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Design and Build–The Ultimate Efficiency in Time and Money

Becoming a franchisee can be an exciting process, but it is easy to underestimate the amount of work involved. Navigating the company requirements with the realities of a leased space or dealing with the intricacies of a ground-up process can be difficult. A reputable design/build firm can help streamline the process and ensure success. There are three clear benefits of using a turnkey firm when launching your franchise. There are also smart ways to choose this type of firm to best meet a franchisee’s needs.

Speed to Market
Negotiating a lease, working with all the necessary subcontractors, getting equipment delivered, choosing furnishings and the other countless details that go into the development of a location can be time consuming. Franchisees need to hire staff and coordinate construction, market the franchise, deal with loans and order inventory, all in a tight time frame. A better solution may be a design/build firm that has experience, contacts and a process in place to keep the pieces moving. While an operator is busy hiring staff, perfecting his business model and getting the attention of customers, a seasoned firm that handles the entire process is obtaining any necessary permits, overseeing construction and ensuring the space meets all codes, such as being Americans With Disabilities Act compliant. The speed and efficiency of a good design/build firm can enhance the overall experience for the franchisor, the franchisee and the customer.

Start-up costs vary greatly, depending on the location and franchise. A safe estimate, according to Forbes magazine, is at least $400,000 to purchase the franchise, lease a space, purchase equipment and hire at least a minimal staff. Those costs can quickly balloon, however. A design/build firm has cost-savings measures in place that can help. Because the firm has contacts with contractors and equipment vendors, it can ensure the best price possible when taking bids. In addition, an experienced firm can help a franchisee focus on essentials, keeping costs down while ensuring that all customer requirements are met. While upgrades might be tempting, an experienced firm can help the operator evaluate the hard benefits and help decide if it is worth the cost. In addition to savings, a reputable firm actually can help an operator earn more. Because a full-service firm handles the general contracting, it can ensure that all deadlines are met and speed up the process of opening a franchise location. The faster the location opens, the sooner the operator can start taking in revenue. Use these cost savings for grand opening and marketing efforts that will further increase your income.

Opening a franchise can be a daunting task, especially when dealing with a franchise that has very specific requirements for how a franchise business looks and operates. Choosing a design/build firm with experience with that particular franchise can make the process run more smoothly. The provider should know the prototype and be familiar with the brand standards, so it can ensure everything is appropriate. Matt Rusconi, who owns a Moe’s Southwest Grill franchise in Hartford, Conn., says of his design/build firm, “They knew the Moe’s standards, and so they worked with contractors to make sure the layout was correct. But they also really worked with us to find solutions to our specific needs.”
An organization with an experienced design team can help an operator make the most of a space. Every space, of course, has a different configuration, from a freestanding building to a store within a store to a kiosk in a mall. It can take a trained eye to understand how to lay out the operation to maximize flow and keep guests comfortable, while still ensuring a safe and efficient working environment.
Choosing a Firm
While using a design/build firm can be a huge benefit to operators, it’s important to pick the right one. A good design team:
Listens. Each franchise is unique. Choose a firm that listens to the specific needs of the customer. For example, if the franchise is a restaurant, the design should understand who the operator wants to serve, what type of neighborhood the restaurant is located in, what kind of price point the operator wants to hit and how the operator wants the restaurant to be perceived. Be careful, though. A true turnkey firm has a staff of in-house designers. This serves an operator better than a firm who farms out its design work, losing control over critical items, such as scheduling and the quality of the end design. Ask if the proposed design team uses active employees of the firm versus contract employees; it matters more than operators think.
Is Experienced. All establishments are unique, with specific codes that need to be met. In particular, choose a design/build firm that has experience with franchises. Navigating the relationship between franchisor and franchisee can be tricky, and using a firm that knows how to listen to both sides and find solutions that are pleasing to both is critically important.
Customizes. No two projects are the same, so it’s important to choose a firm that looks for appropriate solutions. Beware of a design firm that has a portfolio of the same design, as that could mean it doesn’t pay enough attention to individual, site-specific needs. Rusconi, the previously mentioned Moe’s franchisee went on to say “We have restaurants in all kinds of spaces. We have freestanding ones and then we’re opening one up on the campus of the University of Connecticut. We needed a firm that would work with the space we had, not the space they wished we had.”
Communicates. While a design/build firm can and should handle all the moving pieces that go into putting together a space, it’s important to choose a team that keeps the operator informed. Make sure the provider has a system for regular status updates, and is available throughout the project. If the project manager disappears halfway through the opening or can’t be reached in an emergency, the operator could be left trying to pick up the pieces. Opening a franchise, even for experienced operators, is a busy, stressful time. Choosing an experienced firm can help make the process run smoothly, but it’s important to find the right partner. 

Mylle Mangum is the CEO of IBT Enterprises, a leading source of forward-thinking design/build for the financial services and specialty retail industries. Mangum supports the advisory boards of Piedmont College, Goizueta Business School, the Eatonton-Putnam Arts Foundation and Rotary Club of Atlanta. She can be reached at

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