. I think there’s going to be some key findings in that data on top of the technology that enables transactions and the business to operate,” adds Stoner.◾️

John Biggs is an entrepreneur, consultant, writer, and maker. Biggs spent fifteen years as an editor for Gizmodo, CrunchGear, and TechCrunch and has a deep background in hardware startups, 3D printing, and blockchain. His work has appeared in Men’s Health, Wired, and the New York Times. Biggs runs the Technotopia podcast about a better future.

Originally published at on June 7, 2021.



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