Cycle and car-parts retailer Halfords has plans for 15 new stores worth £500 000 each this year. How can you become a preferred contractor or consultant?
What is Halfords?

A bike and car-parts retailer.

Who is the key decision-maker?

Head of property, chartered surveyor Richard Nixon.

Who are the key personnel?

Stephen Day is general manager of store development, handling fit-out procurement and maintenance of stores. Nixon deals with new-build schemes.

What are the firm’s investment plans?

Halfords plans to increase its portfolio of stores from 300 to 420. This year, it will build 15 stores at a construction cost of about £500 000 each. Total costs per store, including land purchase, are £1.3m. Six will be what Nixon calls “stand-alone”, meaning Halfords develops them itself rather than taking on ready-built properties in retail warehouse parks. Nixon’s strategic aim is for Halfords to leave the high street. To do this, he needs out-of-town sites, ideally in business parks.

What is its preferred procurement route?

Halfords appoints an external project manager to supervise the construction process. It picks firms from a list of six tried-and-tested, medium-sized regional consultants. Nixon then appoints a multidisciplinary firm to carry out the design-and-build contract.

How easy is it to get work with Halfords?

All appointments go through Nixon, who is willing to consider new firms and is happy to talk to architects and engineers for specific jobs. Contractors are invited to apply to join his prequalified list. This stands at six firms, but could be expanded.

How are contractors chosen?

Contractors are picked from the preselected list. Usually, three or four of the six are asked to bid for each job. Nixon prefers to use smaller regional firms and often tries out contractors recommended by developers.

How long do contracts generally last and what type are used?

Most are between 20 and 26 weeks and are design-and-build rather than traditional JCT contracts. Nixon is trying to standardise them as most stores are designed to a formula.

Why is Halfords building more “stand-alone” stores?

There are simply not enough sites available in business parks. The company recently sent out a plea to 600 property agents, developers and other industry professionals in the hope of acquiring more out-of-town sites.

Halfords started off as a high-street store. When did it start to move out of town?

The firm has pursued a policy of building larger stores in retail and industrial parks since the mid-1980s out-of-town shopping boom. It found that these locations suited its customers best.

Doesn’t Halfords’ out-of-town building policy go against current government thinking on greenfield development?

Nixon says not. He says the company is not encouraging out-of-town shopping by building out-of-town stores, but encouraging people to shop near their homes. Nixon is willing to build on brownfield land, but explains that Halfords needs stores in places people can drive to, especially as many of its products are for cars. Also, he says that many of its new sites are in suburban areas on the edge of town rather than on greenfield land.

Halfords is renowned for selling bikes, so why isn’t it building shops you can cycle to?

Cycling is now more of a leisure activity than a means of getting from A to B, says Nixon.

What does Nixon think of lean construction?

“We’re always pushing the margins, so contractors have to be fitter and faster. By being a demanding client, we are encouraging better practice,” he says.

Does Halfords believe in partnering?

Yes. “Come and talk to me and let’s sit down and do this together” is Nixon’s attitude.

How shouldn’t you sweet-talk Nixon?

“I’ve been called Tricky Dicky more times than I can remember, but I’m used to it. The number of times people have said: ‘I wouldn’t buy a used car from you, Mr President’…”