My STEP Signature Project was a summer internship as a Project Manager at the Kroger Co., the second-largest generael retailer in the US. I specialized in minor capital construction projects (under $10M in costs), which included departmental remodels, value engineered store remodels, and miscellaneous equipment updates, rollouts, and replacements. I managed a total of 8 projects within a budget of $500,000 to $800,000 from the planning, estimating, and construction phases of development.
I’m not sure if my entire world was shattered and re-orientated during my stint at Kroger, but I have a new appreciation for a variety of systems, processes, and concepts.
At the surface, my internship was a crash course on the construction process. My knowledge of codes and zoning regulations, MEP (mechanical, electrical, plumbing) terminology and best practices, construction costs and scheduling nightmares, and of professional responsibilities and communications has greatly expanded. I’m not afraid to declare that I *know* how a building is constructed. As an aspiring architect this knowledge allows me to design quickly/efficiently so that my concepts can be translated into my construction techniques, structures, materials, etc.
I have also developed a curiosity regarding the change in consumer behavioral patterns, and how these changes affect the built environment of the grocery store as well as the culture of management/employees that work in these establishments. It’s generally agreed upon that first to master home grocery delivery will, for lack of a better term, win – which meant that Amazon’s purchase of Whole Food caused a stir. The existing delivery infrastructure will set Amazon apart from its newly acquired traditional grocer competition. However, stores that are a part of the Kroger enterprise have a unique advantage – they provide space for a public forum. Unlike our superior urban planning ancestors, Americans never quite got the hang of creating public spaces for communication, intermingling, for social behaviors to function. Kroger receives the smallest profit margin for goods sold in deli/bakery departments, yet I spent all summer working on remodeling and expanding these departments. The emphasis is on encouraging the consumer to spend longer periods of time in the store, to sit and eat, to people watch and mingle, and hopefully, spend more money. The transition from grocery store to market with ready made foods and fresh goods and public forum will continue, and ideally, be equally profitable and equitable to the more insular home delivery.
Arguably, throughout this process I’ve learned one of the most important lessons – the value of relationships. Not the false pretenses we make in the name of networking, but the genuine exchange of ideas, cultures, and knowledge. When you ask someone how they feel/how they’re doing, you should value their response. You should not speak to someone just to gain an opportunity to speak about you, but to listen and learn from them.
I was lucky to participate in an event where I was able to have lunch with Rodney McMullen, the current CEO of Kroger. I generally remember him as kind, but I was struck when he took the time to speak with us architects and engineers to ask about the future of energy efficiency and sustainability best practices. He paused to ask us what we thought, despite our professional inexperience. He may not remember us, but small, genuine interactions such as this one are something we can all learn. We’ve all heard the subtle threat that “it’s all about who you know,” but it’s up to you as an individual to curate, develop, and value relationships. Your abstract, soft skills will set your apart from your counterparts, especially when you’ve reached the top of your technical field.
My new found knowledge of construction, curiosity of the effects of technology and social functions as they exist within a grocery store, and my firm belief in the values of genuine relationships have provided me with a base level of technical skills, research interest, and methodology for social fulfillment. The latter two items are not ones that I entered my internship searching for, nor ones I expected to learn. I am grateful for the opportunity I received with this company, and highly recommend other students interested in developing management skills or their construction knowledge to engage with Kroger Co.