At a Glance
Construction department employees
Average project duration
Building an eye-popping brand-name shoe store in a shopping or outlet mall isn’t easy. The design has to fit a predefined space, it has to adhere to the retail center’s personalized construction regulations, and it still has to fit the brand’s prototypical look. But Mike Bernard and his team at footwear retailer Aerosoles have perfected their process in this field—so much so that they’ve managed to cut their construction time in half.
Aerosoles has 116 stores and more than 250 branded stores globally, and it requires each location to reflect its brand to the greatest extent possible. As the company’s director of construction, Bernard is responsible for making sure this happens. “I have to know each store inside and out,” he says.
Aerosoles has a design prototype, but Bernard says that doesn’t make his job easy. “The design phase takes the most time on the project,” he explains. “Each space is slightly different, so before the architects begin to draw, we go over what we’re going to do.”
Before Bernard accepted his position at Aerosoles, the company’s construction department would go out to bid for contractors only after it obtained construction permits. Since he took charge, however, the department has begun going out to bid while still seeking construction permits. “By doing that, we knocked three to four weeks off the [formerly nine-week] architectural phase,” Bernard says.
Outside challenges that the Aerosoles construction team must overcome in building, remodeling, or refreshing stores include city codes, leasing requirements, and unplanned scheduling snafus such as late material deliveries. “Each municipality is different, so there’s always a twist to pulling a store together,” Bernard says.
A new challenge has arisen as a result of cutbacks in building departments across the country: it now takes longer to obtain the proper permits. So, Bernard and his team have to take particular care to ensure their paperwork is in order, lest they make an error and cause costly delays.
To reduce actual construction time, Bernard has made some changes to Aerosoles’s typical lease, which specifies what materials can be used and the scope of work involved during a project. “We have many different landlords, from giants such as Simon Properties and General Growth Properties to smaller entities,” Bernard says. “We sometimes take spaces as-is, and we sometimes ask the landlord to make changes, so it can get complicated. Now, most of our leases conform to a standard; the only thing that changes is the scope of work by tenant and landlord.”
Additionally, Bernard made a release form for the general contractors he works with. It makes them responsible for the majority of material deliveries. “As a result, they know when the materials will arrive and can plan their work accordingly,” Bernard says.
It can be tough to manage the building process when working with different vendors and contractors on multiple projects all over the country; in July of 2012, Bernard had five locations under construction and another 15 starting soon, and all of them needed to be built in four months. But Aerosoles’s director of construction remains relatively unflappable. “It’s a challenge,” Bernard says. “But from the time I’m told it’s OK to start the survey [of the site] to the time we open the doors, it can be just 17–19 weeks from start to finish.”
Meet Mike Bernard
Where did you go to school?
I studied physical education at Syracuse University. I played football—in college and later professionally—so I thought fitness would be a good fit. My first job was director of recreation for New York City, but the most enjoyable part of that job was overseeing the facilities.
What was your first construction job?
I got some exposure when overseeing the facilities for Dominican College in Orangeburg, New York, and later for G&G Retail, where I was eventually in charge of 505 stores. Having learned how the maintenance side of retail works, I was given responsibility for purchasing for new stores. That led to project-management work, which led to fieldwork.
How did you wind up working for Aerosoles?
I was contacted by a search firm. They were looking to grow the company. I felt it was a great opportunity for me to streamline the construction side of Aerosoles’s business.
What personal goals do you have in your current role?
I want to build as many stores as Aerosoles wants to build with the highest possible quality. It’s always my goal to serve the company well by completing projects on time and under budget. ABQ