In our first post of the series, “Selecting the Right Vendor to Service Your Stores,” we outlined important criteria to consider as you devise and implement your selection process. In Part II, we’ll share some strategies to use when testing the vendor you select to see whether they do the job right.

We say “testing” because the decision you make in selecting a vendor is a big one, no matter if you have 10 stores or 1,000. Whether you’re selecting a vendor from scratch, or if you’re considering switching vendors, it just makes good sense to get a feel for 1) how a potential candidate to serve as your facility management company performs in the field, and 2) how they work with you and your team. Therefore, we recommend a trial period – whether it’s for one month, three months, or as long as it takes for you to either feel comfortable working with them, or decide to look elsewhere.

The timing for this is certainly appropriate. Right now, it’s hot outside throughout most of the U.S. As high temperatures persist, retail stores are experiencing HVAC issues, electrical issues and other systems issues, so this is prime time for considering how your current facility management provider’s performance really stacks up. When the A/C goes out in your Baton Rouge, Louisiana store, or electrical problems knock building systems out in your five Atlanta locations, ask yourself whether your vendor is there for you in the clutch.

Of course, this is no easy task, because change is never easy. It’s difficult. We see it in every aspect of our lives, from the personal relationships we maintain to the systems, processes and equipment that help us run our businesses. Likewise, when facility managers are tasked with overseeing maintenance of dozens or even hundreds of stores, changing vendor relationships is probably one of the last things that they want to do. Once you’re settled into a relationship with a facility management vendor, that’s a known quantity, and the tendency is to maintain that relationship over time, even if you sense that service isn’t quite up to par.

Yet facility management is a competitive industry. Therefore, whether you’re a landlord or a facility manager, you should be very happy with your current provider. If you’re not, there’s a good chance someone else can do the job better, and it’s contingent on you to take whatever time and effort is needed to maximize this function for your company.

Think of it like this: You can be driving an inexpensive, practical compact car, and it’s just fine – it gets you from point A to point B, it delivers good gas mileage, and short of a transmission overhaul, there’s not much that would necessarily spur you to make a change. But imagine that a dealer contacts you and lets you test-drive a head-turning 400-horsepower luxury sports coupe. That dealer offers to pay for your oil changes and gives you a generous trade-in allowance for your sensible compact. Suddenly, your perspective on cars has changed.

It’s much the same with facility maintenance. Whether it’s HVAC, electrical, signage, plumbing or other building services, you may be getting good service. But do you really know what you’re missing? If your vendor does a decent job 80 percent of the time, are you willing to put up with a 20 percent failure rate? Can you quantify what that 20 percent means in dollars and cents? What about reporting? Are you satisfied with the breadth and depth of reporting that your vendor offers? And do you have any basis for comparison?

Test-phasing another facility management provider – be it for HVAC, electrical, signage or other building systems – can be a great way to measure your current vendor’s performance, and judge whether another provider can do things better, in any number of ways.

For example, perhaps the vendor you test out has a more detailed quoting process. Perhaps you’ll get more specialized one-on-one attention from their account manager and customer service representatives. Perhaps that partner will have data management capabilities and practices that do a better job of meeting your needs. The list goes on.

Read “Selecting the Right Vendor to Service Your Stores” to learn about criteria that can help you make the best decision possible.

We’ve seen this first-hand as the company being tested. One customer brought us in for a test phase with nine stores. Throughout this phase, we excelled in every area that was important to them: specifically, attention to detail, quick follow-up, good quote return time, good quote analysis and feedback, and our ability to provide information they needed—before they had to ask for it. Today, we manage all their stores—more than 150 in total.

Another customer started us off on a test phase of 11 stores. Soon after, they experienced problems with their facility management vendor in another part of the country, and they liked our work with the first 11 stores, so they increased the test phase to 27 stores. Today, we manage all stores in this customer’s portfolio—160 in total.

How to Structure a Test Phase

If you’re interested in establishing a test phase for a provider, we recommend setting aside a certain amount of time – be it two months, three months, six months or even longer, and determining which services – be they HVAC, electrical, signage or other building services  – will be included in the trial scope.

From there, you should select a portion of your stores for the test phase—it could be 10, it could be 30, or it could be more. Ideally, those stores should be located in different geographies, and they should comprise a representative slice of problem stores, and typical stores without problems. This approach will help you judge how your test vendor performs under different conditions. When problems arise in problem stores, that vendor will be judged on its performance under those circumstances. Likewise, that vendor will be judged on servicing good stores to ensure that problems aren’t created where no problems previously existed.

If there’s one point out of all this to remember, it’s this: Don’t be afraid to make a change. If service is not at the premium level you expect (and frankly, you deserve), then don’t be afraid to test out another vendor and see what they have to offer. Even if your current vendor is providing good service, maybe you’re not happy with their ability to report information to you. Maybe other aspects of their service fall short. A test phase gives you a valuable opportunity to elevate this crucial element of your facility management operation. It could yield thousands of dollars in savings, and keep tenants happy – and in place – for years to come.

The more information you have, the better equipped you’ll be to meet your national facility management challenges strategically, so we hope you found this post helpful. In our next installment of the Selecting the Right Vendor series, we’ll offer our thoughts on reporting – what information is valuable, timing issues, and other key variables that can help to distinguish great providers. In the meantime, if you are looking for a facility management company that will perform to your needs and expectations, learn more about CLS Facility Services by contacting us at 800-548-3542 or by filling out our contact form.