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Planning a Commercial
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Tips for Success with Colorado builder, Darren Mann

When you’re starting a commercial construction project, there is a lot of careful planning involved. Most commercial projects will be much more complicated and more involved than your single-family home construction projects, and whether you’re planning for ground-up construction or extensive renovations to an existing building, attention to detail will be extremely important. You will need to have a solid plan in place and a team that you trust to complete the job. To help you better plan for your commercial project, we sat down with Colorado builder, Darren Mann, to discuss some tips and strategies to prepare for the construction process.

“Understanding the process and managing expectations are key elements in laying the foundation for any successful commercial project.” - Darren Mann
builder at construction site with construction documents and laptop

Image of Builder with Construction Documents

1. Planning

Careful planning is the key to a successful commercial construction project. This includes everything from selecting a proper location to drawing up your budget and your design.

Location planning:

Location, location, location. It is one of the first and most important decisions when beginning a new commercial project. There is a lot to consider when selecting a location for any potential business and every developer should take time to review these factors before making a final decision on location.

1. Does the surrounding area have a need for that business and does it have the infrastructure to support it?

2. Is there appropriate zoning for the location of the new construction?

3. What access is there to other businesses and buildings in the area? Think about it in terms of both potential clients and employees.

4. Are there sufficient water and sewer lines that can handle the needs of this new business?

5. Are there an adequate number of fire hydrants in the area to handle a fire emergency should that occur?

6. What is the condition of the soil? Is there any contamination? Will you need piles for your foundation? Consider hiring a soil engineer to determine these factors. Some of these can drastically increase your budget – for example removing contaminants from soil can be a costly procedure that may make finding a new location a better option.

7. Bring in a surveyor to complete a boundary survey and elevation certificate. Ensure that the complete survey shows any and all easements.

8. Does the property need re-platting? This can be a lengthy process that involves several county departments. This could add several months to your construction timeline if this is a factor.

Set your budget.

“Successful budget planning always plans for the unexpected.” – Darren Mann

Just like location planning, there are many decisions to be made when planning your budget for a commercial construction project. Every budget must account for the cost of the land, the project design, the materials, the labor, and most importantly, the unexpected expenses. Darren Mann suggests including a 10% contingency cushion in your budget. He said that unforeseen expenses are inevitable in any construction project, and it is important to add this cushion to allow for those surprises. These surprise expenses can include everything from delayed or damaged materials to an inaccurate bid on certain materials. Over the course of the build, these can add up and developers and investors should be prepared for that reality.

Design

The design phase of planning for your project will help further refine your budget and lay out the goals and intentions of the project. This phase can also coincide with the next phase of selecting your contractor. Darren Mann says some developers choose to bring their contractors or builders on early to provide design feedback or hire them to manage the design aspect entirely. There are advantages to doing this because they can help you design based on a budget. They have a strong understanding of cost, materials, and labor which can be valuable input when making design decisions.

Some things you will accomplish during the design phase of project planning are:

– Determine the size of the building and its rooms as well as their layout and function.
– Create contract documents to help establish a project timeline
– Refine the budget based on design and materials
– Create a construction document package
– Hire structural, mechanical, and electrical engineers to layout the HVAC, plumbing, and electrical for the project.
– Hire a civil engineer to manage drainage, parking lot design, and any other maintenance aspects required of the business or design.

two men at construction site reviewing plans

Contractor Reviewing Plans at Construction Site

2. Select your Commercial Contractor

Once you’ve gotten through the major decisions of the planning phase, you are ready to select your contractor. As noted above, some developers choose to bring their contractors or builders on early. Regardless of when you bring them on to the project, these are some things to take into consideration when selecting your contractor.

– Evaluate your bids. When moving into this phase of the construction process it is normal to submit bids to a handful of contractors. They will review your construction documents and respond with an estimate of what the project would cost if completed by their team. Several factors weigh into the bidding process, but Darren Mann suggests gathering at least 3 different quotes to set a budget analysis to help you select a contractor that stays within budget requirements. You should never make your decision entirely on budget, but it is important not to stray too far from your initial number.

– Look at their experience. It’s probably not in your best interest to hire a contractor that only has experience building homes when you’re building a mall. Look at their previous projects, how long they’ve been in the industry, and who else they’ve worked with. Darren Mann suggests hiring someone who has been in business for at least three years with a good, clean record. Another word of advice: avoid companies that offer extremely low bids. This is usually to compensate for a lack of experience.

– Look at their references. Darren Mann says any reputable contractor will give you a list of past client references. Talk to these references and evaluate the feedback.

– Make sure your contractor is licensed and insured. Many states require commercial contractors to be licensed and they must meet a certain number of requirements to receive that license. Ask to see documentation and review these to make sure they meet the state requirements. Also, ensure that their insurance covers property damage or injuries that might occur during construction.

- Evaluate rapport and communication.

“Good communication is a key ingredient in any successful project.” - Darren Mann

Any construction project demands consistent communication. You want to be sure that you can rely on your contractor to respond to any of your concerns in a timely manner as well as keep you informed on the progress of the project and any issues that may arise. In addition to good communication, you want to hire someone you are comfortable working with. Be sure to interview each candidate and find the one that feels right for you and the project.

3. Establish a realistic timeline and completion date.

Creating a timeline helps both parties maintain expectations for the project. Everyone involved should be well-informed of set milestones and deadlines to help guide what should happen and when. As with budgeting, it is important to allow for some cushion. As Darren Mann said, there will always be some unexpected delays. Every project has so many turning wheels that a delay here and there is an inevitable part of the process.

4. Expect Delays.

This is a huge part of managing expectations. As we’ve mentioned, delays are all a part of the construction process. You can encounter delays at any point throughout the process and often at several points throughout the process. For instance, there can be delays in getting permits, as well as, shipping delays or shortages of materials. Understand that, and build it into your timeline (and your budget) to give yourself some cushion. IT would be extremely unfortunate to plan on and look forward to an opening date for your business and then have to delay because of unrealistic expectations.

5. Be Proactive and communicate regularly with your contractor.

At this point, we understand that unexpected eventualities are going to happen, and because they are part of the construction and contracting schedule it is essential to have strong communication throughout the process. Ask questions, review changes, and be proactive about addressing issues. This is an important element between all the different teams involved in every project but is extremely essential to ensuring your customer satisfaction. Darren Mann says that poor communication is a leading contributor to delayed completion dates and going over budget. It can also lead to incorrect designs, quality issues, and having to redo parts of the project.

Create a plan, find your team, and manage your expectations through proper communication. Darren Mann says that these are the tools that will help you succeed in any commercial construction project.

silhouette of commercial construction site at sunset

Commercial Construction Site at Sunset

We hope you found this article helpful in beginning your commercial construction project. We appreciate the professional input from Colorado builder, Darren Mann. He is an experienced commercial builder with over 40 years in the industry and several successful projects under his belt. He’s worked on several large scale, commercial projects including resorts, stadiums, nursing facilities and more.