WalMart has been shrinking the size of its super centers by about 25 percent, and now it's developing much smaller stores for urban markets. Target is piloting new stores that are a fraction of existing ones - as little as one-third the size. Target's strategy for its new urban stores is about making the store fit the site.
McDonald's just rebuilt a restaurant in my local area. The remodeled building has fewer square feet than the original, but boasts increased customer capacity. It can deliver more meals with less mass. The company saves on building, energy, and maintenance costs, while actually increasing its ability to handle sales.
Across the Atlantic in Madrid, my colleague recently visited a McDonald's that has returned to the concept of a walk-up restaurant. Why use building space for your customers and spend money to heat, light, and clean that space when customers are willing to stand outside under an awning?
What's behind this trend of smaller is better? Target and WalMart, having hit a wall in suburban and rural areas, are exploring growth strategies in urban areas, where real estate is a constraining factor. But there's something larger driving this trend. They're also exploring the idea (like McDonald's is) that it's possible to generate more revenue with fewer costs by investing less mass in delivering their products. In an urban environment, the cost of using mass for a building is much more obvious than in a sprawling suburb. In a world with an ever-expanding population and increasing resource use, the costs of using resources is also becoming more and more obvious. It makes sense to find solutions that deliver more value with less mass.
Other businesses would serve themselves well by considering this question of space and scale early in their design. Is it possible to tie up less mass and generate a greater return on your investment?