Fitting praise

It’s amazing how much common ground there is between interior designers and shopfitters these days. The results of our trawl of opinions reveal that both parties put a feeling for design high on the agenda for getting the best out of a project.

While 88 per cent of the designers questioned rank “sympathy with design” as a prime attribute in a shopfitter, National Association of Shopfitters director Gordon Elliott cites “creativity” as something his members appreciate in a designer (see box). “Shopfitters respond to new ideas and new concepts,” he says.

So why the impasse we too often hear of, when designer and craftworker don’t see eye to eye? One of the keys, according to comments gleaned during our survey, is that both parties need to understand the others’ business better and have mutual respect for the complementary roles they play.

NAS’s Elliott, for example, talks of the need for designers to understand what they’re asking a shopfitter to do and to involve them early in a job. Some 75 per cent of designers responding to the survey say it is important that a shopfitter is responsive to any design changes.

“Trust” is a word frequently used by designers explaining special relationships they have with particular shopfitting firms. This, says Rawls & Company founder Adam Rawls, is particularly crucial in fast-track jobs where there is no time to spare. “Retail is always done to a ridiculous timescale,” he says. “A contractor that is part of a team structure is best.”

Rawls’ choices include E & F Shopfitters for its responsiveness and the quality of its work.

Paul Bretherton, project director at retail specialist 20/20 Design Consultants, mentions the trust and “two-way respect” he shares with the best shopfitters that he has worked with: Hadley Shopfitters, Nason Foster and Epsom. Callum Lumsden of Lumsden Design Partnership adds “enthusiasm” and “understanding of design” as qualities shared by his three favourites: Design & Fittings, Team Point and, again, Nason Foster.

Underpinning all this is the need for reliability and competence in the necessary skills, requirements listed by most of the design groups taking part in our trawl.

Eva Jiricna Architects partner Jon Tollit voices “serious concerns that quality tradesmen are being lost and not replaced”, but ranks PC Shopfitting and Carlton Benbow among those that fit the bill. They share an interest in the end result, and in design and quality, as well as understanding all the appropriate trades, according to Tollit.

Designers are less concerned with the technical facilities at a shopfitter’s disposal. While 81 per cent of respondents think it is important that a firm has its own site team – obviously a measure of quality and time control – there is less concern about it having its own manufacturing or metalworking facilities, or that it uses CAD for its setting out.

One way competence is measured is the ability to meet deadlines, an attribute that wins points for shopfitters with 94 per cent of our respondents. If location is key to a property’s value, time is vital to the commercial viability of a fit out.

And then there’s money. Sixty-nine per cent of respondents prize those shopfitters which stick firmly to the budget, without adding in extras as the contract progresses.

Relationships between design consultancies and their shopfitters are obviously very important – and very personal. We trawled only the top 50 interiors consultancies, aiming to pass on best practice by those renowned for design quality. Yet there was very little overlap in the choices cited as giving the best shopfitting service and therefore no opportunity for us to construct a league table as such.

Instead, we have listed the companies mentioned, citing the type of work designers recommended them for.

What did emerge, though, was the geographical spread of shopfitting talent – London-based designers recommended companies from all over the country. The survey results also made it obvious that you need to pick the right company for each job.

In the words of Callum Lumsden: “It is vital to gain an understanding of a shopfitter’s previous background and to use their experience appropriately. Not all shopfitters can demonstrate a sound knowledge in all sectors – experience in fashion shops doesn’t necessarily mean they have the relevant skills for building a new restaurant concept.”

In picking the right shopfitter for any job, a number of issues inevitably come into play. Before putting together a tender list, Lumsden Design Partnership design manager Shula Slater keeps an eye on what’s being built in the vicinity of the job in hand, checking out how good the finishes are.

“We also ask for recommendations, or go with people we’ve worked with before”, depending on the type of job, Slater adds.

If, like Conran Design Group creative director David Chaloner, you’re “still looking for the ideal”, it pays to do your research and choose your shopfitter well. But don’t be too swayed by the claims made in the brochure. Seek personal recommendations and make sure you can work with the people as well. Above all, be prepared to listen and share.

What a shopfitter wants from a designer

A broad understanding of construction methods – the objective must be attainable.

A willingness to involve the shopfitter in the design team at an early stage – the shopfitter can be of value, not only to the client in cost savings (time and value), but to the design team itself.

To provide well thought-out packages of information with clear specifications and intent drawings – shopfitters do not need full working drawings, preferring to work with the design team on details, but rough sketches on the back of an envelope is going too far the other way.

An appreciation of manufacturing and installation timescales with realistic lead-in times.

To be both CAD and IT literate – many shopfitters appreciate the advantages of using CAD and IT.

Creativity – shopfitters respond to new ideas and new concepts.

Integrity – it should go without saying, but, unfortunately, doesn’t in every case.

Gordon Elliott, director, National Association of Shopfitters

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