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Specifier Review
Street Furniture & The True Cost of Buying Cheap

Street Furniture & The True Cost of Buying Cheap

Article written by Louis Lynch, Bailey Artform

true-cost-of-buying-cheap

First of all I’d just like to say that I’m not a Dr of anything and don’t have an “ology” to my name. In fact the only Bsc I have is a Bronze Swimming Certificate!

What I do have however is over 20 years’ experience in the Street Furniture business so I hope you enjoy reading what is my personal opinion on a subject that is close to my heart.

I was recently highlighting a particular design of seat to a client and the first words out of his mouth were…

“I really like the design Louis, but it looks expensive to me.”

And although he was very happy when we discussed the actual cost his words kept coming back to me and it really got me thinking.

So I decided to write this guide…

The 3 things you need to know when buying or specifying street furniture
(…in order to ascertain the true cost of an item)

Over the years I’ve seen literally thousands of items of street furniture sold and far too often the “only” consideration has been the price of the product.

It’s sad but true to say that when discussing outdoor seating for instance, I’ve had comments such as “it’s just for sitting on” and “they all do the same job” used as justification for buying the cheapest possible benches for a scheme. Whilst yes they are all “for sitting on”, those comments over simplify the decision making process and can adversely affect the life cycle cost of the product in the months and years to come.

Another factor which makes it difficult to accurately establish the overall “on-cost” of a piece of site furniture is when there are different budgets available for installation versus maintenance. As a result the two are never married up and the actual real world cost of a specific product over time is never calculated or understood.

Ok so to nail down this issue of “true cost” once and for all, what are the 3 things you need to focus on?

  1. Original cost & material specification of product
  2. Cost of installation & delivery
  3. Ongoing maintenance costs and expected life-span of product

Let’s look at the first point in more detail

  1. Original cost & material specification of the product

pay-too-much

I’m sure we’ve all seen schemes where the street furniture looks in need of some maintenance despite being installed for less than a year. This is usually the result of budgets being slashed as the project nears its completion and funds aredrying up, thereby specifications are being downgraded.

The decision of which item of street furniture is to be chosen for a particular scheme most often begins with choosing the material from which it is made, typically wood, metal, stone and combinations of all three. To illustrate the importance of choosing not just the right material but also the right “grade” of material at the outset, I will highlight two real world examples that cover “stainless steel” and “granite” as two popular material choices in contemporary landscaping schemes.

Example A) – Stainless Steel

Let us imagine then, that scheme A calls for stainless steel as a material choice. Stainless steel is widely acknowledged as being aesthetically pleasing, fully recyclable and viewed as a low maintenance material.

So is one stainless steel bollard as good as another? The answer is a resounding no!

Grade
If the installation setting for your bollard is a coastal location (which means there will be high sodium chloride levels in the air) then grade 316 stainless steel must to be used. Yes it’s initially more expensive than grade 304 but it will resist contamination resulting in a longer life span.

Finish
Also we must consider the finish of the stainless steel. When the finish is specified in the more “cost effective” brushed satin or dull polished then although this results in a lower cost for the item usually it results in higher maintenance costs…

Why? Because airborne pollutants can adhere to the stainless steel better when there is a surface that it can cling to, resulting in what many people refer to as “tea staining” (see image below)tea-staining

Cleaning & Maintenance
This can be cleaned with a specialist cleaning agent but again this comes at a cost that isn’t usually considered at point of sale (see image below where a small area has been cleaned) So it’s always best to choose a bright polish finish which adds lustre whilst also minimising maintenance costs, as there’s nowhere for these pesky airborne pollutants to stick to!

You know, all this metallurgical talk is taking me back to my younger days, when I was involved in the jewellery trade. On many occasions customers would come into my premises, really excited over the bargain gold jewellery they’d bought whilst on holiday asking me to test the quality of the “gold” and value it for them. I’d explain that the acid test would ruin the item if it was a fake but they always asked me to go ahead.
polished-steel

Nearly 100% of the time their faces would show shock when the acid was applied (to the item not their face) and it started bubbling away eating into the cheap base metal.

It may have looked like the real thing and been able to be worn by the owner but did they REALLY get value for money?

I am reminded of a quote by John Ruskin…

“It’s unwise to pay too much, but it’s worse to pay too little. When you pay too much, you lose a little money – that’s all. When you pay too little, you sometimes lose everything, because the thing you bought was incapable of doing the thing it was bought to do.”

Stainless Steel Bench Case Study
Here is a brief case study to demonstrate how these principles apply in real world examples

The Bailey Artform Metalco Libre Seat shown below was specified for the first phase of a scheme on the site a modern University Campus.

metalco-libra-seatb

However on the second phase of the project, a cheaper “look-a-like” seat was chosen from a different supplier as a “cost saving” exercise.

But look closely at the cheaper look-a-like benches installed on the second phase and you will soon see evidence of defects due to lower grade materials used. The surface has significantly deteriorated in a very short space of time and is clearly visible to the naked eye.

deteriorated-surface-1

deteriorated-surface-2

And the takeaway lesson from all this…?

“Cheap is most certainly NOT always best when it comes to specifying urban furniture!”

I’m pleased to say that our Libra Seat was once again ordered for the final phase!

Example B – Granite
So let’s move on to our second material of choice to discuss…Granite.

Granite as a material is extremely durable and is virtually maintenance free. It’s a sobering fact to think that any item of granite street furniture that I provide to my clients is likely to long outlive me, and probably still be around when my grandchildren are grandparents!

For longevity of product lifespan combined with huge value for money, I genuinely think you would have to search for a very, very long time to find a better example than the Bailey Artform Gravin Range of Granite Street Furniture products. This attractive family of superior quality natural stone products offers a selection of exceptionally high-grade granite outdoor solutions, chosen specifically for outstanding quality and creative design.

estella-seatingb

As for the “looks expensive to me” syndrome, this range perhaps more than any other is the most surprising in terms of “actual cost” (very low) compared to “perceived value and material performance” (very high)

Ring me and just ask how much the Couso bench pictured below is.

Couso-Bench

Torre

No I’m serious!
Pick up the phone now, call me, say you’ve just read my blog & ask how much the bench below is

Direct Line: 01625 855 903
Mobile: 07795 246 400

I promise you’ll be amazed at how affordable it is, coming in at a lower cost than most “so called” cheaper and certainlyinferior alternatives out there.

  1. Cost of installation & delivery

Understanding the different terminology used for street furniture fitting options is essential in ensuring the right fixing is chosen to minimise installation costs on a project.

I never automatically assume that everyone I speak to is familiar with the difference between root fixed and sub-surface, or base plated and surface mounted. (However I also try never to teach my grandmother how to suck eggs, so I apologise in advance for highlighting something that you may already know!)

Surface Mounted
Surface mounted as in the case of a litter bin means that there is a base plate which needs to be bolted through the finished floor to a concrete plinth. (Unless the finish is a concrete plinth of course)

SM-SURFACE-MOUNTED

Sub Surface Fixed
A bollard or seat that requires “sub surface fixing” means that it has a base plate pre drilled which will require bolting to a concrete plinth which is below the surface of the finished floor level.

SSF-SUB-SURFACE-FIXED

Root Fixed
For the uninitiated, at Bailey Artform we use the term “root fixed” typically in the case of bollards and cycle stands are where a hole is simply dug and the bollard placed into the hole at the correct depth, supported, then concrete poured to the required depth and any decorative finishes applied if needed.

RF-ROOT-FIXED

Example – Surface Mounted
See below an installation of our Metro 40 Lo-Glo LED Pathlight that has been neatly surface mounted. After all the expertise that goes designing and perfecting these sophisticated site furniture items, it is essential the same level of care and attention to detail is given to the installation process.

Continuum Corporate Office

As installation of street furniture is usually at the end of the scheme sometimes issues can arise if the logistics haven’t been carefully planned.

  • For instance will fork lift trucks still be available for offloading as most items are delivered on pallets.
  • For offloading of heavier items a crane or HIAB may be required. (‘HIAB’ is used as a synonym for a loader crane of any make)
  • For the larger items will there be vehicular access adjacent to where the items are being installed?

Careful planning of the delivery and installation will ensure unnecessary costs aren’t incurred

  1. Ongoing maintenance costs & life-span of product

Taking care during installation ensures maintenance is kept to a minimum later on.

For example, bollards that are being installed where block paving will be the final surface finish. I have been to sites where all the protective packaging has been removed before the block pavers have been installed. The ground workers have been cutting blocks and the particles of brick and steel from the saw has been hitting the bollards contaminating the stainless steel.

Another issue being if all the packaging is removed, there is a good chance that concrete will be splashed onto the bollard during installation again causing contamination.

Before handover another “favourite” of mine is where a site operative has been given the task of making sure that all bollards etc are clean and an oily cloth is used to wipe the surface of the stainless steel. Guess what happens!

I feel like I’m the harbinger of doom being negative about the pitfalls of poor choice of products and poor maintenance but I genuinely dislike seeing the results of neglected street furniture.

Summary

So why does all this matter? What’s the point? Who actually cares?

Well apart from stating the obvious point that every single construction professional involved in delivering a project (from landscape architect, through to product designer & manufacturer, main contractor, ground workers & installation team) should strive to deliver the very best they can in order to give the client the end result they paid for, to the agreed quality standard and “fit for use” specification…apart from that?

I think the ultimate “customer” when it comes to public realm projects and shared urban spaces is the public, (that includes you and me) tourists, workers, young people, old people…the users of this space who live amongst these designs each and every day to meet, to communicate, to rest, to interact..and to appreciate (whether consciously or subconsciously) the true value of good design.

When we are in a public space that is well designed and well maintained we have an automatic personal feeling of wellbeing. We want to stop and interact with the landscape.

DAHLIA-planters-2

So perhaps by specifying quality site furniture we’ve paid a little bit more, but by doing so we’ve not only ensured that these products stand the test of time… investing in well-designed street furniture means we’ve made a lasting positive impact on the lives of people we probably will never meet.

This is the point made by well-known British architect Richard Rogers when he said

“My passion and great enjoyment for architecture, and the reason the older I get the more I enjoy it, is because I believe we – architects – can affect the quality of life of the people.”

Now that’s what I call true value for money!

If you’re as old as me you might remember having to “save things for best” (usually an item of clothing that your mum or dad bought you)

They spent more on that special item than perhaps was usual but how did it make you feel?

  • Wasn’t it really well looked after and you got told off if you got it damaged.
  • You got pleasure and enjoyment from showing it off to your mates.
  • You got envious looks and they wished they owned something similar.
  • And it really did last a long time and still look like new!

In my own daft way, I want to help my clients specify street furniture that is looked upon and treated in the same way

I want it to be looked after

I want people to be proud of what we’ve “given” them

I want it to be enjoyed for many years to come.

Louis Lynch

Louis Lynch
Louis Lynch

 

Connect with me here:

https://www.linkedin.com/in/louislynch

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