Makroscopic makeover Dominic Driscoll looks back on a bold wholesale refurbishment programme where vision and hands-on management combined to succeed in tearing up the rulebook When cash and carry chain Makro hatched a plan to totally refurbish six of its giant wholesale outlets simultaneously and within a non-negotiable eight weeks, the accepted wisdom was that customers ­ the wholesale variety in particular ­ could simply source an alternative supplier in the face of inconvenience. No number of signs apologising for the building work could placate them with any certainty. Not even an artist's impression of what lies in store post-refurbishment could guarantee their patience and understanding. As if to support the argument, at times it seemed the challenge was indeed too great. The traditionalists demanded nothing short of a 16-week upheaval to complete the proposed refurbishment of merely one store ­ twice Makro's acceptable timescale for all six, and enough for AHR Project Management to acknowledge, albeit reluctantly, that such a project was nigh impossible to deliver. But the rule book was about to be re-written. Southampton, Sheffield, Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds and Newcastle-upon-Tyne were in line for the refit ­ a total of 950,000 sq ft of flagship wholesale trading space within a budget of £21m ­ £3.5m per store. Makro's UK operations director John Heenan was quick to acknowledge that the project required hands-on management by a single person. The traditional consensus-based decision making process was to be replaced by a new dynamic of a meetingless management style involving just the key players. To ensure there was uninterrupted business, temporary trading areas were first erected alongside each of the six stores. Imported from Holland and made from reinforced plastic, the vast dome-like structures replicated the stores' trading and storage areas and were in place in advance of pre-arranged dates for store de-merchandising. Makro staff were deemed to be as key to the project as any of the engineering aspects, and were briefed to endear the temporary accommodation to customers, dubbing the domes "Big Tops" and consistently displaying a positive attitude towards the temporary relocation. Customers were encouraged to engage in the redevelopment process, with senior Makro personnel always on hand to receive their comments and suggestions. The project was intentionally talked up by well briefed staff in terms designed to foster excitement and expectation among customers. Complaints of inconvenience were met with offers of conducted tours of the site and a detailed explanation of the changes being made. Contributors to the project were hand-picked ­ only professionals, contractors and subcontractors who could prove they were happiest when operating in fifth gear not only some of the time, but all of the time, were used. These people all had an appreciation of the scale and ambitious nature of the task in hand and the natural inclination to resolve problems in minutes, not hours. Casualties were many, but always for good reason. The project simply couldn't carry electricians seemingly incapable of re-prioritising tasks in the face of a delay caused by tardy carpenters, for example. To us, it was simple: a delay in one area meant a start ahead of schedule elsewhere. At each of the six sites, 200 people worked 24 hours a day. Architects and surveyors remained permanently on call for the duration of the project and the relevant local authority health and safety experts were encouraged to take advantage of a permanently open door. Collaboration was the key to success and the ultimate hands-on management of all those involved was undoubtedly the single most significant factor in delivering the project on time and to budget. That, and Makro's much-researched confidence in our ability to finance the entire scheme ahead of submitting a final invoice. As part of the refits, concrete floors were replaced with aesthetically-pleasing resin and vinyl, lighting was redesigned to double existing lux levels, racking was standardised to European pallet dimensions and subtly illuminated with concealed lighting, and the entire cold chain was upgraded with new high specification, refrigerated and chilled storage and display cabinets. Customer coffee shops were re-modelled and staff canteen facilities also benefited from modernisation and improvement. The stores' exteriors were re-clad with aluminium fascia panels, new, bolder signage was added, entrances and exits were re-designed and each car park was totally resurfaced and re-landscaped. The end result? A subtle bridging of that gap between slick retailing and dour wholesaling. A retail feel to six wholesale outlets which now exceed previous levels of turnover to such an extent that the capital expenditure on the project is unlikely to trouble the finance director for very long. Indeed, plans are now well advanced to begin work on the next phase of Makro's redevelopment programme ­ several more stores, including Bristol, are to be given the identical treatment, simultaneously and within an agreed 12-week time frame. The shape of things to come? Certainly, if wholesalers are to respond to customers' apparently rising expectations of what constitutes a user-friendly buying environment worthy of their long-term loyalty. One thing now appears certain. Some day all refurbishment projects will be managed this way. - Dominic Driscoll is director of AHR Project Management {{MANAGEMENT FEATURE }}