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X/SPECS Puts Spotlight on Physical Retail

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The future of brick-and-mortar retail took center stage at Chain Store Age’s 19th annual X/SPECS, the exclusive event for executives involved in the planning/design, construction and facilities management of retail stores and restaurants.

The in-person event, held at the Waldorf Astoria in Orlando, Fla., Nov. 3 – Nov. 5, brought together retailers from all sectors of the retail and restaurant industry. Non-traditional retail, including the financial sector, was also represented.  X/SPECS was sponsored by top suppliers and service providers in brick-and-mortar development and maintenance.


The program officially kicked off with a dynamic — and thought-provoking — keynote by one of the industry’s most prominent creative leaders, Christian Davies, who currently serves as design practice leader at Bergmeyer.

“The one thing we should not fear is the future of retail,” he told attendees. “Retail is a fundamental part of our DNA … it’s part of what makes us human.”

Davies, whose message was themed around “Retail’s New Horizon,” spoke about the challenges and opportunities facing today’s retailers.

“I see these times as a huge opportunity to undergo a reboot…a complete shift,” he said.

Noting that “we are retailers and growth is what we do,” Davies said it is time to grow “in new and different ways.” In fact, he added, it is already happening through adaptive reuse of existing spaces and smaller, more innovative formats, such as Nordstrom Local and the new, small-store Bloomie’s concept. 

Davies called for retail to adapt a more sustainable mindset, to think more along the terms of rebuilds than new builds.

“The greenest building is one that is already standing,” he said.

Davies pointed to U.K. retailer Marks & Spencer, which has put sustainability at the heart of its business through its “Plan A” program to help combat climate change, use sustainable materials, trade ethically, reduce waste and help shoppers lead healthier lifestyles.  Launched In 2007, the program resulted in M&S achieving carbon neutral status in 2012. The retailer recently updated the plan, with a goal of reaching net-zero status by 2040.

“Today, Marks & Spencer is the number one sustainable retailer globally,” Davies said. “The company’s Plan A is a roadmap on how to deliver and run a massive fleet of sustainable stores.”

In another program highlight, Korn Ferry senior client partner Craig Rowley led a discussion among retailers on how they are navigating the challenges caused by a limited skilled workforce and a materials shortage. Panel members included Mike Guinan, VP of operations and services, White Castle; Aaron Harris, VP of real estate and construction, Dutch Bros; and  Danielle Mosley, facility manager, Aaron's.

The panelists noted that it’s not just retailers who are experiencing shortages. Many vendors are having trouble meeting deadlines because they don’t have the staff and/or the materials. Consequently, the retailers have had to be more accommodating, to “make do” and, in some cases, let things go a little bit longer to be repaired.

“If there is one word that describes how we have to be today it is agile,” Rowley said.

Dutch Bros.’ Harris said he has had to be very flexible with vendors.

“I don’t care what time of the day they can come now,” he said.

Here are five key takeaways from the panel.

  • Be Agile. With labor and materials shortages on the rise, companies have to be flexible in how they approach projects. Dutch Bros, for example, has upped its reliance on prefabricated construction.
  • Plan Ahead. White Castle and Dutch Bros pre-ordered material and equipment that are already in storage — when the projects come up, they just need to line up labor and timelines. White Castle ordered materials three to six months ahead of time so that its construction and maintenance projects stay on time.
  • Improve Vendor Relationships. One way to make it easier to navigate services amid a labor shortage is to keep up relationships with vendors and become a "customer of choice." This includes things such as paying bills on time and keeping lines of communication open.
  • Utilize support desks and automation to streamline and prioritize repairs.


X/SPECS also provided retailers the opportunity to network with colleagues and business partners.  Retailers also were able to discuss specific business needs with suppliers at one-on-one information exchanges.

These rapid meetings provided an ideal opportunity for business strategizing and partnering.

Also, suppliers and service providers had the opportunity to share solutions with retailers in a wider setting via theatre-styled presentations.

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