Raymond Harris & Associates Architects
Raymond Harris & Associates Architects (RHA) is a leading retail architectural firm. Founded in 1983, the business has grown significantly over the years, ranking second nationwide in terms of volume. The business primarily serves large commercial retail clients, performing ground-up design work for new retail facilities, expansions and takeovers. The business’ largest client is Walmart Stores Inc. (Walmart). While the country is full of retail architecture firms, few have the capabilities to take on a client like Walmart.
Shade O’Quinn, president and CEO of RHA, says what sets his team apart is a capacity for large-scale operations. “Walmart is enormous,” he explains. “The rollout is very different than other corporations. The company turns over a massive amount of real estate every year. That is part of the genius of their operation, but it also indicates the significance of our service. We can deliver a large, efficient, programmatic rollout for each individual business plan. Each Walmart building is based on demographic sales and is part of a major distribution network. They may all look the same, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.”
The RHA difference
RHA has worked with Walmart for almost 30 years. The business has developed a longstanding relationship, as well as experience and expertise. The team is able to design and implement 200 to 300 projects in different jurisdictions every year for its major client.
“We have certain systems that allow us to successfully entitle each project,” says O’Quinn. “In the past, when Walmart has brought in new firms, the projects prove too difficult. It’s an art form to be able to work with the speed and effectiveness they expect. We don’t postpone openings or delay permits. The second piece is magnitude; Walmart has huge exposure. Every person you’ve met has likely walked into one of RHA’s buildings. Every day, 20 million people will walk into a Walmart.”
With such a broad customer base, Walmart is a strikingly high-risk operation. These buildings are more than masonry buildings with a front door. “Every aspect of design is massaged over and over,” O’Quinn explains. “These buildings may be the most value-engineered structures in America. This building type has been perfected and that is a key piece of what we provide. The level of design and coordination goes way beyond the norm on these projects.”
Recently, RHA’s biggest client has been undergoing a major sustainability initiative. “We’ve had a significant amount of work devoted to that,” O’Quinn notes. “In 2009, Walmart’s CEO set a goal to reduce the company’s energy footprint by 30 percent, to use 100 percent renewable energy and produce zero waste. We’ve joined a team of architects and engineers to support those goals. Components of the plan include sustainable materials, solar energy, rainwater harvesting and daylight harvesting.”
One of the first projects in this initiative was for rainwater harvesting in Arkansas. RHA helped to design and implement a system that would retain 60 percent of the structure’s roof water to be used in refrigeration and site irrigation. The system captures, filters and stores rainwater before directing it to refrigeration and irrigation systems.
The firm has also been busy abroad, performing philanthropic work, often at no expense to the supported organizations. “We have been working in Africa since 2006,” O’Quinn says. “We helped develop a large village for orphans in Lusaka, Zambia. The village has a school, administrative facilities and homes for the orphans who live there. Now we are duplicating that village with help from the University of Oklahoma with plans to build multiple sites.”
The team is also involved in some economic development initiatives in Ndola, Zambia, along the southern border of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. “We are involved in efforts there to develop agriculture and manufactured products that will incorporate local labor,” he continues. “The process is complicated, because these areas are virtually in the African bush. We are bringing people from rural Africa to make a living in fish farming, bee keeping, bananas and cattle. One of our biggest challenges is figuring out how to build these structures. It’s not like you can just go to Home Depot or call a contractor out there. We have to design around the materials and technology available in the region.”
RHA’s involvement in philanthropy shows great integrity, an aspect of the business that continues to attract clientele. O’Quinn and the rest of the leadership team have built a strong foundation, upon which RHA can grow. O’Quinn notes the secret is staying debt-free and keeping services in balance with leadership. “We won’t grow just because we can,” he explains. According to O’Quinn, the business plans to maintain its current size for the foreseeable future, allowing Raymond Harris & Associates Architects to continue to provide leading services to business partners and nonprofit organizations across the globe.
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