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A Mile Wide and an Inch Deep

Imagine this – the economy is struggling, your customers are hesitant to buy, industry sales are plummeting, yet your shelves are newly stocked with great product, the best you’ve ever been able to offer. Your new leadership team is excited to leap ahead, but your existing stores don’t speak your impressive brand message to customers.

In 2009 the new General Motors faced this daunting challenge and enlisted Gensler to tackle the largest facility image program in their long history. 4,000-plus store redesigns, in two years.

Gensler is extremely well versed in retail design, rollouts and consumer behavior. We’re already had significant experience with automotive retail facility environments, but GM’s desire to roll out 2,000 stores per year, for an extended amount of years, was surprising in its ambition. As far as we knew, a project like GMFI had never been attempted. How would we proceed to implement such a massive program over such a short time period? And more importantly, how were we going to provide a logistical solution that would allow the program to flow smoothly? We soon figured out, we were not just going to design stores, yet, we were going to design a program to design the stores.

We realized that to successfully create a program so fast and flat with so many individual units, would require a broad interface with dealers, which we termed, “man-to-brand” coverage, with apologies to our female teammates! Man-to-brand coverage relies on the incorporation of digital and web-based tools, communication protocols, methods to capture feedback and process improvement, and cool-headedness to dispatch a monitor to flow the work.

Inspiration for this logistical network came from an entirely different industry. We realized that our program had a strong affinity to complex railroad freight yard operations, so Union Pacific’s Bailey Yard in North Platte, Nebraska (a freight yard famous for their intricate logistics system) became the conceptual model for our efforts!

I often refer to the GMFI program as “a mile wide and an inch deep.” The program consists of re-imaging thousands of Chevrolet, Buick, GMC, and Cadillac dealerships across the United States. While many typical Gensler projects focus deeply on the detailed design of one building or space, the GMFI program focuses on a basic design for a multitude of buildings and spaces. The facilities were standard prototypes, which was easy enough, however the program demanded a wide process that could leverage our knowledge, talent, tools, and geographic breadth.

Projects roll in, are evaluated, classified, dispatched, performed and then the projects roll out. Web-enabled processes and real-time reporting. This process is continued on and on throughout the nation, and is still in process today.

On September sixth, Lisa Sunshine – General Motors Facility Image Manager – and I will be speaking at the International Retail Design Conference in Chicago about the process that Gensler and General Motors orchestrated to cater to such a unique facility image program. We will be exploring the journey we took in more detail, explaining what worked, what didn’t, what changed, and what surprised us. The GMFI program has allowed Gensler to truly look at facility design programs from a different perspective. We look forward to sharing our experience with you.

For more information about this year’s International Retail Design Conference, please visit their website.

Bill is a design principal and managing director of the Detroit office. In addition to his management role Bill is active in the firm’s work as a design principal for projects undertaken by the firm. He is past chair and past member of the Firm’s Design Leadership Taskforce and has served as a rotating member on the firm-wide Management Committee. Contact him at bill_hartman@gensler.com.

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Reader Comments (1)

Kudos and Great Appreciation for your Leadership in the GM Facilities Image Program, Mr. Hartman! And thanks to the systems and team that was built to serve GM's needs!

Jim Gota
09.5.2012 | Unregistered CommenterJim Gota

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