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modular construction: the quiet revolution in retail.

Think of a supermarket and you think of a traditional bricks and mortar building. But over the last decade, retail outlets have been taking a modular approach, making the most of the associated benefits in terms of cost, speed and environmental impact. Back in 2011, Yorkon / Portakabin completed the UK's largest ever modular retail project, a 20,000 sq ft Tesco in Southam, Warwickshire. Offsite construction improved the quality and speed of the build process, enabling Tesco to be faster to market for its customers.

The eco-building incorporated a range of sustainable technologies and helped to secure jobs in modular construction in the local area. 

Discounter Aldi has been quick to seize upon the potential of modular retail space and currently plans to expand its network from 840 stores to 1,200 by 2025. While its smaller convenience stores will repurpose existing buildings, the standard stores will continue to use modular building techniques to achieve store opening targets.

Quicker to market

For disrupters such as Aldi pushing to compete with the Big Four of Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury's and Morrisons, time to market is critical. Modular buildings constructed offsite can cut construction times from months to weeks. McDonalds, which uses prefabrication technology for its units, once completed a new outlet on preexisting ground works in just 13 hours. The implications for retail are obvious.

Once planning permission has been greenlit then the time to store opening is dramatically cut with all the associated savings in equipment, labour, fees and other third party expenses associated with executing a large scale retail project. As an added bonus, the rise in interest in prefabrication is generating jobs in modular construction that are bringing new skills and diversity to the workforce.

Attractive Retail spaces

Aldi supermarkets are never likely to win prizes for outstanding architecture, but they've created clean, bright and modern retail spaces in our urban environment. More importantly, they're simple to replicate, creating a uniformity that appeals to customers and eliminates manufacturing errors.

The German discounters have also taken full advantage of MMC to incorporate green technologies into their buildings. The majority incorporate solar panels that generate the electricity for their stores and distribution centres. And prefabrication makes it simple to incorporate insulation at the build stage to create low energy but well constructed space.

Busting the myths of Modular

Another area in which modular supermarkets have succeeded in making an impact is in busting the myths around prefabricated construction. Taking a fabric first approach, these new modular retail units use timber framing and other sustainable materials that can be recycled to reduce waste and the eventual eco-footprint of the building. Supermarkets with pre-installed concrete floors are robust enough to support heavy loads and high footfall and preinstalled wiring and heating circuits can cut time on site for specialised trades.

It's estimated that modular construction can reduce waste by up to 50% in contrast to traditional methods of construction where modular units are manufactured in quality controlled conditions. As a cost-effective, long term solution, the UK's modular supermarkets are refashioning our concepts of what modular can achieve.

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