Industrial properties are the darling of the commercial real estate market right now. The phenomenal growth of this property class can primarily be attributed to the expansion of e-commerce and last-mile distribution. As consumers increasingly order everything — from books and clothes to groceries and garden supplies — online, the face of retail is quickly becoming the delivery truck. And every $1 billion in additional e-commerce sales requires 1.25 million square feet of warehouse space.
The COVID-19 pandemic has only accelerated these changes. Since March 2020, we’ve seen major supply chain shortages (think: paper towels) and an increased push to onshore manufacturing capacity. That means that, in addition to more warehouses, the US will also need a lot of new manufacturing facilities. Are you building or expanding industrial or warehouse space? Here are 5 ways to optimize your industrial real estate design.
Know Your Objectives
As basic as it sounds, every great building starts with a clear understanding of its purpose. Yes, you’re trying to manufacture or distribute product, but what else? Will you be giving tours of your production floor to encourage new sales? How big of a role will automation play in your fulfillment operations? Will you also need office or lab space for your R&D team? In industrial architecture, these answers to these questions become a building’s “program.” The program defines which spaces are needed, how they will be used, and how they relate to one another.
At this early stage, you should also look at your processes to see how they can be optimized. Most existing industrial operations face limitations from the physical constraints of their buildings. From inefficient manufacturing to lost customer orders, limited or poorly planned space can have a major impact on your business. Especially if you are building a new site from the ground up, how might you retool your processes to take advantage of a blank slate? Without your current constraints, could you develop a new, more productive operation? Now is your chance.
Learn to Fit In
Fairly or not, industrial buildings have a reputation for being somewhat less than aesthetically pleasing. Understandably, companies focus on utility rather than looks when building new warehouses and manufacturing facilities. As a result, few homeowners want industrial spaces in their neighborhoods. That’s why local authorities often have strict “architectural performance standards” that try to define aesthetic standards for buildings. This challenge will only grow with more distribution centers moving closer to population centers. These new, infill industrial sites need to be visually pleasing enough to get through the entitlement process. This doesn’t necessarily have to be an expensive process, however. A creative architect can help you create a cost-effective building that is also a pleasant addition to any neighborhood.
Find Your Way
Site and building navigation are two of the most critical parts of your industrial architecture and interiors planning. How will people get into the site and around your building? You’ve got to give trucks easy access to loading docks — which often have to be hidden. This means designing the site to provide the most direct entry from the most convenient road. You also need to make it simple for employees and visitors to find where they can get in. These competing priorities can be difficult to reconcile.
Once people are inside the facility, how do they get where they need to go? As mentioned above, you need to make sure that the right spaces are next to one another. For example, the sales team probably doesn’t need to be next to shipping, but they might need to be near accounting. And if you’re planning on giving tours of the shop floor, how will your customers get there? The path needs to be convenient and reflect well on the destination.
Design for Growth
It’s tempting to design an industrial facility just to meet your current needs or some modest growth. After all, why spend the money to build empty space? But the most cost effective commercial real estate leases are pretty long — at least seven to ten years. Your program should include an assessment of anticipated growth factors over the full length of that lease. After all, it’s a lot less expensive to have space you don’t need than to find another new facility mid-lease.
When looking at future growth, consider both the raw square footage as well as the additional features you may need. These include larger clear heights for vertical storage and the number of docks you may need for increased warehouse traffic. You’ll also need to plan room for additional future parking needs. Note that cities often require more parking than you think you’ll need, so research this now, before you grow. And if you have ambitious growth goals, you’ll want to oversize your stormwater management system so that it does not need future modification, which can be quite expensive.
Finally, think about how much of your facility will need to go for office space. If you expect to expand operations over the course of your lease, you’ll want to have enough office space for your growing team. Not sure how much space you’ll need? Our interactive office space calculator includes the most common workspace types and their sizes to help get you started.
Remember the People
Unless your operations are fully-automated Jetsons-style, your facility will have people working in it. And unlike robots (so far), people care about their surroundings. Numerous studies show that a better working environment can make your staff both happier and more productive. In fact, research from Gartner shows that “employees who are satisfied with their work environments are 16% more productive, 18% more likely to stay, and 30% more attracted to their company over competitors.”
So how can you create an industrial workspace that will attract talent and make them more productive? Start with optimizing natural light. You want enough to wake people up, without creating unnecessary glare or too much heat. Properly spaced clerestory windows and skylights can make this work. You also want healthy air circulation, ventilation, and temperature control. Finally, make sure your office and breakrooms are aesthetically pleasing. You don’t need to recreate Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, but no one wants to work in a depressing beige box, either.
Industrial Real Estate Design that Works
At PlanForce, we design industrial architecture and interiors that help you work more effectively. Our plans help reduce costs and optimize production flows to improve operations and achieve long-term success. As you evaluate your business strategy, consult our team to see how the right industrial real estate design can help you thrive in the face of competitive markets.
Ryan Schroeder, AIA
Ryan has more than 18 years of professional experience and is president of PlanForce. He holds degrees in architecture and environmental science from North Dakota State University, as well as certifications from NCARB and AIA.
Equipped with a designer’s eye, a storyteller’s soul, and a marketer’s targeted goal-setting, Brock works with clients to help develop integrated branding, graphic design, and digital marketing solutions — creating property marketing and space branding solutions to tell their stories and reflect their values.