Retail Fixture Project Management Pitfalls – Episode 1: Revenge of the Doors


Who put that doorway in?
And other common pitfalls when delivering and installing store fixtures.

retail fixture project managementIf you have ever project managed any kind of installation project in the store fixtures world you know one fact that holds true time and time again. There always seems to be some kind of glitch at the delivery and installation phase that was unexpected or just not thought of. Project managers may say it’s impossible to think of everything, but after many years of overseeing projects I have found the following three statements a project management creed to live by:

“A plan is nothing, planning is everything” – Dwight D. Eisenhower

This I equate to really getting to grips with the uniqueness of your project and customer. It is easy to get into the habit of having a habitual big picture process in place for delivery and installation, but do we truly pay attention to the details and pre-plan for variances or variables on projects? It’s too late to find out there is no loading dock at the install site when your 53’ tractor trailer rolls up to deliver the fixtures. Your installer will not thank you if he finds out there are actually two flights of stairs to traverse the fixtures over from the loading dock to the install site. Another aspect of this is knowing all they key players at this stage of the project. Your direct customer may be the company’s procurement manager or store owner, but have you made sure the facilities planning manager, the GC and other contractors are aware of the install timeline and requirements for the site before the fixtures arrive?

“There are known knowns, there are known unknowns, but the ones that get you are the unknown unknowns” – Donald Rumsfeld

This one is the one that catches most project managers off guard.

Known knowns, whilst sometimes challenging, can be planned for. No loading dock? Deliver on a lift gate truck. A long distance from the loading dock to the install site? Arrange for pallet jacks and carpet dollies to be onsite for easier movement throughout the space. These known knowns can often be identified with a simple pre-install checklist and planned for accordingly.

retail fixture project managementKnown unknowns mostly involve site architectural or electrical details that have not been finalized before a fixture has had to go into production to meet the delivery timeline. Yes, there will be and electrical outlet somewhere on that wall of slatwall you are installing, or a fire alarm, or a TV mount but only when the installer is on site will you truly know how all these play into the installing of the slatwall. Field conditions requiring installers to modify fixtures on site on occasions such as these aren’t earth shattering stumbling blocks for the experienced installer, but can lead to extra time on install for cutting out and reconfiguring installations. Time for these known unknowns need to be built into the planning stage.

Unknown unknowns are the bane of any project. We’ve all had them and are beasts to deal with. Everything is going well and on track and then wham! Something happens that no one could have planned for. One example of this happened to me a few years ago. Your tractor trailer full of fixtures pulls out from Virginia bound for Louisiana. Your installers are onsite. Then an ice storm comes through Georgia grounding your shipment, your driver and half a million other road users for 48 hours. Installers can’t work yet your project still has a timeline to comply with. It’s in these kind of situations knowing all the players on the project, having pre-built trust with them and knowledgeable crisis re-planning skills prevent a crisis turning into a drama.

“And then there are the unknown knowns” – Stephen Colbert

retail fixture project managementThis I think is probably the most difficult stumbling block of the delivery and installation part of a project. It’s the stuff outside of your direct control you couldn’t possibly have known about or planned for but someone else did and the information didn’t get filtered through.

  • You didn’t know the flooring installation was rescheduled to install concurrently with the fixtures and now both installers are in each other’s way.
  • You didn’t know the loading dock wasn’t available for delivery the third Tuesday of every month.
  • You didn’t know the ceiling height was changed and now all of your wall fixtures are too tall.

Of all three of the creed statements the last one is truly the hardest to manage in the moment. Experienced, attentive and problem resolution project management is the key to overcoming these issues with minimal nightmares for the customer.

I can hear some of you now saying “But you can’t think of everything!”

You are right, you can’t. However, you can learn from each occurrence and take steps to apply that learning in new projects going forward.

  • Do your pre-install questionnaires need more specific informational replies?
  • Do you need to schedule more project planning and implementation conferences with your customer and other contractors?
  • Do you need to pre-meet with the installer to go over the known nuances in any project?

There isn’t one simple answer. That’s what makes good project management an art. Because while you cannot definitively list out good project management, you can certainly see it when it’s in action.

Showbest Fixture Corp – thousands of successful and award winning fixture installations since 1969!