Working on the Road, March 1, 2003
SPAR Group's modified RV was created to help retailers cruise to more efficient-and faster-store openings.
By Jenny Summerour
How many people does it take to get a new supermarket ready for business? It depends on whom you ask, but most would agree that once you start counting builders, merchandisers, managers and vendors, the process is close to all-encompassing.
SPAR Group, the retail merchandising company based in Tarrytown, N.Y., has come up with an innovative way to tackle some of those challenges. Its new Mobile Project Headquarters is a road-worthy operations center built from a 32-foot Holiday Rambler recreational vehicle that travels directly to a store site and allows satellite communication with project staff. Think of it as a news van with accommodations for workers (kitchen, shower and bath), as well as high-tech devices that support the latest retail merchandising trends. A wireless desktop computer inside the vehicle and wireless notebook computers for use in the store enable instant communications. A wireless camera photographs remodeling activities in real-time and sends the images to the retail chain and SPAR headquarters.
A wireless local area network (LAN) connects the applications and provides satellite Internet access within 300 feet of the RV.
A SPAR executive came up with the idea for the vehicle following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in her hometown, New York City. "I live near Ground Zero and I had to leave my home for four months. When I would come back to meet with my insurance company, they had these mobile offices in vans with people working at their desks on computers and using copy machines. They were able to service me well in a convenient way," says Pat Franco, s.v.p of information technology.
The idea meshed well with SPAR's store design tools, which are used by supermarkets, drug stores and mass merchandisers. Since retailers inevitably run into problems while building stores, this offered a way to put everyone on the same page at the same time.
"Even if you already have the design applications, you get a new store site and you don't have electricity, Internet lines, phone lines or a fax machine. This really speeds up the process," says Franco. "With the satellite, you can provide actual photographs or drawings of plan-o-grams to everyone involved. Each problem is recorded either by calling our headquarters or by inputting the data into a system. The moment the issue is recorded, every contact in the database is notified." In addition, the retailer saves not only time, but also the cost of sending various managers to the site for days if not weeks at a time.
So far, SPAR has used the Mobile Project Headquarters vehicle in two store openings and both met with success, says Franco. Each project was finished about two days ahead of schedule. "If it's successful, we hope to launch a fleet of them. We want to be the new store opening people," she says.