by Thaddeus Minshall
When customizing an existing basic space for your business, there are many factors to weigh. While these will vary widely by business, there are some general best practices that apply to any corporate fit-up project, including consulting with design professionals, carefully considering infrastructure needs, and facilitating ease of future growth.
Broaden Your Design Thinking
In the corporate fit-up process, it is natural to gravitate toward interior design. While selections such as paint color, lighting, plants, and artwork are important and highly-visible facets of your environment, avoid the temptation to quickly skim past the engineering design of your space. Early conversations about a project should involve not only an architect and interior designer, but a consulting engineer who can identify and explain the functional ramifications of each layout choice you make.
For example, perhaps you want to move or remove an existing wall containing plumbing lines; a discussion with a mechanical/electrical/plumbing (MEP) consulting engineer is crucial in understanding what this design choice will involve now and what it will enable or disallow in the future. Often, a solid design-build firm can initiate such conversations and help weigh costs and benefits.
Plan for Infrastructure Improvements
The fit-up process is the best time to consider long-term infrastructure improvements. If the use of your space will be changing – in New England, think of that growing IT firm moving into a stylish old brick mill building – it is wise to reevaluate your electric power to make sure that the existing service will support your operations. Similarly, the fit-up period is the ideal time to get the HVAC setup right. If the space features an aging heat pump, there is no more convenient or cost-effective time to update equipment.
The fit-up planning period is also a time to get creative. While any infrastructure upgrade will have its cost, owners with roof access and a lot of sunlight may be able to offset some expenses and bolster their bottom line by installing solar panels and lowering their monthly power bill. Rather than retrofitting later, the fit-up process is the best time to mull all possibilities.
Facilitate Comfortable Growth
Last but not least, plan your fit-up with a focus on the future. On day one, say your business needs 50% of the available space as a work area and 50% for inventory storage. Now imagine that your business does remarkably well. Your future may involve moving storage to another site and converting that other half of the space into more work area. You can plan for such scenarios in the fit-up process with elements such as walls that are “tear-down-ready” (i.e., diverting HVAC, MEP, and load-bearing duties elsewhere). Likewise, a forward-looking planning and design process can set you up to make an electrical upgrade as easily as possible should you need additional power as the business expands.
Careful consideration of the future and the factors above during the corporate fit-up process will set you up for the smoothest possible growth transition.
Thaddeus Minshall is vice president of real estate/development at Connolly Brothers Inc.