Keys to Successful Retail Permitting

Whether a retailer is building a new store, remodeling an existing structure or making minor updates, the extent of work will generally require a building permit. Documentation and permit requirements vary by location, scope, store type and other various nuances. This is something to keep in mind for retailers assessing their own chain of stores, considering a ground-up build, working with developers to create an empty shell, or for those with a smaller footprint. Additionally, it’s important to understand there are clear differences between permitting a ground-up build versus a remodel or tenant improvement.

Here are a few key factors for retailers to consider when navigating a tenant improvement in an existing space, a new build tenant improvement project or a remodel project:

Speak early and often to the jurisdiction. Visit the website and place a phone call to confirm the information is up-to-date and to gain a clear understanding of what the specific requirements are. Also, seek to learn if the city is making any changes to its codes or submittal processes during your project. Ask how long plan reviews are currently taking. Is there an over-the-counter review option? When comments are issued, how long will the re-review of the documents take? Are there options to pay an additional fee for an expedited review to speed up the process? Even with these estimates and due diligence, permitting can always take longer than anticipated. Establishing a good relationship with the city officials can only make the process smoother when any unforeseen circumstances arise or when schedules are tight.

An empty storefront does not bring in revenue, so the quicker the execution, the better. Each city or county operates on their own time frame and with their own unique process. Researching each location’s requirements upfront and inquiring about plan review time frames can help create a realistic schedule and expectations for grand opening.

Changes to storefront/exterior, signage, etc. can trigger a whole different set of requirements, processes and approvals. This scope of work often engages the Planning and Zoning department, which can add months on to review time frames. Depending on the extent of the changes, additional steps, meetings with the city or a variance may need to be pursued.

Work with the architect to track the permit review process after submittal and to monitor progress with the jurisdiction. Understand the strengths of the landlord team and those that can be leveraged; in many cases the landlord may have relationships established with the city from their core and shell submittal.

Can they be submitted online, or do they prefer hard copies to be mailed? Certain jurisdictions require an individual on the project to walk them in. With technology advancing, there has been a greater move to online submittals, impacting printing and shipping budgets. Keep in mind that even with the reduction in shipping times, online submittals may not ease the process, expedite the project schedule or review.

A local presence can make all the difference in a smooth permitting process. In several jurisdictions across the country, this is the only way to reach success in the process, especially if the project is under a tight timeline. Relationships are key; a retailer needs someone who knows who is behind the counter and knows the people.

There will likely be unexpected requirements and various hang-ups; there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach. It’s possible to encounter previously opened permits that were not closed, fees that the team was unaware of before a city issues a permit, or processes that were not initially disclosed. There may be additional requirements or hoops to jump through as the city digs deeper into the drawings. Planning for the unexpected can help smooth out the process.

The final keys to success? Overcommunication and professional persistence. Be sure to create strong relationships within the team, the city, the landlord, and any other parties involved to help leverage and accelerate the process. It’s critical to manage the expectations of all those involved and ensure the entire team is on the same page for deliverables. And, to keep those deliverables on schedule, it’s important to track the progress closely and provide responses quickly to the jurisdiction with clear information. All of these factors work together to maintain a smooth process from beginning to end.