In the 2001 film “Zoolander,” starring Ben Stiller, the title character and his accomplice break into an office disguised as maintenance workers to steal files from a desktop computer. It’s a trope almost as old as cinema itself, but it’s also a real-world concern for any retailer with a large footprint of physical stores. Managing contractors smartly may be the most overlooked area of running a business, but it’s a huge factor in security, cost and the reputation of your brand.
That’s not to say contractors are an untrustworthy lot, far from it. Most do excellent work and they’re critical to the smooth running of your stores. But the fact remains that for any multilocation organizations, thousands of maintenance staff, cleaners and other workers march in and out of your stores every week, and most organizations know little to nothing about who they are. This is a blind spot that the c-suite needs to pay attention to.
Security Only One Concern
Large retailers spend millions each year to keep their locations clean and well-maintained. At a time when chief innovation officers and chief operating officers are doing all they can to strip out unnecessary cost, not paying attention to what you’re paying contractors from one city to the next seems like a dereliction of duty. This may be some of the best remaining low-hanging fruit for cost-efficiency.
Contractors are also central to your brand image. At a time when consumers are shopping, ordering food and seemingly doing everything else online, brick-and-mortar stores are having to work harder to get people through the door. The retail apocalypse may be exaggerated, but the troubles at brands such as Sears and Toys ‘R’ Us are only a symptom of how consumers expect a better experience on Main Street.
Many companies are applying data and analytics to all parts of their business — but contractors are widely overlooked. Who are your 100 best contractors, and are you rewarding them with more work? Why do your plumbers in Montana cost twice as much as those in Idaho?
Technology Simplifies Contractor Management
Smartphones and geofencing make it possible to see how long your workers spend on-site. The cloud makes it affordable to collect data and put it to work. But tech is only half the story — a lot comes down to best practices and making contractor management a conscious part of your business strategy. With that said, here are some tips to help you improve contractor management from a security, cost and customer experience perspective.
Contractor firms must validate that all staff meet background, certification and other checks, but it’s an open secret that this doesn’t happen with the rigor it should. Make this a non-negotiable prerequisite to working with any third-party contractor.
Require contractors to check-in when they arrive on-site, and show the appropriate identification. As kids, we’re taught not to get in a car with a stranger. Don’t let them in your buildings either.
Put Data to Work
Some basic analytics will help you identify and address variable costs. A retailer told me recently they were paying a $300 difference for plumbers in Akron and Dayton, Ohio — just 200 miles apart. There’s no excuse for not using data to ensure competitive rates across locations.
Quality — and Feedback — Matters
Price isn’t everything; sometimes a cheaper contractor will take twice as long to do a job, or do it poorly. A simple scoring system can keep tabs on who’s doing their job well. For example, I know of one large retailer where employees are asked to rate their store’s cleanliness on a scale of 1 to 5 when they arrive for work in the morning. It only takes a minute, and it’s a great way to track who did a good job cleaning the night before.
Location, Location, Location
In the age of smartphones, geofencing provides a valuable way to verify when contractors check in and out of your buildings. Uber and UPS keep tabs on where their drivers are, why not do the same for your maintenance crew? It can be valuable information to have the next time a contract negotiation comes around.
Service Equipment Proactively
Some people change their car oil every year, but smarter folks do it after a certain number of miles. Being clever about when to schedule maintenance saves you money and extend the life of equipment. The same applies to your HVAC, refrigeration units, elevators and every other physical asset. Using Internet of Things or some other monitoring method, have contractors visit only when your equipment needs it.
Tom Buiocchi is chief executive officer of ServiceChannel, a software solution for facilities and maintenance management across retail and other industries.