One-Stop Quality

Design-and-build has gained acceptance – and is now positioning itself at the high-end, says Geoff Andrew, managing director of Margolis Office Environments

There have always been designers and contractors who create stunning and high-quality interiors and workspaces. There have also always been specialist design-and-build contractors, but they have been dismissed as inferior thanks to a reputation for, ironically, poor design and specification, as well as being cheap (and not in a good way).

D&B has always had its plus points too, of course – if you were after cost-certainty in a project, a fast turnaround or a completion date you could depend on, then D&B would be your decided route. But opting for this was often a decision made out of necessity rather than choice, because of the associated negative connotations. Rightly or wrongly, there lingered and still lingers the doubt that because the contractor had promised to meet a fixed price and a fixed timescale, if things weren’t going swimmingly then corners would be cut. So ultimately there’d be an entirely different cost to worry about.

Has that reputation changed? D&B has certainly been on the increase in the past couple of years for projects under 5,500 sq m, largely because as the recession bit and purse-strings drew closed, the one thing occupiers really wanted was certainty of cost and timing. D&B also reduces the risk of investing in refurbishments and fit-outs, not least because there is a single point of contact and accountability, rather than representatives from contractors, architects, engineering firms and so on shifting blame for any problems that arise. The true proof of D&B gaining wide acceptance is that it is now the chosen procurement route that project management and building consultancy divisions for the top international property consultancy houses (for example CBRE and JLL< DTZ).

This trend towards D&B has led to some fit-out and refurbishment companies seizing the opportunity to change client and industry perceptions. How unlike a recession to provide a silver lining, for our industry at least. Rather than just exceed the none-too-high expectations of clients by delivering within budget and within deadline, the more astute D&B contractors among us have expanded our teams with the inclusion of excellent-quality architects and interior designers.

It’s a simple enough step that at a stroke allows us to level the playing field and compete at tender, knowing that our designs will stand up against our traditional rivals, the architects. Now we can offer a great-quality design, certainty of cost and minimal risk, a quality product delivered within deadline, and all with the added bonus for the client that they have a single point of contact project managing the entire scheme.

D&B also has the potential to deliver cost savings long-term for organizations with more than one office or plans for expansion and acquisition, which want brand consistency across their property portfolio. It can do this because it supports a standardised approach.

Let’s take a look at our recent work for Kennedys, to illustrate how. Kennedys is an international law firm with a 112-year history, though the past three years have made for some of the most interesting reading: in that time its turnover has more than doubled – from £46m to nearly £100m; the firm itself has doubled in size through organic growth and acquisition. A key component of this success is a strategy that optimises the business’s second highest cost, its property.

Kennedys first embraced strategic workspace planning to allow it to accommodate all of its London operations within a single building in Fenchurch Avenue.

This not only provided the opportunity to introduce a better way of working company-wide, it also enhanced Kennedys’ appeal as an employer brand, gave all staff access to the same facilities, reinforced its image to staff and clients alike in line with its logo of ‘Legal advice in black and white’, and enabled it to dramatically reduce operational costs and develop cost efficiencies that could be passed on to clients.

In design terms this became the model that could be introduced to all other offices to ensure total brand consistency. We were appointed to roll out the new look and way of working, and steer Kennedys through the process. Using D&B, all nine UK offices have now been refurbished or fitted-out and, as further acquisitions take place, offices can be changed to Kennedys’ style in super-quick time.

Each one becomes even easier and faster to deliver than the first, and ever-more cost-effective thanks to using the same team, the same design and recreating the same facilities. Overall, Kennedys approach to its property has had a dramatic effect on the working culture, improving staff attraction and retention rates and increasing staff productivity, not to mention supporting amazing growth.

In the case of Kennedys, Swanke Hayden Connell designed the original Fenchurch Avenue scheme and we then applied the design parameters to other offices – a good example of how architects and D&B contractors, which used to be at different ends of the spectrum, can come together for the benefit of their clients.

On other schemes, we design the template to be applied across a business, taking on the role of interior designer before delivering the project.

We have now formalised this standardized approach and launched an ‘off-the-peg’ solution, which gives three options at different cost and quality levels, all which deliver the potential of being tailored based on brand values and working practices.

The best team of sub-contractors and quality product manufacturers have been integral in the creation of this offer and, by using them time and time again, we have achieved discounts on materials and economies of scale. As a result, the costs per sq ft that can be achieved range from £19 to £29, about 10 per cent cheaper on average than traditional procurement and rival D&B offerings.

So it looks like architects are not the only designers in town. The rise of D&B has brought with it increased competition and new entrants to the market – sophisticated, professional specialists with a concern for design quality, client focus and best practice. And with more high-quality designers being attracted to these companies, clients with 5,500 sq m or less get more choice, which can only continue to push the quality boundaries of the product we deliver.

D&B is now a very real alternative to traditional procurement; it is earning its place in the design community and can only continue to improve its reputation as more clients embrace this trend.

This article was first published in fx Magazine.

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