— By Theresa Phelps —
Dark store management during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.
During this uncertain time, we know it’s causing stress on multi-site companies including retailers and restaurants. As we like to say, “We’re in this together, and this too shall pass.” Whether your locations have closed temporarily or permanently, it’s important to continue to maintain the exteriors of those properties.
Idle commercial real estate properties, or dark stores, are valuable investments that must be kept up to ensure further capital expenditures don’t occur and the curb appeal remains consistent to properly represent your brand’s equity. This is where Dark Store Management has become more important than ever to prevent properties from declining in current value due to appearance.
When the COVID-19 pandemic has passed and we emerge, it will be crucial that your locations have maintained their appearance for a quick reopening with no major issues. You will want your sites(s) to be ready when consumers resume normal shopping habits again.
Here’s what Dark Store Management includes and why it’s so important to reduce risks and costs before, during and after shutting down a site, or multiple sites:
This refers to the “eyes and ears” for the commercial exteriors and interiors to protect the building, any assets that may remain in the building and any employees who may still need to do work in the building. Dark Store Management also reduces the potential for theft and vandalism, by having someone monitor the property on a regular basis. Squatters can also be an unfortunate nuisance for dark stores, which is why it’s crucial to have someone check the property on a regular basis. It’s common for dark stores to be a dumping ground for large pieces of trash, which should be constantly monitored.
Determine which services must continue and which can be turned off or must be managed going forward. These include HVAC, electrical and water. In addition, in today’s modern world of technology, on-site and cyber security are critical for the necessary privacy associated with operating the business as well as the safety and security of consumers’ financial information.
Maintain signage, building repairs, any waste on the property, parking lot striping, pothole repair, graffiti removal and exterior lighting to keep up the appearance. We often suggest a reduced scope of work and service frequency to ensure properties are maintained and accessible for employees and emergency vehicles if necessary. Failure to maintain these can result in municipalities imposing fines if they find code violations.
It’s advisable to continue landscaping services twice a month to maintain turf, manage weeds and prevent overgrown plants. Pests, such as bees and ants, can also quickly infest an exterior of a property and will need to be properly addressed to keep them at bay.
Regular Facility Assessments
Establish a schedule, which may include multiple checks per day or simple weekly checks. It’s recommended to do periodic assessments to detect maintenance problems before they become bigger issues. It’s also critical to have a network of suppliers ready to address any issues they discover during these checks.
For dark stores that are not properly maintained, a major challenge is keeping up with local municipalities and environmental regulatory compliance to avoid code enforcement fines and violations. It’s critical to have a frequent set of eyes on your property to ensure its appearance is maintained and to eliminate large costs down the road.
At this time, it’s tough to have to think about Dark Store Management and having to close locations abruptly; however, it’s a critical step to make sure your brand equity is maintained and the most successful sites remain open while a portion of your portfolio of locations may not.
Businesses, including both the retail and restaurant industries, have stood united during this trying time, and we continue to plan ahead when everyone is open for business again.
Stay safe, stay healthy, and we will continue to serve and maintain exteriors across America. Together, we will see our businesses thrive once again…stronger than ever.
— Teresa Phelps is the national sales director of DeWitt, Michigan-based DENTCO, a national Exterior Services Management company with several Fortune 500 customers. Phelps has over 20 years of sales and managerial experience and has been a member of the DENTCO team since 2004. DENTCO, founded in 1977, services multi-site companies across the U.S., such as restaurants, retailers, convenience stores and distribution centers. Industry affiliations include Connex, RFMA, NACS and IFMA.