It may have been one of the fastest jobs Mutual Electric, the retail division of E-J Electric Installation Co., has ever done. In less than two weeks, the New York electrical contractor helped convert One Times Square from an empty building to a JCPenney virtual store with plasma TVs, disc jockeys, Internet kiosks and runway models.

E-J Electric has done some high-pressure construction before. Much of the company’s construction projects are in Midtown Manhattan, and Guy Marangelli, general manager of the company’s retail division, has seen plenty of quick turnaround work in the Big Apple.

“We’ve had to pull some miracles before,” Marangelli said, “Retail is very fast track. This one was a little bit special though. It was a high-profile client and there were a lot of invitations already out.”

Those invitations would bring people to the JCPenney store almost as soon as the doors opened.

JCPenney worked with general contractor Fisher Development Inc., New York, on the 25,000-square-foot, three-story retail store in the heart of New York City. The work was being done for a three-week long “pop-up store” that would bring all the glamour of JCPenney’s latest fashion offerings, live music and hot celebrities to the space, then would close and leave town as fast as it arrived.

“We had 14 days on-site [to build the store],” said Pat Monahan, Fisher Development’s senior vice president.

JCPenney, which employs Fisher on many of its construction projects, came to the New York general contractor in February with four or five sketches for each floor and an opening date in early March.

Starting from scratch

One Times Square is a 22-story triangular building that is vacant with the exception of the top floor where Landmark Sign and Electrical operates the building’s high-profile signs.

Known now as more of a sign tower than a commercial tenant building, One Times Square is home to the annual New Year’s Eve crystal ball drop as well as some of the city’s most eye-catching vinyl and electronic billboards.

JCPenney chose the site because of its central location and was prepared to move quickly. The company rented the building’s first three floors and covered it with huge JCPenney logos and ads. Inside, the company intended to create a JCPenney merchandise showcase. Michael Cape, JCPenney marketing vice president, described it as a commercial you walk into.

Invitations were sent out for a big opening bash in March, and the contractors were charged with making it possible. On the store’s agenda—before it permanently closed its doors on March 26—was a March 2nd showroom launch, the high-profile Vogue Oscar Party on March 5th, a housewares event, a Teen People event, a Bisou Bisou marketing event, and what was called “extreme” croquet.

Designed for marketing

JCPenney prepared the drawings for Fisher Development.

“Design was in-house for construction and electrical needs,” said JCPenney spokesman Quinton Crenshaw.

Fisher Development’s task was to work those design ideas into a reality. JCPenney’s design team worked closely with Fisher Development throughout the process.

“Challenges included getting the electrical load information from the various vendors that were installing their products— fixtures, audio, special lighting for events, plasma screen TVs and order kiosks,” said Crenshaw.

Fisher Development selected E-J Electric, an electrical contractor it had worked with for more than 20 years. With little time available, the preliminary design phase moved quickly.

Once in construction, “We were given four or five days to get most of it done,” Monahan said.

That was because JCPenney intended to bring its own production and retail designers into the store within that time and they would need to have the lighting, video and sound system connected. There were miles of Category 5 cables needed to make that happen, said Monahan.

Not only did Monahan oversee the construction, he operated a camera, filming the entire project for JCPenney, he said.

The scope review meeting was held February 14; the next day the project started. Work was finished February 23 and the store turned over to JCPenney the next day. E-J Electric provided 10 journeymen and one foreman for the $150,000 project.

“Working in Times Square presents its own problems due to all the congestion. This project went smooth[ly] because the site was empty and available,” Marangelli said. “Since we specialize in retail work, we understand the beast and adjust accordingly to any situation. We live and die by the schedule. We scheduled meetings every day to make any adjustments to the project or to discuss any changes. They were helpful in the success of the project.”

E-J Electric installed video and data cables for the store as well as circuits for the disc jockey, dozens of plasma screens, and hung additional TVs. Although the building came with existing lighting, E-J Electric’s job was to refurbish that lighting, adding silk fixtures for custom lighting effects, and getting those fixtures prepped and repositioned for the right mood.

Workers also installed plasma screens on each floor to broadcast the Oscars. The sound system was synchronized with the video on these screens. E-J Electric also connected the two-story underground parking area.

The project also required lighting and heating for an outdoor 75-by-20-foot tented area. JCPenney needed spotlights for four dancers on podiums around the venue, as well as theatrical lighting on a dimmer rack. E-J Electric also connected the LED light box installations.

Altogether, workers installed seven clusters of light boxes in overhead spaces, extending from the entrance to the third floor. Each cluster included 15 to 20 boxes made with red fabric and were individually lit. The clusters were connected with strands of red neon lighting.

At the same time, E-J worked with JCPenney store designers as well as Fisher Development.

“It was a huge coordination of effort,” Marangelli said. “Coordinating and timing made the project a little difficult. But everybody pulled it off.”

“We’re very pleased with the overall construction process which was complete in less than two weeks,” Crenshaw said.

After the work was completed, a tie-in event for the Oscars in New York took place. JCPenney was retail sponsor for the Academy Awards, and hosted a party that included entertainers such as LeAnn Rimes and MC Hammer. During the event, JCPenney showcased its styles in the promotional store.

The pop-up store was part of JCPenney’s mammoth marketing campaign intended to generate buzz about the century-old retail chain.

“The opening of the JCPenney Experience store was part of the company’s largest branding. Our purpose was focused on raising the awareness of the JCPenney brand with less emphasis on actual sales at the store. However, we have been pleased with the customer traffic,” said Crenshaw.

The retail chain’s image turnaround is proving to be successful. According to USA Today, JCPenney announced 2005 operating profit rose 22.5 percent while the board of directors approved a $750 million stock buyback plan and a 44 percent dividend increase.

USA Today also reported that in March, the company announced that same-store sales at stores open at least a year rose 2.3 percent for the four weeks ending Feb. 25.

JCPenney is not the only retailer seeing the value in large, flashy and fast store locations. Pop-up stores are a trend that can be expected to continue in this country and overseas.

For retailers, it is the opportunity to surprise consumers and draw attention to their product without specifically attempting to sell large quantities. In fact, it is more of a performance and entertainment site than it is a retail one.

More individual designers are teaming up, while real estate agents are learning to make better use of vacant properties. At the same time, big brands are looking to make their image more appealing to a younger audience.

“We do see an ongoing trend in pop-up stores, if not pop-up spaces, restaurants, museums, and so on,” said Rainier Evers, CEO of Trend Watching, an independent consumer trends firm. “It’s the urban areas around the world for sure, though as more and more large scale events have pop-up elements as well, they pop up—literally—in more suburban areas as well.”

In the meantime, the JCPenney project may have proven that an urban setting is a great location for a store such as this.

“We had a ball,” Monahan said.

“Professionalism was the key to pulling this off and all trades conducted themselves to their utmost ability to get it done,” Marangelli said.

Monahan lists Kevin Dolan, JCPenney’s on-site superintendent, and Jack Kelly, JCPenney’s manager of construction, as key players they couldn’t have done without.

“Jack is the guy who had to reel in the design teams when things were getting hectic,” Monahan said.

For E-J Electric, the pop-up store was one of the kinds of challenges the company expects and enjoys.

“Our Mutual Electric Division excels in tight time frames for high-profile retail clients,” said Anthony Mann, president of E-J Electric. “This ... project schedule in the middle of Times Square let the Mutual team bring all its expertise to make for a successful opening.”     EC

SWEDBERG is a freelance writer based in western Washington. She can be reached at claire_swedberg@msn.com.