Modular construction is serving up quick-service restaurants in record time
Modular construction has officially entered the world of quick-service restaurants (QSRs) in western Canada. Modus Structures and Pacific R.I.M. Services Ltd. recently joined forces to build a Harvey’s restaurant in Grande Prairie—the first modular QSR for the company and Alberta.
Like most modular projects, the restaurant was completed in record time.
All photos: Modus Structures
“Typically, we need about six months of lead time for modular to work effectively—to do the design, planning and permitting process. We didn’t quite have that time here, so we did the ‘hurry-up’ because of this being the first time. We didn’t want to give up the opportunity of getting in the door,” explains Chris Denis, vice-president of operations at Pacific R.I.M.
The biggest hurdle, though, Denis says, was convincing someone to take the leap in the first place. “Once you get to a multi-location client, they’re successful and they have a good business model. That’s how they’ve grown. Especially the clients we deal with at Pacific Rim: most of them are national brands, if not international brands, so it’s not like we’re working with someone who is barely getting by. They already have a system that works. Challenging [the process they have in place] and saying we have a better way has really been the biggest obstacle.”
Pacific R.I.M. and Harvey’s started talks in August, and in September Pacific R.I.M. won the bid. The foundation was poured just as the snow started falling. After a very long, cold winter, the hoarding was finally pulled off the foundation in April, and the restaurant opened at the end of May.
TIME IS MONEY
“The winter being particularly nasty was a challenge to overcome, but, again, it emphasizes the benefits of modular construction. If you were trying to do site-build construction in miserable weather like that, the cost of winter construction and delays would have been astronomical,” Cal Harvey, director of operations at Modus, explains. “The fact that we can build the unit in the factory, in climate-controlled conditions, making sure that all the materials are stored in our dry warehouse, means that you get a better quality product that clicks together in a much more timely fashion.”
While the budgets for traditional and modular builds are nearly the same, the savings occur with the amount of time saved. The timeline for a traditional build is three to five months, and includes drawing, site work (including pouring foundation and setting up services) and then the physical build. As Harvey explains, closing down and renovating a QSR the traditional way can be a costly process: “They close the restaurant down, they demolish it and it takes four or five months to get a new restaurant up and going again. During that time, their customers wander off and find hamburgers elsewhere. They’re not generating any revenue and they’re just really crossing fingers that the new or renovated restaurant will open on time.”
Alternatively, in the case of a modular build, as soon as the design work is done, the site preparation and the structure construction can be done at the same time: “They close their restaurant down one day, they level the building and put in the quick-foundation. We can already be building in anticipation of this, and the trucks can show up with the modular restaurant the next day. By building in the factory and quickly setting up on site, we can have them operational within a month or even less. That’s an additional three, four, five months of revenue that’s back in their pockets, and they’re not worrying about chasing customers that may have wandered off elsewhere.”
While the timeline was easily met, Modus did have some challenges to overcome on its first modular QSR. One of the biggest hurdles was the design; QSR restaurants look the same as the others in its chain for a reason: using the same design for every building lowers costs. But for this project, the Harvey’s design needed to be redone from a modular perspective.
“A lot of people think it’s easy to just chop something up and build it in a modular fashion,” says Harvey, “but it’s not like you can take a chainsaw and arbitrarily cut lines.”
The challenge was amplified by the need to expedite the design process to meet deadlines; however, now that a modular Harvey’s has been designed, similar restaurants can be done more efficiently in the future.
Another benefit to modular construction is its attractiveness to tradespeople. “There’s not enough people to do the work we have now, let alone if Fort McMurray starts ramping up like they’re talking about, and we also look at Saskatchewan with the resources and northern British Columbia with hydroelectric and liquefied natural gas coming on. If half of the projects on the books land, there’s no way there’ll be enough labour to do it,” says Denis.
Modular construction has an advantage over traditional builds when it comes to attracting labour, especially during winter, because the work can be done inside. “It’s another way to leverage the skilled workforce that we do have that benefits everybody,” he says.
Having completed its first modular QSR build, Modus is receiving ample interest in new projects from customers who are recognizing the benefits to modular construction. Is there a future for modular QSR builds? “Absolutely,” Denis says.
All photos: Modus Structures