Asbury Automotive Group manages 85 dealerships across the country and continues to open and renovate new buildings each year, and at the center of the entire operation’s expansion is director of construction and facilities Brian DePouli. “Any construction project that comes in, I handle it,” he says.
DePouli oversees a lean team of just two project managers and a host of skilled vendors, but he’s come up with proven processes that have helped eliminate errors and delays on Asbury’s building projects. He has, in fact, taken Asbury’s change orders from 25 percent of the original contract for the average project to just 2 percent in only two and a half years—largely by pushing greater communication among his team members and standardizing their workflow.
“Once a project comes in, we are able to get the ball rolling fairly quickly because of our partnering process,” DePouli says. After an initial design schematic is finished for a project, he involves the entire construction team, including the architect, the civil engineer, and the general contractor, to make sure everyone is on the same page. “Everybody knows what the hot-button issues are for the manufacturer and for the executive team,” he says. “The drawings are checked by everyone: equipment suppliers, furniture vendors, IT vendors.” Having the team of contractors check over the plans means that there are extra sets of eyes, and that eliminates a lot of errors and extra rounds of designing.
DePouli has also developed specific guidelines that his project managers use to ensure a smooth construction process despite any individual variations each new project may entail. “We use a playbook so that we have a standard operating procedure for every project-delivery system from start to finish,” DePouli says, explaining that the playbook standardizes certain design elements such as the amount of space needed in a dealership or the distance between outlets and desks in a finance office. “Because our team knows those expectations, our budgets are accurate and there is no reworking of plans.”
One of DePouli’s first projects for Asbury, the Jaguar Land Rover dealership in St. Louis, helped him develop these processes. The building had special considerations because the local team wanted an urban storefront pushed close to the street, which wouldn’t allow for a typical vehicle display in front of the dealership. The store was slated to open as the 100th combination Jaguar Land Rover dealership, with specific displays such as a tile compass embedded in the floor and a test track to showcase the Land Rovers’ handling abilities. The particular finishes and competing demands made for a potentially expensive and time-consuming project.
“That’s one of the challenges during design,” DePouli says of custom finishes and build-outs. “Our process excels because we can flesh out those details early. Everyone knows what’s going on in our team so [that] we can explain to the manufacturer and local [team] what the issues are and find a solution that makes everyone happy.”
DePouli’s team faced more challenges as the project progressed. “Our architect was in Atlanta and didn’t know some of the nuances to the St. Louis market that well,” he says. “St. Louis being a heavily union town gave us unique opportunities to design the building differently to make it more cost-efficient.”
Asbury’s chosen contractor for the project, Brinkmann Constructors, went through the plans and suggested ways to improve the design and process to reduce costs. For example, using a smaller masonry block, Brinkmann could use just one person for that part of the job instead of two. “We incorporated those changes to save a lot of money without slowing down the design process too much,” DePouli says. “Now we’re doing another project for an Audi store. This time, we’re involving Brinkmann from day one.” Asbury now uses three regional general contractors for its different regional divisions.
Using a coordinated approach, DePouli and his team were able to complete the five-acre, 35,000-square-foot Jaguar Land Rover dealership in just five months. “If we need to move really quickly, the contractors can make sure we have subcontractors capable of doing that,” DePouli says. “They make sure we understand there’s a premium to pay for that speed. … If things change with our situation, we can slow the project down and save if we can. The partners we use are inherently built for speed. It’s in their DNA.”
In the end, Asbury succeeds by choosing the right partners and involving them in every step of the process so that they can make better decisions on their own. “If my vendors can work out a problem without involving me, then they provide me more value and help enable Asbury’s lean bottom line,” DePouli says. “We really embrace the concept of taking responsibility. It’s a team approach. There’s no finger-pointing. Everyone knows what the expectations are from day one and just goes and gets the job done.”