Healthy growth — from new store openings to numerous remodels — keeps Ratner Companies one step ahead.
In summer 2012, Retail Facility Business spoke with Tom Kilcourse, the head of construction and facilities at Vienna, Virginia-based Ratner Companies. Ratner’s salon brands include 810 Hair Cuttery locations, 37 Bubbles salons, 10 Salon Cielo locations, 16 Salon Plaza stores, and 1 ColorWorks salon. RFB spoke to Kilcourse about Ratner’s self-performing maintenance model, some of the department’s biggest maintenance headaches, and how Ratner prefers regional vendors over national service providers.
RFB: What is your title and how long have you been with Ratner Companies?
Tom Kilcourse: My official title is director of facilities management; I’ve been with Ratner for 11 years now.
RFB: Ratner Companies currently has 874 salons. How many new stores are planned in 2012?
Kilcourse: Our growth from a new store growth perspective, is between 25 and 30 stores annually.
RFB: Are you remodeling any locations?
Kilcourse: We’re looking at remodeling probably 50 to 70 stores. We currently have a new store design and we’re tweaking that design as we speak. We’ve gone from basically a laminate package to metal, solid surface. I don’t think the public will notice a significant change; we’re just tweaking the design. We’re looking to value engineer some things, maybe change some of the lighting — such as the utilization of LED fixtures — that will help reduce costs and make it more cost-effective to remodel more stores.
RFB: Describe how your maintenance department is organized.
Kilcourse: We do things a little bit differently than most retailers on the facility side. From a facilities perspective, we have our own internal department. We have 31 technicians and five retail managers, and we have two facilities coordinators in the [corporate] office. On the construction side, we have our own internal project managers and two construction coordinators as well.
RFB: Do you outsource any of your maintenance work?
Kilcourse: We do. We outsource when the workload becomes too great for us. Let’s say it’s 100 degrees out and we’ve got multiple HVAC calls; we typically will call outside vendors to help us. We also outsource fire extinguishers.
RFB: How do you handle a typical maintenance call? What about emergency calls?
Kilcourse: Each technician is assigned a group of stores depending on the geography they’re in. They could have a small group of 28 stores or they could have as many as 38 stores. Those technicians are responsible for providing services to their stores, typically Monday through Friday and then after hours we have on-call technicians who cover larger geographies and will respond to emergency calls. We typically have about a 4-hour response time for emergencies.
RFB: Do you rely primarily on national vendors? Or a mixture of national and regional/local service providers?
Kilcourse: We’ve found that regional vendors, the smaller vendors, are better for us. We typically don’t use national vendors. Again, that’s just what seems to work for our organization.
RFB: By what criteria do you choose your vendors?
Kilcourse: For us, a lot of that control for choosing vendors is in the hands of our retail facilities managers. Some of the criteria they look at include timeliness of performance — they have to be able to respond to our stores very quickly for emergencies because we’re using them to augment for emergency services. Cost is obviously a factor, and the company’s ability to have service parts on hand.
RFB: So if you’re calling in an outside vendor, it’s usually because your internal staff is overloaded.
Kilcourse: That’s correct. For us, we’re pulling that outside vendor in because we’re really bogged down and we need to get that store up and running. A typical Hair Cuttery is 1,200 square feet, so they have just one air conditioner, and if that air conditioner goes down, it’s critical that we get it up and operational.
RFB: What are some of your biggest maintenance challenges?
Kilcourse: I would say plumbing and HVAC are our biggest challenges. For us, this is one of the reasons we self-perform. On the HVAC side, we get preventive maintenance in our stores every 30 days. We actually pre-filter our air conditioning units because of the chemicals that are in the air — hairsprays, things of that nature. Plumbing is also a challenge for us. Typically we’ve got three shampoo sinks within a Hair Cuttery, so if shampoo bowls go down, then they can’t perform services at the salon.
RFB: What are some of the unique challenges maintaining hair salons compared to more traditional retail stores?
Kilcourse: There are electrical issues that we encounter with our appliances, namely washers and dryers. We do a tremendous amount of color within our stores, plus washing the hair, so we use a lot of towels. Appliance repair is a big thing for us. And finding a vendor to outsource from an appliance perspective is very difficult for us. Plumbers are easy to find, HVAC is easy to find, but the appliance repair guy who’s going to come in on a Saturday or Sunday and be able to repair that washer or dryer is near impossible.
RFB: What do you enjoy most about your job day to day?
Kilcourse: The thing I enjoy most is the variety of things that we’re involved in and I think from a self-performing perspective, that is what I really enjoy: I love dealing with a large staff and being able to interact with them on a regular basis and being able to interact with our operations staff.
RFB: What are some of the future goals you’ve set for your team or your stores?
Kilcourse: For us, our goal is to make sure we’re running the department the most efficient way that we can. We’re looking for technology to assist us in that goal, and we’re always looking at new vendors who can come in and offer value added services — not only providing cost savings but also that extra little bit of value to that service they’re providing for us.”
— Katie Lee is editor of Retail Facility Business magazine. She can be reached at [email protected].