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Retail boss enjoying life on the other side of the fence


Last month Stewart Sharpe joined Pettifer Construction as retail director. He talks to Joanna Booth You came to Pettifer from Sainsbury's. How is it on the other side of the fence?

I started off on this side of the fence. I began as assistant site manager for Mansell 20 years ago and worked my way up to project manager. I spent six years working for RG Group then moved to Sainsbury's, in charge of extensions, its largest programme at the time. It was a big decision to come back to contracting. I'd been aware of Pettifer for about six years, first as a competitor then as a client, and I was impressed by its clearly defined structure.

How are you applying your experience as a client?

In one financial year at Sainsbury's we had 31 extension projects worth £220 million.You need to keep up with a huge amount of people on each project or you get behind, so interpersonal skills were important. I was also a member of the Sainsbury's Single Alliance.The client, contractors and consultants got together to make the construction process more cost effective.Teamwork is key to successful delivery in the retail sector. I'm proactive about showing subbies and consultants what we're about.

What are your goals for Pettifer's retail sector?

We have framework contracts with Somerfield and Asda, and our first step is to ensure we're consistently delivering what they want. Once we've achieved that we want to expand to other food retailers.There are similarities we can transfer to other retail markets too. It'll be controlled growth.

A study for the Greater London Authority recently said we'd need the equivalent of 18 more Brent Cross shopping centres in the city by 2016.Are you confident the market will continue to grow?

The retail market is peculiar - it doesn't follow economic trends. But the Government has these new targets and those people will all need places to shop.

There's a preference for town-centre development, so there will be new opportunities in conversion. It's important to understand that clients want flexibility and, as a medium-sized privately-owned contractor, Pettifer is ideally placed to move quickly and deliver that.A year ago the company re-organised to reflect the change in retail procurement from managed construction to a reliance on design and build contracts.

The retail sector is the black sheep of construction in terms of energy performance, and Part L of the building regulations looks set to tighten up standards.How will clients meet these requirements?

While with RG Group I was involved with the Greenwich Peninsula Sainsbury's, one of the first low energy supermarkets. I've also done a Masters in project development specialising in environmental retail development. I looked at the initial and lifecycle costs of things like photovoltaic cells, wind power, combined heat and power systems and borehole water for refrigeration.The Government is keen to tackle environmental issues and we can tell clients how to go about it.