One of the unexpected consequences of a recession is that things get done better and quicker. Walking the floor of French department store Printemps' Paris flagship with its chairman and chief executive (two for the price of one must be a bonus in the current climate) last week, it was easy to understand how this could be the case.

Paolo de Cesare, the store chief in question, pointed to some major structural work going on behind hoardings, which was being done in the centre of the enormous shop.

At first glance it looked as if it was in the very early stages - the floor had yet to be laid and there was dust everywhere. And this was destined to be a three-floor atrium complete with escalators and, presumably, a high gloss, luxury fit-out. On this reckoning, it seemed that the finished article could be a year or more away, depending on how the project progressed.

But then, a surprise. De Cesare said that the whole thing would be complete by late summer and that achieving this would be straightforward. Upon enquiry, he said that little more than a year ago, the notion of nightshifts, overtime and working to contract were all ideas that might exist on paper, but rarely happened. The downturn has changed everything, however. Today a retailer can be confident that a remodelling job will be done on time and on budget - principally because there will always be another gang waiting in the wings to pick up the job should things go awry.

Good times, therefore, if you happen to be in the business of changing the look of your shop and need things done quickly to minimise the impact on trading. If you happen to be a shopfitter, though, it's a bit tougher. But the same brutal logic applies to the fit-out fraternity as has been making itself felt in the retail sector for the past six months: if you haven't been prudent in the good times, the bad times will indeed be bad.

Shopfitting companies whose raison d'être is making shops appear as close as possible to design consultancies' drawings may be feeling the pinch (and they are), but then so is everybody else. The smart ones will have made provision for the current crisis and be in a position to meet the demands of cash-strapped, or even canny, retailers. For those that have not, Woolworths provides an obviously transferable lesson from among the ranks of high street retailers on the dangers of being an also-ran.