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20 Sep­tem­ber 2018

A Jel­mo­li­an in body and soul

Jel­mo­li isn’t just a major play­er in retail. To ensu­re opti­mal light­ing and coo­ling, they have instal­led their own trans­for­mer sta­ti­on. Modern tech­no­lo­gy offers nume­rous addi­tio­nal oppor­tu­nities for con­ti­nu­al opti­mi­sa­ti­on.

Mor­ten Jen­sen has been Head of Faci­li­ty Manage­ment at Jel­mo­li for more than a quar­ter of a cen­tu­ry. He took us on a tour of the laby­rinth of rooms under the histo­ric depart­ment store and show­ed us what’s invol­ved in kee­ping a busi­ness up and run­ning in a buil­ding com­plex of this size.

Jel­mo­li — The House of Brands is one of Zürich’s go-to shop­ping desti­na­ti­ons. It is here that trai­nee ban­kers buy their first suits, expec­tant mothers stock up in pre­pa­ra­ti­on for their new babies, and pas­sio­na­te home cooks shop for deli­caci­es from around the world. From trou­sers and jackets to bed linen, home access­ories and even golf clubs, the six-storey depart­ment store has been sel­ling just about ever­ything shop­pers could need for almost two cen­tu­ries. Autumn 2018 marks Jelmoli’s 185th anni­ver­s­a­ry.

But what does it take to keep a buil­ding like this, with all its lifts and esca­la­tors, light­ing equip­ment, air con­di­tio­ning and hea­ting systems, run­ning with no dis­rup­ti­ons? «Most peop­le have no idea», says Mor­ten Jen­sen, Head of Faci­li­ty Manage­ment. To put us among the small pro­por­ti­on of peop­le who do — or at the very least to give us an idea of the sheer sca­les invol­ved — Jen­sen took us behind the sce­nes. Or, to be more pre­ci­se, 9.5 metres under­ground.

It is here that the life­li­nes of the pre­mi­um depart­ment store can be found. The first of the­se is the flow of goods. Every day, around 45 lor­ries are dri­ven into the loa­ding bay via the ent­ran­ce loca­ted at Löwen­platz. Loa­ded with a wide ran­ge of goods inclu­ding clo­thes, food and con­su­mer elec­tro­nics, they sup­ply the store with the items it has used to build its repu­ta­ti­on: fashion­ab­le, fresh, high-qua­li­ty pro­ducts. The vast majo­ri­ty of the objects deli­ve­r­ed are then taken three, four or five storeys hig­her to the custo­mers. A smal­ler pro­por­ti­on — packa­ging, for examp­le — remains below ground level and is imme­dia­te­ly recy­cled. «We sepa­ra­te ever­ything pain­s­ta­kin­gly», exp­lains Jen­sen, as a mem­ber of staff behind him uses a press to flat­ten cans. «Ever­ything is recy­cled like it is at home, only on a much lar­ger sca­le.»

Every day, around 45 lor­ries are dri­ven into the loa­ding bay via the ent­ran­ce loca­ted at Löwen­platz.

The second, much more com­plex of Jelmoli’s life­li­nes is the flow of ener­gy. While most of the elec­tri­ci­ty con­su­med by the depart­ment store is sup­plied extern­al­ly, some comes from on-site. As if it were a small, self-con­tai­ned town, Jel­mo­li has its own trans­for­mer sub­sta­ti­on with a high-volta­ge con­nec­tion. «It makes us a bit more inde­pen­dent», comments Jen­sen, befo­re lea­ding us into a room full of levers and swit­ches. «Pres­sing this one turns ever­ything off», he says sud­den­ly, adding that doing so would cau­se the esca­la­tors, lifts, light­ing and food ref­ri­gera­tors to shut down, brin­ging the who­le of Jel­mo­li to a grin­ding halt. «It would take an hour to get ever­ything back up and run­ning to a rea­son­ab­le degree», he esti­ma­tes, and all ele­ven mem­bers of his team would have their hands full in the pro­cess. Luck­i­ly, howe­ver, this is pure­ly hypo­the­ti­cal, as the power system has been run­ning fault­less­ly for deca­des.

Safe in this know­ledge, we get into the lift. «This will be the next pie­ce of equip­ment to be repla­ced», says Jen­sen, pres­sing the top but­ton. We are taken to the roof, which has been reno­va­ted over the past 18 mon­ths. This ent­ail­ed remo­ving and retur­ning the hybrid coo­lers in lar­ge heli­cop­ters. It was a mam­moth task, but is just one examp­le of the nume­rous major pro­jects that Jen­sen coor­di­na­tes. He is cur­r­ent­ly invol­ved in the con­struc­tion of addi­tio­nal pipe­lines. «Hea­ting and coo­ling are very important in our store», he exp­lains. «For examp­le, the lin­ge­rie depart­ment needs to be war­mer than the men’s under­we­ar sec­tion. It’s cru­ci­al to take the light­ing into account as well, as this is a source of addi­tio­nal heat. Until recent­ly, our light­ing systems gene­ra­ted so much heat that we even had to turn on the air con­di­tio­ning in cer­tain are­as of the store in win­ter.» Sin­ce this is an inef­fi­ci­ent prac­tice, 8,500 ener­gy-saving, long-life LED bulbs were instal­led a few mon­ths ago. The­se redu­ce the store’s elec­tri­ci­ty con­sump­ti­on so sus­tainab­ly that they have enab­led the ent­i­re heat manage­ment system to be rest­ruc­tu­red. This is not only bene­fi­ci­al for Jel­mo­li and its busi­ness ope­ra­ti­ons, but for the envi­ron­ment as well. The vast majo­ri­ty of the refur­bish­ments con­duc­ted wit­hin the pro­per­ty are per­for­med with this in mind. «All our reno­va­tions can be com­pa­red to open-heart sur­ge­ry», sta­tes Jen­sen. «It’s essen­ti­al that Jel­mo­li keeps ope­ra­ting as nor­mal and that our custo­mers can con­ti­nue to enjoy a fan­ta­stic shop­ping expe­ri­ence.» For examp­le, this is why the store deci­ded to moder­ni­se its air-con­di­tio­ning system in win­ter.

«Even though I’m slow­ly approa­ching reti­re­ment age, I’ll still be here when Jel­mo­li cele­bra­tes its 200th anni­ver­s­a­ry.»

For Jen­sen, it is the com­plex natu­re of his posi­ti­on that makes it so exci­ting. «I am a Jel­mo­li­an in body and soul. For a good 25 years, my job has been to ensu­re that ever­ything runs like clock­work here. The­re aren’t many places whe­re lifts, esca­la­tors, hea­ting and coo­ling systems have to be main­tai­ned in good working order on such a lar­ge sca­le. I can’t ima­gi­ne working any­whe­re else. Even though I’m slow­ly approa­ching reti­re­ment age, I’ll still be here when Jel­mo­li cele­bra­tes its 200th anni­ver­s­a­ry.»

We have no doubt about it. Jen­sen is pro­bab­ly more fami­li­ar with the ins and outs of the pro­per­ty than anyo­ne else. Our next stop is the area of the buil­ding he pri­zes the most — his muse­um. It is here, on a metres-high shel­ving unit, that Jen­sen is collec­ting ever­ything with a link to Jelmoli’s past. A clun­ky tele­pho­ne from the old switch­board, old mobi­le pho­nes and pagers, and pho­to­gra­phic pla­tes made from glass. Jen­sen is a nost­al­gic per­son and enjoys tel­ling sto­ries from days gone by: «Do you know, when I first star­ted at Jel­mo­li, it took us 20 minu­tes to turn off the lights every evening.» That’s uni­ma­gin­ab­le today. In fact, it’s just as uni­ma­gin­ab­le as Jel­mo­li wit­hout its Head of Faci­li­ty Manage­ment. Take our word for it, we’ll be reporting on ano­t­her tour with Mor­ten Jen­sen when the depart­ment store cele­bra­tes its dou­ble cen­ten­a­ry in 2033.