They are the roadside megastores that have muscled in on Australia’s retail market with affordable appliances, homeware goods, and produce.

While their origins may lie internationally, big box retailers like IKEA, Costco, and Aldi love Australian prefabrication, particularly in the form of precast concrete. Exuding a range of benefits, precast concrete is often the preferred building material as new stores pop up around the country.

Australian shoppers are embracing the large format shopping experience. This big box retail sector is on the rise in Australia, already comprising 22 per cent of national sales and 30 per cent of floor space. With pressure on state governments to loosen planning laws that restrict the re-establishment of new stores, the sector is destined to continue growing.

Traditionally specialising in homemaker goods, the scope of the big box retail now represents the possibility of a one-stop shop for almost everything imaginable. Think the Aldi format, with its weekly special buys, offering anything from lawnmowers and motorcycle helmets to cheese and lettuce.

Along with big box shops come design and construction demands. Expansive column-free internal spaces are needed for showroom and storage space, while adequate car parking and load access for semitrailers are required for the store’s exterior.

As developers strive to meet the demands of shoppers, the speed of their stores’ construction is of the essence. The sooner a site can be identified, purchased, developed and fitted out, the sooner consumers will visit, and the sooner sales will start rolling in. It’s a design and construct process that’s perfectly suited to the use of offsite manufactured – or prefabricated – elements. Precast concrete plays a big role in that space.

Bix box developers have witnessed the durability, high quality, design flexibility and speed that precast concrete offers in precast’s historic largest market shares – namely the industrial and civil construction sectors. As well, they are seeing its popularity in the apartment and public building spaces, and are jumping on board at a rate of knots ever since the big box boom arrived.

The trend started with the more specialty large format retailers, like IKEA, Bunnings or Officeworks. Now we’re seeing Costco, Aldi, and the looming entry of Amazon and other internationals into the Australian market. While some shoppers are still grappling with the idea of a lawnmower next to the cheese, most are embracing the concept.

The construction of Costco’s Australian corporate headquarters and Sydney outlet is case in point. The project demanded an extraordinarily tight deadline. Demolition of the old buildings on the site started in October 2010 and construction of the new facility was completed with shelves and stock and fully operational by June 2011. Located in Auburn, in the city’s south west, the $35 million Sydney operation comprised 14,000 square metres of warehouse and distribution space and 2,000 square metres of mezzanine office area set above two levels of car parking.

Here, the success of the project within the tight time frame hinged on offsite manufacturing methods. Precast concrete walling was used in a combination of load-bearing and cladding applications, and featured moulded and textural finishes. National Precast member Austral Precast won the contract to supply and erect the precast, which entailed 314 panels averaging 16.3 square metres each and with thicknesses varying from 200 to 300 millimetres. Architectural form liners gave an etched pattern to the panels and false joints were incorporated in the design for added effect.

IKEA is another example. As a fan of furniture that is prefabricated and easily assembled, the retail giant has followed suit with its approach to the construction of its stores. As a longstanding customer of precast, IKEA boasts many stores around the country. While one would expect that precast walling is a no-brainer for these types of projects, interestingly precast flooring that is also being used. Both precast walling and flooring was delivered to site and erected.

IKEA’s Innaloo store in Western Australia comprises a combined 5,100 square metre showroom and 7,000 square metre warehouse, a 400-seat family restaurant and children’s playground, as well as undercover parking for more than 1,000 cars. The entire floor for the store is suspended to provide undercover car parking and is designed to take a heavy live load for storage racks and access for deliveries. Design consideration needed to account for the enormity of the project, foundation conditions, site access, and an extremely tight construction program. In addition, the number of car bays needed to be maximised, and precast was able to deliver with long spanning sections.

National Precast member Delta Corporation worked with the engineer and builder to develop a precast concrete solution. Early award of the $5 million precast supply-only contract allowed for off-site precast manufacture and storage well ahead of site requirements. It comprised 20,750 square metres topped, post-tensioned Deltacore hollowcore floor planks with 2,445 lineal metres of precast shell beams as the main floor deck, supported on concrete columns. Some 1,618 precast elements were used in the project, with the hollowcore in thicknesses of 400, 250, and 200 millimetres.

Costco and IKEA aren’t the only big box retailers who are enthusiasts of precast and specifying it for their designs. One only has to Google search “Aldi + precast” to see the plethora of Aldi projects that have specified precast.

Having established itself as one of Australia’s top 10 retailers in just a decade, Aldi has five distribution centres to support its extensive store network. With ambitious plans to open 20 to 30 stores each year, the retailer is a proud campaign partner of Australian Made and Grown, and has a strong commitment to sourcing locally wherever possible. As Aldi works to create local jobs and develop local communities where its stores are based, the rapidly growing chain is not only supporting Australian producers and workers; it is also supporting the Australian manufacturing sector as it specifies precast concrete for the design of its stores. That has to be a win-win for everyone.