Even though Valentine's Day marks the special time of year where we show that special someone in our life just how much they mean to us, there is still frequently love shared between facility directors and the service providers tasked with upkeep of their stores. Facility maintenance is often seen as a "necessary evil" despite the fact that it is frequently one of the top three expenses a national retailer is faced with. Due to this perception, the relationship is often transactional at best, and frequently ends up as a zero sum game, that ends with the retailer continually putting their work out to bid, and always searching for a new provider.
This is all well and good, and it's easy to point the finger at the provider, but as the old saying goes, it takes two to tango. If you approach the relationship with a "I'm going to win and you're going to lose" mentality, then things will frequently end in disaster for both parties. Unfortunately, this is often the mind-set that we see in modern-day business, and mutually beneficial relationships are extremely rare.
Too often, facility directors make decisions based just upon the number that has been provided to them in a box on an RFP. If you were looking for love through an e-dating site such as E-Harmony or match.com, would you marry someone because of how they described themself in their bio? Hopefully the answer to this question is no, but you understand what I am getting at. If we are going to make a professional commitment to each other we need to get a better feel for one another, and make sure that our values are aligned. Continuing to select the lowest cost provider is a strategy that typically does no-one any good, but for some reason it continues to dominate the selection process.
If you found someone who you thought was a good match through E-Harmony, hopefully your next step would be to ask them out on a date to see how things go, and if what they said truly matches who they are. Why then do you not have the companies bidding for your work perform a pilot program to see if what they say matches what they do? If you are fearful that their price is too good to be true, it probably is. Scared that the ridiculously low hourly rate means that they will be running up the meter whenever possible so that they can stay in business? Even though these are things that happen, buyers frequently still go with the lowest cost provider, and then force the retail operations team and those in the field to deal with it.
So, what can we do differently? Let's take a look at 7 ingredients that you need in order to experience a long-lasting relationship with your facility management partner:
(1) Common goals and values
You would never agree to marry someone before you understood them, their goals, and what they wanted to do with their life. If your values don't match up, you are likely to find yourself in an adversarial relationship which is guaranteed to end in disaster. Before any contracts are signed, ask the necessary questions to better understand your business partner, and make sure that you are both going to be pulling in the right direction. If you are a luxury, destination retailer where you rely on your boutiques to be the center of your brand and the place where your customers fall in love with what you offer, you should probably focus on finding a facility maintenance provider who believes in providing excellent service, has a phenomenal eye for detail, and understands the need for rapid responses to your requests. In the same way, if your company prides itself on communication and developing relationships with your customers, a fully automated CMMS probably isn't going to align with your internal requirements.
(2) Frequent and open communication
For any relationship to be successful there needs to be open communication so that both parties know exactly where they stand. Don't leave things to chance and hope that the person on the other side can read your mind and know what you expect. Challenge one another to grow, so that you can both succeed together. Talk as frequently as is needed to make sure that you are both on the same page. This is likely to be very frequently on the front end, and less as the relationship develops and expectations are understood. Speak openly and frequently so that minor issues can be addressed before they get out of control and cause problems that could have been easily avoided.
(3) Ownership and accountability:
I can 100% guarantee you that mistakes are going to happen, that's life! The key thing is what happens when they do happen and does your partner own those that they are responsible for? This is a true test of a business "partnership" and is a great indicator of whether this is just a transactional account, or truly one in which both parties want to grow simultaneously. Your partner screws up and fails to have the required materials onsite to complete the job by the stated deadline. Do they try to pull the wool over your eyes? Do they blame other people? Do they try to blame you? Or do they own it and do WHATEVER it takes to correct the mistake? If the last option is the answer, then count yourself lucky to have a true partner by your side! (4) A willingness to learn/openness
Each situation is different, and it is crucial for each party to understand the nuances of one another. No two companies are the same, so it is important to enter into a new relationship with a clean slate and a willingness to evaluate the way that things were being done previously. Your provider should also have some flexibility in what they offer, so that minor items can be tweaked here and there to provide a more customized solution to your challenges.
You need to be yourself from the very first interaction. If you try to be someone that you're not, sooner or later you are going to be found out, and this will not end well. It's ok to decide not to work with some people, that's why there are so many companies that are able to survive, because each has something a little different to give. During the initial conversations challenge the bidding companies with difficult questions and see how they respond. Then go to their references and see if the answers match up. Set up a pilot program to experience what truly happens when the rubber meets the road. Take your time in the research and decision stages to ensure you hire the company best suited to meet your needs. If you find a provider who isn't willing to perform a pilot, it probably gives you a good idea about the way that they go about their business. The chances are they have come in with low prices to secure the contract, and then once the work begins they will manipulate the system and play games to ensure that they end up winning. The result? You fire them and start back at square one, or incredibly, you continue to work with them as they are the lowest cost provider! You would be amazed at how many companies do this, and are then shocked as to why their "partners" don't perform...
You need to be open with one another and not hide things. You need to always do the right thing, even when no one is looking. Going to your maintenance provider and trying to take advantage of them by having them pay for something that was a mistake by yourself, one of your colleagues, or your GC is a sure fire way to end a relationship. Before you do something reckless like this, put yourself in your partner's shoes and imagine how you would feel on the receiving end of things. There are always going to be mistakes made, money wasted, customers lost, and unhappy staff. However, all of these events provide you with an opportunity to learn, to grow, and to become even better at what you do. Taking ownership of the problem, and always doing the right thing, are simple things that will make the whole interaction much more enjoyable for all involved.
You need to have each other's back and be willing to do whatever is needed to help your partner with the challenge they are faced with. When the rubber hits the road, how far is your partner prepared to support you? Are they prepared to own their mistakes, and make them right, or do they just throw you under the bus and hope for the best? If you find yourself in a unique emergency situation where, for example, you have just been notified that your CEO will be visiting three of your stores tomorrow, and each one of them has a laundry list of items that need to be fixed.
This is just a quick overview of some of the critical factors to consider when you are looking to establish a professional partnership with the company responsible for the maintenance of your stores. They are also qualities that can be used when thinking about family, friends, and even marriage. What are some other factors that you believe are critical to success of a professional partnership? What are some examples of companies who have demonstrated these qualities and secured a customer for life?
As a Director of Retail Facilities, a huge amount of your time will be spent working with the facility management company that have been selected to oversee the upkeep of your stores. You are both in it to make a profit, and to create a job that you love, so look to create win-win partnerships so that all parties can flourish together. If not, be prepared for a very confrontational relationship in which all parties will be miserable. The choice is yours.