Category Archives: Business Perspectives

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Upcycling: DIY trends finding home in shopping center design

Looking for innovative ideas to dress up a retail storefront or breathe new life into your existing retail portfolio? Upcycling is one unique way to help your retail property stay relevant and attract the next generation of shoppers. Below, Senior Associate Jenna Stacer-Miccile of HFA|Allevato discusses this new design trend that is gaining a foothold in the retail sector.

Upcycling is a design trend commonly being used in the residential DIY sector and has recently begun to influence retail and food service industries.  Defined by Merriam-Webster Dictionary as “to recycle (something) in such a way that the resulting product is of a higher value than the original item,” upcycling is a cost-effective way in which developers can re-up their portfolios. Savvy designers, operators, and developers have started to successfully utilize this tool to revitalize existing centers and create inviting and re-energized spaces that enhance the shoppers’ experience.

Rejuvenate and find new life for your existing shopping center.

While I admit that we all get excited at the idea of a new ground-up shopping center and the blank slate of possibilities it brings, I find that I get almost as excited when visiting an older shopping center that needs some updating.  A friend and client of ours sarcastically refers to such an approach as ‘putting lipstick on a pig.’  While not the most gracious of phrases, sometimes that is exactly what a center needs to make it relevant and attractive to shoppers again. (Of course, there may be cases where the bulldozer is the best option, but those are few and far between.)  There are clients out there looking at options to improve upon their existing property portfolio’s performance.  Some properties may require elaborate structural updates and construction hurdles to breathe new life into these existing centers, while others may need a little less effort and more finesse – a simple but innovative solution.

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Liven up existing facades with unique materials.

Whether it’s a new retail and mixed-use development or renovating an existing center, designers, operators, and developers are beginning to understand the importance of a dynamic shopping experience.  On some recent projects we have looked at how to do this without breaking the bank. We investigated innovative solutions like finding new uses for reclaimed barn boards, wood pallets, and scrap metal as façade materials.

Plantings are another way to enliven an existing location. One inventive use for plants is to dress the roofline/parapet space with a line of greenery; this brings a fresh, natural element to the building architectural form. Alternatively, vertical green screens can be added to break up a large wall. Large CMU walls may benefit from a coat of paint and a large graphic mural or a stamped logo. That pesky hollow metal door set in a large brick wall could use a bright pop of blue paint instead of trying to monochromatically paint it out to disappear entirely. The possibilities for enlivening an existing façade are limited only by the designer’s 2

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Never underestimate the power of a carefully staged sidewalk.

Current trends at Terrain by Anthropologie and West Elm stores are a great place to look for inspiration when it comes to developing the sidewalk design. A sidewalk should no longer be a 15’ wide swath of concrete. Adding pavers and in-ground planters is a start, but that will not be enough to make your shoppers feel at home and want to hang around and shop.  Now, add some hanging plants, Adirondack chairs, garden sculptures, tree stump bench seating and other items you might think to use in your own garden to liven up the experience. Bringing in unique pieces and using diverse materials is a great way to bring warmth and life to a sidewalk.

One example of such an approach would be to wrap an existing CMU sidewalk planter in reclaimed wood and add a sculpture found at an antique shop in among the plantings – a simple touch, but a beautiful way to add texture, interest, and ambiance.  We also love to introduce pergola elements along the sidewalk just to create a moment to pause and enjoy the environment, and work up the energy to continue on shopping.

We are seeing and using some of these principles in some current shopping center rehab projects, tenant façade designs, and new ground-up retail construction projects.  The possibilities are limitless to a creative mind with a vision to see the potential a retail center has to become a great place to be.

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Stay tuned for future posts discussing the benefits of upcycling as a design tool in the restaurant and food & beverage design sectors.

Engineering a Meaningful Place

We sat down with A/E Firm HFA to ask about the importance of integrating engineering into a good architectural design.

Q: What is the role of engineering when designing a new space?

A: The architect creates the space with the needs of the client in mind, while it’s the challenge of the engineer to make the space functional, comfortable and safe. One of the engineer’s main goals is to design the most optimal use of the space.

“Successful design integrates architecture and engineering into a holistic space.”


Q: What’s the biggest advantage of HFA being an integrated A/E Firm?

A: Communication. The HFA design team all work in the communication to stimulate creative design solutions. Truly integrating an A/E firm is like designing a good space, you have to understand how the disciplines work together to create the holistic experience for the end-user. In this scenario, our clients are the end-user.


Q: How does that integration help in creating meaningful places?

A: Any designer can create a space, but great spaces happen when architects and engineers are working together to optimize it for the human experience. That’s the end goal of any project. Good space design is about the way it makes you feel when you experience it, and we want to create a meaningful place for all to enjoy!

Mar-Apr_CCR Ad-Open House

HFA Ranked Top 5 by Architectural Record

Arch Record List

Architectural Record has ranked HFA the 5th top design firm in the nation for the Retail Market.

As a full service architecture and engineering firm, HFA continues to be a leader in Retail Store design across the United States.


Designing for the Customer Experience

We were interviewed about the impact of design on retail. Here’s what we had to say:

Q: Retail brands work tireless hours defining their image, how do you encompass their image into the space you’re creating?

A: For us it’s about a deep connection with the client. We first try to understand their business philosophy. We want to know why they’re in business. Then we immerse ourselves into their brand, so we can become the customer. The goal is to design a space that works for the end-user — their customer.



Q: Creative Solutions, Meaningful Place.. What does that mean? And why did you choose it as your mission?

“The goal is to design a space that works for the end-user”

A: It means we aren’t just in business to design buildings. We want to create spaces that touch your heart and to experience the space in a meaningful way. We chose it because that’s how we want our team members to design and feel.

Q: Retail brands these days like to roll-out full remodels, how do you manage those projects?

A: The key is understanding the client and their customers. Once we fully understand their program, we use the techniques learned in our 25 years of retail to efficiently design every store, whether it’s 5 stores or 500.

View HFA website

Here’s the original article as published in Commercial Construction & Renovation Magazine:


HFA Architects and Engineers Celebrate 25 Years

Identifies 25 Ways to Impact the World Through Design


The architectural and engineering firm based in Bentonville, Arkansas reached a major milestone unachieved by most firms, 25 years in business. In recognition, the staff developed ideas of ways to impact the world through design.

Founded by architect Harrison French, the one person firm has grown to over 170 employees serving nationally recognized clients throughout the United States and is positioned to begin working internationally. The fully integrated, multi-disciplined firm has been recognized among the fastest growing firms for the past six years, by Zweig Group, a national architectural and engineering industry consulting firm.  Based upon the number of licensed professionals, HFA was recently recognized as the largest architectural and engineering firm in Arkansas. The growing Bentonville firm has an office in Houston, Texas and staff in Dallas, Texas.

“This anniversary would not have been possible without the hard work of a lot of talented professionals and great clients.” said Harrison French, AIA, Principal / CEO,  “I’m even more excited about our future as we continue to challenge ourselves and develop our skills even further.”

In celebration of their achievement, HFA hosted an event on May 7th in their newly renovated headquarters office which was transformed from a vacant home improvement retail store. The beautifully designed studio was awarded LEED CI Gold certification for its utilization of sustainable design and energy saving systems.

In recognition of their 25 year achievement, the HFA staff launched 25 Ways to Impact the World Through Design initiative.  This thought provoking initiative asked our staff members to identify a design idea that can be used in our daily lives and the impact that design can have upon the world.  There were 89 entries submitted by our staff of which the 25 where chosen by the staff to represent our 25 years in business.  At our May 7th anniversary celebration, the top three design ideas were selected by a vote of the attending guests.

“This has been a very fun design challenge and we were excited to see that there were so many innovative ideas created by our staff.   The design ideas really tell the story that our staff is not only very creative, but that they are truly caring people who really want to help the world become a better and more meaningful place to enjoy.” said Larry Lott, AIA, President and COO.

About HFA (Harrison French & Associates, LTD) is a multi-disciplinary design firm providing Architecture, Interior Design, MEP Engineering, Fire Protection, Structural Engineering, Civil Engineering, and Landscape design services to the retail, commercial and assisted living markets throughout the U.S. and holds professional licenses in all 50 states; and the District of Columbia. Please visit us at

What Questions?

Chris Horton

By Chris Horton, Vice President & CFO

In my last article, I wrote about the integrated Architect/Engineer team and the benefits of finding and hiring the right one. This article will act as a guide for the questions you should be asking when performing your search.

The American Institute of Architects website ( has several suggestions of questions to ask during your interview of potential candidates. Working on an integrated A/E team comes with a set of unique challenges and opportunities that an engineer or architect would not necessarily face when only performing the tasks related to their discipline and then passing the project along. It is important to ask candidates about their experience with integrated projects as well as other kinds of teams they may have worked on. Design philosophy, who will be the main point of contact at a partner firm, and experience level are just a few of the factors that need to be taken into consideration, but these simple questions should help you narrow down your choices.

When evaluating consultant teams, which typically may contain many professional disciplines, it may be very difficult to tell if a team is truly integrated. This task takes asking a different set of questions all together. Teams are so often setup in silos and very seldom talk to each other face-to-face. Email has become the way of managing and is among the reasons that deadlines are not met, major misses occurs, etc. Ask the following:

How are their teams structured and how they share fees?

What about their philosophy on teamwork, do they sit together or is each discipline segregated?

What consultants do they use (you will usually have some outside consultants) and how they are integrated into the team?

Who will be attending any meetings with you?

It is very important that the key players are involved. If your consultant plans to send a single person, run away! One person cannot have the breadth and depth of knowledge you need to ensure you are getting the product you want.

So we have discussed what questions to ask, but what about you, the owner. What kind of things do you need to bring to the table? Well, you guessed it. That’s for another article!

HFA Helps a Neighbor

HFA employees reached out to a neighbor, collaborating to design and build an accessible ramp.

When John Berkley, Project Manager, at HFA was talking with his neighbor, he saw an opportunity for him and co-workers to do a team building exercise. But when he presented the idea to Dave Wilgus, Associate, Dave knew he had an eager group of intern architects on staff already seeking an opportunity to provide community service as part of their Intern Development Program or IDP.  The IDP requires these interns to gain exposure to various aspects of architecture and one element requires them to provide a minimum of 80 hours of community service, a way for them to give back.

John would often help out his elderly married neighbors with minor home repairs.  Recently, the need for a ramp became apparent.  And the joining of a need and volunteer resources came together.

The HFA volunteers completed the project over the weekend which took about 16 hours.  On Sunday afternoon, Mary Mae wheeled Jody, her husband, down the ramp out onto the carport.  Jody is 97 years old and loves the outdoors, but due to his limited mobility, has not been able to get out of the house except for occasional doctor appointments.  With tears in her eyes, Mary Mae shook each one of the volunteers’ hands and thanked them for what had been built.

You may recognize the name of the couple.  Mary Mae and Jody Jones.  Yes, Mary Mae is the retired school teacher who Bentonville Public Schools named Mary Mae Jones Elementary School after.

Dave Wilgus said: “I was so impressed with everyone on the team and the team’s cohesion – each one brought their own expertise and leadership to the group.  We are a luckily office to have such talented and classy individuals working for us.  Finally, I want to thank John for bringing this project to our attention, spearheading the project management and acting as great foreman over the weekend.”

The HFA interns involved include:  Mike Czajka, Stacey Jawor, Sean Paquin, Dan Richards and Matt Turner.


Timesheets….The necessary evil

DeLynn HughesBy DeLynn Hughes, CPA, Associate & Controller 

In today’s world of fixed fee contracts it is becoming even more difficult to convince our employees to fill out timesheets in an accurate and timely manner.  After all, many employees don’t think that timesheets matter when the contract is fixed fee.  We must find a way to instill the importance of accurate timesheets to our employees regardless of the fee arrangements.

One of the most important reasons that accurate timesheets are necessary is for planning and bidding future projects.  If we really don’t know how long something takes, how can we accurately bid on a future project.  Accurate timesheets help us determine the hours needed on a similar project in the future for profit and loss projections.

Another reason for accurate and timely timesheets is to have a record for determining additional services.  Perhaps a relatively new employee, eager to please the client, performs services outside of the contract.  If the timesheet is being reviewed timely by a more seasoned employee, they may be able to approach the client to obtain fees for additional services or explain to the new employee the actual scope of work before he or she spends an inordinate amount of time.

Timesheets also provide us with a tool for teaching.  By reviewing timesheets when the project is current, a manager can discuss problem areas with employees.  This can be an efficient tool to help everyone create better processes in the future and avoid the same mistakes.

Timesheets seem to be the thorn in all service industries.  We try to praise employees who fill out timesheets efficiently, belittle employees who don’t, and annoy all employees with reminders.  Perhaps education is our best tool by reviewing and explaining to employees the importance of accurate time management and leading by example.  We have to remember that timesheets provide the service world with a gauge to review history and predict the future.