Design is foundational for any branded environment. A bad design never becomes a good design. But ensuring a good design becomes a great branded environment that meets the client’s and its customers’ high expectations and delivers ROI is a complicated process.

Good designs can prove too expensive to roll out at scale. Or they can’t be produced at scale within a tight timeline. Or they look good but create unanticipated operational issues for customers and associates. Or they use materials that wear down and show age too quickly.

These sorts of problems occur when a critical process is overlooked or poorly performed: value engineering.

Value engineering isn’t simple either. It requires a diversity of skills and experience, including a collaborative ability to weave together many aspects of a project so the end result meets the client’s budget and aspirations.

For more insight, we went straight to Walt Murphy, SVP at Miller Zell and lead of the Design Development Team. Murphy brings 23 years of experience providing value to Miller Zell clients.

How did you get into design development/value engineering?

I always had a creative streak. Enjoyed painting and drawing and building things growing up. As I got older, that developed into a fascination with design, not just the art side of it but also what went into building structures and what was important under the surface. That led me into retail design as a career. What I love about designing and producing branded environments is that value always matters. It’s essential to the process. It’s creative but also purposeful.

And as my career has developed at Miller Zell, I now get to apply all my knowledge of materials and processes to create solutions that can be executed, on time and on budget, where that wasn’t possible before we did our work. I love the idea that my task is to find and create value for our clients. It’s a rewarding collaboration, particularly when the client has that “ah ha!” moment and recognizes that the creative way we’ve rethought a design or applied a different material has provided them measurable value.

It’s also cool when a successful collaboration leads to your client contacts receiving appreciation on their end within their organization.

What is value engineering? And what is it not?

Important question! It’s not simply making something cheaper. That’s a sourcing exercise or a margin exercise. Both important, but not value engineering.

In the big picture, value engineering for branded environments is about creating the best possible customer/associate experience at the lowest possible cost while executing rollout on an optimal timeline.

At its simplest, value engineering considers a fixture’s purpose or function while engineering the most cost-effective way to produce it without reducing that function.

What’s Miller Zell’s value-engineering processes within our end-to-end services?

Most critical to my team is the client’s wants and needs — how they define the purpose of a design or specific fixture. Sometimes the foundational purpose is purely practical. Other times, an impressive creative aesthetic could be essential to that purpose.

Often clients bring Miller Zell architectural plans, brand assets, design criteria, creative briefs, surveys, elevations, etc., with the idea of upgrading their in-store experience in the most efficiently executed and cost-effective way possible. 

Value engineering typically starts with material costs but also includes shipping and time savings, as well as ease of installation. Sometimes there’s a trade-off with more expensive materials or vendors better meeting timelines and scaling.

Miller Zell delivers value engineering through the lens of design intent. So, we seek as much savings as possible while also ensuring the project can be efficiently scaled with as little friction as possible. And there’s really no finish line. Opportunities to create value continually evolve.

What distinguishes our value engineering compared to our competition?

Well, I’m not going to criticize other organizations, but we do have some clear advantages, starting with Miller Zell’s track record of delivering retailers value for nearly 60 years. We’ve expanded to a wide range of verticals through the years — banking, QSR, collegiate, health care spaces — and the reason we can do this well is that we have engineers and designers with 20-plus years of experience in developing effective, customer-focused branded environments.

We’ve seen a lot through the years. But it’s more than that. We know how to look forward and innovate in a purposeful, value-driven way because that’s how you create ROI for clients. It’s funny how we’ll see opportunities to create value that years ago were about signage and fixtures and now are about digital screens and kiosks.

What are a few examples of value-engineering work we’ve done for clients?

I’m really proud of our Walmart work through the years, maybe most recently in terms of value engineering with “Swipe Up.” Our work with Regions Bank really highlighted a great collaboration with program management, value engineering and a great client. We delivered a 35 percent cost reduction from prototype to the final version for the “Just Food for Dogs” store-within-a-store for Petco.

Also proud of work with Mohawk, producing a folding rack that was purely design-driven value engineering. We’ve also got a few big projects coming out soon that I look forward to talking about!

Want to learn more? We’d love an opportunity to discuss value engineering or any of our end-to-end services. Contact us here.

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