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Retail Maintenance: Beyond Products and Services to Plumbing and Graphics

Impeccable behind-the-scenes facility maintenance and management drive a brand forward

By Todd Bernstein 

Thanks to advancing technology and the solid establishment of e-commerce, the barriers of entry into the global marketplace have all but disappeared. In fact, starting a business has never been cheaper or easier. From launching a website and building an online presence to the wide availability of lease space in strip malls and shopping centers, brands now have equal opportunity to showcase their offerings and attract a loyal following. But not all brands are created equal. Beyond digital convenience, competitive price points, and products and services, leading brands such as Apple, Home Depot, and Abercrombie & Fitch are demonstrating that real success is achieved — and sustained — by providing a consistent customer experience across all channels, both virtual and physical. This means effectively managing and maintaining retail facilities.

The brand experience
By 2020, customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator, according to the consumer intelligence firm Walker. Inside its recent report, Customers 2020, 300 customer experience professionals from large, multinational B2B organizations spanning a range of industries weighed in on the future. They suggest that customer expectations, derived in large part from changes implemented decades ago, have raised the stakes significantly as more consumers expect companies to intuitively understand their individual needs and personalize their shopping experiences.

They are not alone. Research giant Gartner's 2016 report, Customer Experience Is the New Competitive Battlefield, states that greater competition and growing consumer power are forcing companies to adapt to stay competitive. Also, Kampyle, a leading expert in customer feedback, found that 87 percent of customers think brands should focus more on providing a consistent experience.

Immediate gratification via the Internet is no longer enough, however. That is the reason even the world's biggest online-only brands, such as Indochino, Warby Parker and Bobonos, are making a move back to brick-and-mortar stores to provide the real and tangible experience consumers have begun to crave — again.

Getting it right the first time
As vacancies mount from retail store closings, landlords are becoming more receptive to new leasing arrangements. Some allow merchants to sign on for as little as one week to just a couple of months. This new trend has contributed to an increase in competition, particularly as pop-up shops pick up the pace across the United States and become a viable option for anyone with an idea who is willing to test a specific market or demographic before building a full-line storefront, drive brand presence in an emerging market or offer a tailored customer experience.

It is happening not just in strip malls but in upscale shopping centers in cities such as Chicago, where the renowned Water Tower Place recently welcomed its first pop-up, IRL. Hosting a collection of brands by theme and rotating them every few months, IRL skillfully and meticulously developed and designed its space, which now bears the "home" theme, with the expertise of a full-service facility project and program management firm that deeply understands that, while shorter lease terms and less commitment reduce risk, lasting success hinges on a brand's ability to build a memorable physical experience — and get it right the first time. Those who fail are likely to end up in the retail graveyard.

It is undeniable that companies like Starbucks, Nordstrom, Chick-fil-A and IKEA all have been instrumental in raising the bar of physical customer experiences, which include not only ambient eye-pleasing interiors but also sounds and smells that delight the senses. It is a standard upheld across every facility, regardless of location. Even the exteriors are expertly maintained with a notion that customers can and will judge a book by its cover.

Facility management renaissance
Twenty years ago, facility management (FM) services, particularly in the retail sector, were limited primarily to cleaning, maintenance and repair. Today, as the new paradigm in brand integrity takes root, the retail FM industry must adapt and transform to meet the needs of clients, each with unique concepts, brands, budgets and challenges. According to the recently released 2018 Trends Report issued by the Professional Retail Store Maintenance Association (PRSM), forces driving this change include:

  • the skills gap and the decline of trained trades professionals
  • the increase in fulfillment centers
  • technology
  • new types of retail
  • improved benchmarking methods.

Forward-thinking retailers are increasingly relying on FM services to provide strategic leadership in facility development and multisite maintenance, as well as comprehensive program and project management that includes painting, plumbing, graphic installation, finance and data analysis. With technology, industry experience and creative problem solving as key components, FM services are also expected to provide a clear path to achieve business goals by managing physical assets and facilities while keeping budgets under control and complying with government regulations.

Whether executing new builds at 200 locations in a tri-state region or enhancing and maintaining 2,000 assets stretched nationwide, the FM of the future will serve as a trusted advisor and partner helping clients communicate with all stakeholders to successfully drive a plan to execution.

A path and a goal
Developing, implementing and managing projects and specialty trade programs for clients with dispersed portfolios requires facility managers to work with an extensive network of providers in the field in order to deliver a complete range of services they have come to expect.

From design to completion, with build projects that include commercial properties, vanilla shells, conversions and temporary pop-up stores, managers can deliver successful programs and projects by asking the right questions at the right time and focusing on cost-effective solutions, whether developing external construction projects, initiating renovations or managing recurring preventive programs.

It also requires making a considerable investment of time in order to understand the goals of a client's brand environment. This includes coordinating scheduled visits to existing sites and prototype locations to evaluate needs that range from materials sourcing and design recommendations to disaster preparedness, office restacking, and window installations.

As retailers place more emphasis on physical locations to attract, engage with and retain customers, FM services can contribute significantly to the influence a brand wields within its market and beyond with impeccable behind-the-scenes facility maintenance and management. The FM of the future can drive a brand forward by being consumer-centric and solution-driven and, above all, a dependable partner who builds long-term relationships based on respect and a commitment to client success, as well as by setting a new standard in FM that provides a tailored approach to streamline processes, reduce expenses and mitigate risks while preserving and enhancing authentic brand integrity.

Todd Bernstein is vice president of business development with CS Hudson. He has more than a decade of demonstrated history in facilities services and project management and the experience to help lead and oversee its overall growth and sales. He is responsible for operations pertaining to the execution of capital projects and rollouts, as well as for customer relations and organic account development. He is a member of the International Council of Shopping Centers, the Professional Retail Store Management Association, the Restaurant Facility Management Association, and SPECS. CS Hudson — www.cs-hudson.com — is a leading project and program management firm specializing in turnkey services and purpose-built facility solutions that help clients with dispersed portfolios deliver the consistent high-quality brand experiences customers expect.

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posted on 12/29/2017