New advances in landscaping have made this essential part of retail maintenance easier to manage
The Grass Is Always Greener
Everyone wants the greenest grass, meticulous planting beds, extravagant water features and a landscape maintenance program that addresses the needs of every season. However, the dilemma of budget constraints, day-to-day tasks and general job duties do not afford the national or regional store/facility manager the time to deal with all the demands of various vertical market contractors. In this article, we will discuss a brief history of retail landscaping, the milestones that prepared us for drastic changes and the cutting edge landscape management tools that allow fluid and seamless service without diverting valuable resources from your core focus.
The Old Landscape
After servicing the landscape industry for over 25 years, I can attest that the methods and philosophy of landscape maintenance have changed drastically. In actuality, there never was a philosophy to the whole concept, just a lot of hard work and repetition. In the ’70s and ’80s, most commercial and retail corporations would permit local managers to handle facility management and purchasing duties for individual property or retail locations. The manager would contact and develop local relationships with various independent contractors providing everything from landscaping to plumbing. The manager would then develop a friendly relationship with the contractor and, as long as the work was satisfactory, the contractor would continue providing the service.
A significant disadvantage to this setup was the fact that the local landscaper was probably a good landscaper but a poor businessperson. So, the contractor and manager rarely entered into a true business relationship that addressed topics like exterior asset inventories, liability insurance and quality assurance. It is important to note that this was primarily due to lack of technology and industry research. At the store or facility management strata, the onsite manager had all of the control when preparing specifications and, far too often, needs were not addressed, prices became inflated, exterior inventories were random or undocumented and, most importantly, liability and coverage was inadequate or non-existent.
The landscape of retail America has grown in leaps and bounds over the past few decades. A significant factor for this growth is the development and implementation of software applications, Web-enabled management tools and aggressive mergers and acquisitions. However, let’s take a moment to acknowledge the backbone of the industry – the local and regional landscape contractors that have painstakingly designed and maintained the environmental brand of our largest retail chains from very humble beginnings. Some relationships and friendships have grown with these corporations, but many have fallen by the wayside because of a top-down management push and the inability to compete on a pure business level. In actuality, whether you manage 5,000 stores or 50 facilities, you expect local or regional landscape contractors to facilitate on a business level and to understand your pressure points of corporate growth, not just have landscaping knowledge.
Over the years, many of these local and regional relationships between facility managers and contractors remain intact and friendships have grown along with industry talents. In 1996, a new brand platform referred to as Exterior Services Management or ESM, infiltrated the market and offered a single source solution that services the relationship with the business entity. This form of management makes landscaping the end product. So, in essence, the business relationship that didn’t exist in the ’70s and ’80s is now a driving force and primary concern to facilitate seamless and custom landscape management.
This management-based brand also protects and retains an average of 75% of the manager’s current local contractors. So, a national management replacement program will not hurt the friendship and trust of a valued contractor. ESM brand also avoids the old-fashioned bid program by offering the first geographic costing grid for the continental United States. All retail and facility management can benefit from this formula that reduces overall spending on all exterior landscaping services. The ESM companies have spent years researching weather patterns, population density, transportation statistics and other environmental data to formulate efficient costing zones in nine U.S. regions for literally thousands of landscape contractors.
New Age Contracting
The entire landscaping industry began to see a drastic change in the exterior facility management industry during early 1990s. Corporations, as opposed to local and regional management, began to centralize operations and services. This was mainly due to changes in the economy, new technology advancements, ever-changing budget constraints and new methods of store and facility accountability. Internet and hardware advancements have delivered automated accounting software, Web-enabled portfolio management, digital cameras and a way to “big brother” your entire system for quality assurance.
Although most companies utilize some of these advancements, they still do not effectively lower costs and cut budgets according to a plan. Unlike the 1980s, there are now fewer corporations that permit regional managers to handle facility management and purchasing duties. There is no single source approach to invoicing or a way to set quality assurance standards for literally hundreds of properties. These services are, for the most part, contracted locally and billed nationally. This dilemma can create a snowstorm of invoices and problems monitoring regional and national quality assurance. The ESM platform can provide service standardization and cost containment for all your landscaping needs, thereby eliminating the shortfalls and inadequacies mentioned above.
Safety & Legal Issues Involve Green
With all retail landscaping management, we expect problems controlling liability issues and enhancing loss prevention policies. A national retail chain that does not utilize an ESM platform for landscape management could be responsible for literally hundreds of liability cases in various regions, dealing with hundreds of law firms and hundreds of settlement cases. With the ESM managing the national or regional landscaping for stores or facilities, there is one large liability policy, one entity and one legal firm. The contractors are all managed by this entity and the ESM takes on all the responsibility.
If you are involved with new landscape construction or master planning for the upcoming year, national ESMs are an excellent resource for writing detailed landscaping specifications that won’t end up wasting resources and budgetary allotments that could be used elsewhere. Now the specifications are written in-house, but far too often the underwriter is not familiar with current methods of accomplishing exterior tasks. Even in today’s market, an internal procurement department is tasked with finding an internal landscaping expert in the corporation. This internal expert is expected to advise a vice president in charge of facilities to draft specifications for a national format. Today, an ESM can even provide landscape specifications for a national proposal by a simple measurement of square footage and end up saving not only the company’s budget, but quite possibly a few jobs along the way.
If your retail stores or facilities are experiencing quality assurance issues, too many liabilities cases or simply have trouble completing landscaping specifications for national formats, you might want to consider calling a national ESM company to discuss a management program that could keep your current landscaping partner on the job, reduce your exterior spend, eliminate the worries of liability and provide fluid service to the exterior.