READER QUESTION #2

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We want to add several new branches quickly, but we want them to be of the same quality as our existing facilities. What are the advantages and disadvantages to "component" facilities?

Joe Ijjas, VP accelerated development, NewGround, St. Louis

Component buildings answer the need to open multiple branches much faster than site-built construction, yet do so with consistently high quality levels, sometimes in diverse, far-flung market areas, that may lack qualified local labor.

The highest of quality standards are maintained through constant supervision of the work force in a controlled engineering facility environment. A true assembly line process of construction is followed, wherein standard products are pulled from neatly stacked supply areas for each subtrade, custom products are pre-ordered and available when needed, and the construction process flows efficiently. The assembly line rails are shot with a laser to ensure zero tolerance deficiency, resulting in walls, floors, and structural elements that are true, square and plumb-in many cases far more so than site-built conditions. The vagaries of weather do not cause delays, since the engineering facility is weather controlled. Since component buildings are enjoying resurgence in popularity, the work force is tenured and knowledgeable.

While the component building is being constructed, local trades undertake the site work. Earthwork, grading, utility work, preliminary concrete work and asphalt base are all proceeding concurrently with the construction of the component building, thereby significantly compressing total project timeframes. In some instances, this process has shortened the overall project timeframe by 50%, shaving months off the traditional site-built schedule. Meanwhile, the building is field finished utilizing local subcontractors, using standard building products and materials. In essence, it is truly the best of both worlds, combining the highest quality and control of the engineered process with the beauty and aesthetics of site-built construction.

Ralph La Macchia, La Macchia Group

What is the quality level of the architecture and construction? Brick and cut stone, unusual design or intricate detailing? We have worked with component facilities in the past and in our experience, they work best with simple, repetitive panels. More often than not, financial institutions have too many elements designed into the exterior and interior, such as entry, drive-up, and ATM, to name a few. On a 3,500-square-foot building, the component system takes quite a bit of effort to avoid looking like a component building. Typically, where the components come together, it's obvious. This in and of itself detracts from a high-quality, "here to stay" look.

In several instances, some of the municipalities have had problems with the component building approach. In the case of one fast food restaurant, where the complete interior and exterior of the building were on the panel, the building inspector refused to approve the electrical work and plumbing until he could see it. Therefore, we had to take the drywall off. This costs more time and money.

If you are comfortable with the design/build concept either as architect and builder team or a single firm, the route is fast-track. We the panel, as an industry, do fast-track construction all the time and can build this building type fairly quickly. The options of working two shifts, building some components off-site, pre-ordering long lead items, and negotiating with the right team instead of bidding the project out may give you the solution you are seeking. You must trust your design-build team to do this.

Jim Caliendo, PWCampbell

At PWCampbell, we do not generally recommend so-called component or modular facilities for credit unions. Usually when you compare a modular facility to a regular stick-built facility, the cost is not much different nor is the speed of entry into the market. However, what we are seeing is that modular facilities tend to have chronic maintenance problems over the long-term, which can become a costly disadvantage and setback.

We see no real advantage to a modular facility versus a stick-built building. You can make a facility, no matter the building method or material, look very similar from both the interior and exterior; and that helps to create your credit union's 'signature look' or brand. You can create an awareness of your identity via colors and architectural design and your members will instinctively know that it is your credit union as they pass by the facility. And we all know how important brand loyalty is in a highly competitive financial services market.

As we design-build these stick-built branches, we are seeing a credit union's opportunity to get into markets quickly. Whether we renovate an existing facility or build from the ground up, each location will end up looking the same, both inside and outside through prototyping, or what we refer to as "branding the building."

Paul Seibert, EHS-Design

The savvy strategy suggested by this question is needed in markets where a credit union must create high member/market convenience and top of mind awareness in a short period of time at the most reasonable cost.

If we define the "quality of our existing facilities" as an advanced branch business model and uniquely branded image that creates a powerful member experience that generates high ROI, "componentization" is critical to successfully morphing branches to fit different locations, configurations and sizes.

The key to "rolling out" a successful branch model and brand image is to clearly translate the brand image and objectives into a branch design that is transmutable in any location whether 4,000 or 1,000 square feet in size, defining retail/operations activity zones, creating a "kit of retail parts," and then applying to each site based on a set of priorities and budget goals. To be successful, the process must include the following:

1. Develop a strong and well-defined brand with clear characteristics statements.

2. Create a powerful branch business model and brand image that is "transformational" in its ability to drive a strong positive member and staff experience and generate measurable results.

3. Define the general size of branches that may be applied to the market based on the strategic branching plan.

4. Align operating processes, staff responsibilities, equipment, security, confidentiality, merchandising and sales objectives and training with the business model.

5. Insure a convergent brand statement through all delivery channels.

6. Map the member experience in terms of relationship development and communications zones.

7. Clearly define every element of the branch floor plan such as member communications kiosk, MSR pods, concierge/MSR relationship stations, educational area, self service center, kid's, mortgage center, business center, investment center, auto lending center, Vault, key messaging and merchandising points, support areas and so on.

8. Prioritize and determine the variable sizes of each component for a variety of applications.

9. Define the budget parameters.

10. Apply the retail kit of parts to each branch and then test the branch plan to insure it delivers the desired member and staff experience and ROI.

The pros and cons of "component" facilities are not complicated. We have observed the application of component facilities at thousands of branches across the country. If the components are not on brand or function and are not flexible enough to fit in every space, they fail and end up costing the institution more than customizing at each location.

But, when well executed and applied, they reduce time to market and construction, reduce project cost, enhance project management performance, and deliver a powerful and consistent branch business model and brand image that returns high ROI.

The DEI Team

Pre-fabricated, or component, buildings have come a long way and definitely have advantages as well as disadvantages. If you plan on replicating the same design multiple times, prefabricated buildings can be an advantage. Churning out several of the same thing can bring down the cost of each building. Each wall is built inside a warehouse with all materials readily available and organized, thus creating a more precise product.

By building the walls inside, this limits construction delays due to inclement weather and increases the quality of the product. Pre-fabricated construction can help reduce cost, keep the project on schedule, ensure quality, and speed up initial construction.

However, where there are advantages, there are always disadvantages. Unfortunately, pre-fab construction can limit the design of the building. And once the building is designed and the walls are created, making design changes could be costly.

Since a grid has to be constructed for each component, this process would only be feasible for products you would be duplicating several times. Don't forget about shipping damage too. Just like other construction materials, pre-fab walls are constructed elsewhere and shipped to the site.

They can be damaged during transit, which leads to on-site repairs and the cost of additional labor, based on the extent of the damage. Also, pre-fab walls often do not include electrical wiring or network cabling, which could make fishing lines through the walls more difficult and time consuming.

Component facilities are initially cheaper, quicker and of higher quality. However, what you gain in the beginning may cause other delays in the end.

Have A Question For The Facilities Panel? E-mail Managing Editor Lisa Freeman: lfreeman cujournal.com

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