For as long as I’ve been in the commercial construction business, which is 30 years, there have been two conflicting trains of thought about clients hiring a general contractor who also works for a competitor. If you did retail construction for Hollywood Videos then you couldn’t build Blockbusters. If you worked for Auto Zone, you couldn’t do auto store renovations for Advanced Auto.
Conversely, there have also been retail construction clients like the Limited that said ‘if you can build a GAP then you can build a Limited.’ Why? Because a lot of competing retail brands have similar looks to their “back of house construction” such as their stock rooms, HVAC systems, point of sales, etc. In fact, in the late 90s, many retail brands would only hire retail construction contractors who had worked with competing brands.
It’s the same “who’s on first?” debate in restaurant construction. Some clients understand that if a restaurant construction contractor has the ability to build a TGIFridays, then that commercial general contractor can also build a Red Robin. Where it gets frustrating is in high-end restaurant construction and fast-food franchise construction projects.
Many restaurant owners, especially those offering fine dining establishments, think that if a general contractor’s main experience has been in fast-casual restaurant construction then that GC doesn’t have the understanding to build a high-concept restaurant. Surprisingly, many fast-food operators feel the same way. If a restaurant construction firm has mainly built high-end restaurants then that GC is too expensive, big or fancy to build a food-service restaurant. Sometimes, you just can’t win.
What restaurant developers need to know is that regardless of what you serve on your menu, you can take the back of the kitchen for almost any restaurant and plug it into any other restaurant. There are also a lot of similarities for how a restaurant’s seating lands. The best restaurant construction contractors will agree – if you can build multiple Noodles & Company on time and budget then you can also build a Gibson’s, Red Lobster or Girl & The Goat.
What makes retailers and restaurants nervous is that a GC might share trade secrets with a competing brand. When it comes to building prototype projects, we totally understand that, which is why at Englewood Construction, it’s forbidden to discuss one client’s project with another client. That doesn’t mean there aren’t people who ask us for the cost study for another restaurant. But we understand the sensitivity of information our client partners are sharing with us and frankly, the companies that ask us for inside information aren’t clients we want to work with anyway. In this business, you need to trust your partner and trust their word.
Just keep in mind that everyone builds for a competing client at least once. And it’s smart to align yourself with a general construction firm that has the experience of building something similar to your project, whether it’s building a restaurant like yours, bringing a REO hotel back to market or renovating a shopping center.
Or look at it this way, if the Chicago Bears had the opportunity to hire Aaron Rodgers as their quarterback, would they turn him down just because he played for the Green Bay Packers? Okay, maybe some people would say no way, but if you want a winning team, you want the best players on your team. And if you want to build a successful retail store or restaurant, you want the best commercial construction firm on your team.
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