Doing the Right Thing

by Nate Hunter

Recently I had the pleasure of sitting with some retailers to chat about their businesses. As is typical at many industry gatherings, people like to trade “war stories.”

Recently I had the pleasure of sitting with some retailers to chat about their businesses. As is typical at many industry gatherings, people like to trade “war stories.” Sometimes there would be a funny anecdote that would drive a burst of laughter from the group; and sometimes there would be a more serious discussion with lessons to learn. For the serious stories, we would all nod in silent agreement as we’d listen intently. We’d make mental notes of preparation, should a similar issue arise in our own worlds.

One retailer in particular was so very impressive to me. It was exciting and refreshing to hear of the culture of her company. They were “forward thinkers,” all departments working and communicating in unison to help each other reach the common goal. For example: their design and construction teams partnered with facilities, understanding and embracing the total cost of ownership — rather than value engineering items out. It wasn’t a budgets game — about whose department was at risk of being over budget and whose was “viewed as victorious” for being under budget. Rather, it was an intrinsic understanding to do the right thing for a space they would occupy for 20 years. Not only were they strategically planning programs to support their continued international growth — they were also conscientiously remained focused on their large domestic fleet across the country. This amazed me, as I felt this was proof to me that when companies allow, trust and inspire their associates to do their jobs, they create a flourishing culture. From this flourishing culture, they will reap the financial benefits and grow their company. To me, this is retail facilities nirvana…what every retailer should be aspiring to accomplish.

Unfortunately, this type of culture is still an anomaly in our industry. Many retailers I speak with are still struggling to evolve their days of putting out fires to getting ahead of the curve. I seek to understand when and how this shift happens. At what point is it when retail facilities professionals are as ahead of the curve as they can possibly be? As a start, it may be when the random budget reductions stop? We’ve all heard that “challenge” before from senior management: “We need a 10% savings from your department.” You are already running lean and mean and providing white glove service and you know it. You’ve already rolled out EMS programs and partnered with other departments and external service providers for costs and time efficiencies. Okay, then where exactly are you supposed to cut? And, at what cost? At the cost of the brand image of your stores now that discretionary work is once again deferred? At the cost of reducing HVAC PMs and coil cleanings, risking an increase in future capital spending? At the risk of your customers coming in and not wanting to try on clothes because they do not want to step on filthy fitting room carpets with bare feet? At the cost of reducing headcount in a department where internal team members are already taking emergency calls during the nights, weekends and holidays? At the risk of sinking morale company-wide because the retailer hired a celebrity for their multimillion-dollar ad campaigns while they continue to lay off their own employees? Wait — scratch that last one…that’s not facilities.

Is it just me? Or is there something terribly wrong with this whole picture? It just may be the wrong departments are being asked to reduce cost. When companies solely focus on the bottom line with a blatant disregard, burning and churning through their associates, the similar energy comes back in 10 folds. It’s simple: when companies do the right thing and inspire their associates — good things will happen. RFB

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