BALTIMORE — When Bill Triplett came up with the idea of building a grocery store from the ground up in just 100 days, he found the perfect site in Bryan, Texas.
“It was far away enough from corporate headquarters that no one would bother us,” said Triplett with a laugh. The director of planning and design for H.E. Butt Grocery Co., San Antonio, Triplett recounted those and other challenges associated with H-E-B's ambitious — and ultimately successful — plan to build a 93,000-square-foot grocery store in a little more than 15 weeks in 2004, during Food Marketing Institute's Retail Store Development conference here last month.
Keeping away from the prying eyes — and potential associated delays — of the suits in corporate was just one of many ways Triplett and his team were able to ultimately surprise their bosses by delivering the Bryan store more than two months sooner than they had expected it. But the benefits of the project — dubbed “Express Delivery” among H-E-B's design and construction teams — went beyond a speedy build, Triplett explained.
The project helped to forge cooperation between the retailer's internal construction and design teams and developers, contractors, equipment providers and local officials, Triplett said. Lessons provided by the build helped cut down construction periods in subsequent H-E-B store projects, while finding new ways to trim waste and save money through the use of materials such as prefabricated and prefinished exterior and interior walls. “It also gives us an advantage of having a quick response to competitive threats,” Triplett added.
The 100 days of the project were calendar days using normal business hours — no night-shift construction — and stretched from the time the pad was delivered to H-E-B until construction was complete, or about four weeks before the store was to open for business.
Triplett said he was inspired to attempt a 100-day build after witnessing the speed with which trade-show set builders could deliver prefabricated structures. A program of exchanging information with U.K.-based retailer Tesco — a practice since discontinued pending Tesco's arrival in the U.S. — was also helpful, he said. Tesco can typically build a 120,000-square-foot store in 18 weeks.
“We thought, ‘We're from Texas. We can do that even better,’” Triplett recounted.
Because time was a critical element, planning was crucial. Meetings were held weekly, with agendas set out beforehand and minutes delivered immediately afterward. H-E-B informed city officials, faculty at nearby Texas A&M University and its development partner doing the parking lot and other site work of the accelerated building plans so they would be on the same page.
Interior walls were prefabricated off-site. Triplett sought to eliminate all “wet” jobs at the site — ceramic tile, sheetrock taping, and painting — and as a related bonus, the completed store was the cleanest the company had ever turned over, he said.
When it became clear the project would make its scheduled delivery time, Triplett informed headquarters so the company could initiate the hiring, ordering and store opening processes in time.
Precise planning — it helped that H-E-B had built several stores similar to the Bryan location before — and a dedicated team were key to the project's success, Triplett said. “Look for people who want to work on a project like this,” he recommended. “Don't choose the people who will say, ‘We can't do this.’”