Undertaking any type of office fit-out is generally costly and disruptive events, so it naturally makes sense to appoint the best company you can to implement the project.
If the right company is chosen the fit-out project should be planned, organised, budgeted and managed correctly, resulting in the seamless occupation of your new or refurbished office space.
If you get it wrong then it could easily lead to a poor design solution with no thought for expansion or future alterations, delays in completion, budget overruns and total disruption to your day to day business.
So how do you work through the maze of smoke and mirrors in the office design and fit-out market?
Well firstly you need to have your wits about you. We also suggest you read the information below and request our free “The Complete Guide To Selecting A Fit-Out Specialist”.
As someone once said, planning an office fit-out / Managing growth is like staging a wedding or a war, you need contingencies and contingencies for your contingencies.
So if you are contemplating an office fit-out project, spare a moment to read our material, it could make the difference between a triumph and a disaster!
Select an office fit-out partner with all the skills in-house
Undertake full due diligence – don’t leave any stone unturned
Nothing demonstrates a company’s credentials better than a proven track record. Your fit-out partner should be able to demonstrate its credentials with reference to completed projects (preferably in your industry sector), reference sites and case studies.
You should visit a completed project, preferably on your own, so that you can ask the occupiers the right questions. This will also give you the opportunity to pick up design ideas for your own fit-out project.
A good fit-out partner with a proven and established (financially sound) business should be able to offer you contacts with clients for whom they have completed more than one fit-out. This is a clear indication of the fit-out partner’s ability.
Alternatively, and at a minimum, they should show you a trail of referrals and case studies from totally satisfied, one-time only clients.
It’s equally wise to ask your commercial property agent for their opinion as they are likely to have had previous experience with most fit-out companies. However, do be wary whether they have a hidden agenda or are being paid an introductory commission by the fit-out companies they put forward. Also be wary if the agent is particularly dismissive of a company you believe to be a fit-out market leader. If you smell a rat, you are probably right!
The fit-out industry is notoriously full of start-ups and fly-by-nights, so be sure to check how many years they’ve been trading and their track record. Scrutinise their financials and make visits to their offices, completed projects and projects currently being built. You really can’t be too careful.
Check out the team and know who you’ll really be working with
We’ve all seen a flock of geese flying in V formation, but have you ever stopped to wonder why they do it? Well the simple answer is teamwork. By supporting each other and creating uplift they are an amazing 70% more efficient.
When one of the team is struggling you’ll see a stronger team member break away in support to lead the struggler back into the formation. Clearly there are lessons for us to learn.
Applying this model to your fit-out project will undoubtedly generate similar efficiencies. A strong fit-out company should put forward a project team that has a proven history of working together, managed by a strong team leader. The inter relationships between the sales, pre-contracts, design and construction teams are fundamental to the smooth delivery of your project.
Make sure that you meet the key team members at the pre-appointment stage and satisfy yourself that they operate as a unified team.
It’s imperative that you are working with a cohesive team that adds value to your own project team. Fundamentally it’s vital that everyone gets on with each other. After all you’re likely to be working together for several months.
You should also confirm that the people you meet during the sales process are the team that will see your project through to its conclusion, and not merely front men who talk a good story.
If you don’t like the people you meet, then best advice is to ask to meet other people from the same company, or to look elsewhere.
Whilst the fit-out company itself it is important, a truly supportive and motivated team is essential.
Commission surveys and get an accurate budget and programme as early as possible
It’s very difficult to assess the competence of people or a company when you are dealing in an area outside of your own skill set.
As we’ve already mentioned, the technical elements of the budget will often account for over 60 % of the project, so it’s clearly essential that your fit-out partner retains the required technical skills in-house.
Your fit-out partner should be keen to assist you in providing detailed technical surveys and reports of your short listed options.
These will typically include a Mechanical and Electrical survey, a thorough review of the other building services, and a measured survey to ensure all the critical dimensions are known.
They should also consider any specialist assessments such as I.T, lifts, telecoms and environmental issues, such as an asbestos survey, which may have significant implications for the project, both in terms of costs and programme.
Your fit-out partner should be prepared to do this work for the various buildings that you shortlist and assist you in making the final building choice. This should be so even if they are in a competitive situation.
A good quality and well resourced fit-out company should be able to quickly assess these aspects, present their findings, and report cost and programme implications.
If they do not have the technical expertise in-house, they may not pick these important issues up at the outset, which could cost you dearly at the end.
Check out their in-house resources and key sub-contractors
One thing is knowing what resources are required for the project, but it’s another actually having them on-board. The fit-out project team goes well beyond the handful of people who actually attend the selection presentation.
For example, the workplace design team alone should include designers, architects, CAD technicians, 3D modellers, space planners, detailers and, of course, their managers.
You should seek to establish that your fit-out partner employs all of these key people rather than simply buying in the services on an ad-hoc basis. This applies throughout the project team.
Typically sub-contractors employed by your fit-out partner will carry out the physical construction of the project. You shouldn’t underestimate their value. Their quality is a direct reflection of your fit-out partner and their joint ability to deliver. You should ensure that your fit-out partner has checked their credentials thoroughly, including insurances, their financial position and their Health and Safety record, as well as their quality control procedures and track record.
So when it comes to your fit-out partner’s sub-contractors they should not compromise on the quality of external personnel needed to support your project. They should call on the best.
Check them out by getting out there
One way to gain peace of mind and confidence in your fit-out partner is to take up references and read endorsements.
But the real answer is to get out and visit projects. This should include fit-out projects those that have just been finished and those that have been occupied for a while to see how they are handed over and how well they perform in the longer term.
You should also go the extra mile and ask to see sites under construction. This will enable you to check Health and Safety management and confirm how on-time delivery of projects and zero snagging are actually achieved.
The way a fit-out site under construction is managed will give you a true insight into the quality of the fit-out company.
At a minimum all visitors should be formally greeted by the site manager and taken through a thorough site induction process. PPE (Personal Protection Equipment) should also be issued if the construction phase is active.
There are a number of other things to look out for. For example, if you’re allowed site access without having been briefed on Health and Safety matters, or if you can hear radios blaring, see workmen smoking, drinking, and generally mucking around, and the site is generally messy then it’s time to look elsewhere for your fit-out partner.
It’s also a good idea to ask to visit a completed project on your own, so that you can ask those questions that might otherwise be difficult to ask.
Open book or open wallet?
The way in which your fit-out partner approaches the sales process is a fundamental indicator of their real attitude to the project. There shouldn’t be any room for cheap sales tactics in circumstances where you’re committing to major capital expenditure.
If your fit-out partner is steering you away from taking independent professional advice, or if they are offering to “open up” their books for you so that you can see their profit, then you should be truly alarmed.
At their worst fit-out companies offering “open book” will be taking huge retrospective discounts and kick-backs from sub-contractors, which you will not be informed of. Quite simply, it is impossible to run a business on the type of margins some companies show when trying to entice a client to go open book.
At the end of the day it is impossible for you to establish the true profit that your fit-out partner will make on your project, so it makes sense to review the costs in detail to establish value for money.
Once you’ve made the appointment keep a close watch on the project costs. You should not allow any additional works to be carried out without your written authorisation. The last thing you want is a messy final account negotiation at the end of the contract.
Watch out for spiralling project costs. Many fit-out contractors will be working hard to drive up the contract sum with a long list of project variations and extras. Often these are deliberately omitted from the initial presentation. They are also often over-priced!
The best approach is to try and agree everything up front and to then insist on a fully detailed, fixed price contract.
Know who will be building your fit-out (VISIT DOTRubik)
When it comes to the construction of your fit-out project there is no substitute for experience and accountability.
You should be looking for three layers of accountability in this area, which you should check out before you appoint your fit-out partner.
An experienced Contracts Director who has full accountability and is visual throughout the project
A dedicated Project Manager who becomes your daily contact
A dedicated Site Manager who runs the site 24/7 managing the programme and works
Ideally, all of the above professionals should be directly employed by your fit-out partner and not be sub-contracted.
The foundation of this phase is the fit-out project programme; a critical path analysis to ensure full achievement and timeframe commitment. This should be presented to you in the pre-appointment stage, setting out each phase of the project and, most importantly, the completion and handover dates.
This should be backed up by a robust contract, which should offer performance guarantees. Your fit-out partner should run you through the various forms of contract, ranging from its own short-form to a full JCT standard form of contract.
A commercial organisation should be fanatical about control and commitment of cost and programme, guaranteeing delivery on time.