Facilities Management: New Best Practices

Barry Wood
Barry Wood

Long before COVID-19 was even a part of our vocabularies, retail stores have strived to keep their locations clean, safe and visually pleasing. But facilities have been thrust into the forefront of public concern over the past year, as the unknown surrounding virus transmission has redefined proper facilities management.

As we look ahead at 2021 with hope—hope that better days will soon be here—now is the time to ensure our operations meet the new consumer standards we can expect even beyond COVID-19.

Reassess operational risk
Early into the pandemic, heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems (HVAC) made headlines as possible super-spreaders of the virus. While droplet transmission is believed to be the most common and likely means of infection, the role HVAC plays is still a point of contention. Nonetheless, even with the typical high ceilings found in retail spaces, a poorly managed system still poses the risk of spreading contaminated air.

Re-evaluate current systems in place and assess how air is currently moving. Say a customer removes their mask in a fitting room and sneezes; the high air flow from the HVAC will undoubtedly move the particles in that space dramatically and have a domino effect on other customers and employees. Diffused air that circulates out and around versus vertically could likely be the future of HVAC implementation in such spaces.    

Staying abreast on preventative maintenance should be a key consideration moving forward.

Stained ceilings from HVAC leaks won’t aid consumer confidence while shopping and uncomfortable and inconsistent store temperatures can be distracting. Even as the vaccine sees further widespread adoption, consumers will remain on high alert for the immediate future, especially as reporting around alternate virus strains rises.

Prepare for increased inventory and fulfillment options
Historically speaking, stores have been designed to house as much product as possible, giving consumers as many options as possible to fit their needs and desires. Between social distancing and the rise in e-commerce, more and more consumers are shifting to in-store and curbside pick-up models of fulfillment, as well as returns. Retailers should carefully consider how to efficiently manage and plan for inventory and staffing to accommodate these multiple fulfillment options. Offering curbside pick-up only during non-peak retail hours can be one way to manage and properly prepare for traffic flow.

In a December 2020 shopper insights survey conducted by Big Red Rooster, a multidimensional brand experience firm, 60% of consumers rated the availability of products that were purchased online for store pick-up as less than perfect, meaning there’s significant demand to increase in-store inventory to account for e-commerce growth.

But preparing for an influx of inventory must be carefully considered. Do you have the equipment to efficiently move product back and forth? Or, do you have the space needed to be moving products through the store? Apparel and shoes may seem like less daunting tasks, but larger products will require the use of carts and a rearranged traffic flow that doesn’t interfere with social distancing.

Increasing communication with neighboring tenants could also help to bridge gaps in fulfillment. Joining forces with neighboring tenants to share third-party labor sources could be a viable solution that also drives savings. By outsourcing curbside pick-up, you can transfer operational risk to the third party, alleviate your own staffing concerns and split the costs with your neighbors.   

Reimagine design
More retailers are taking a better look at their surfaces as they accommodate social distancing through remodel efforts. They’re shifting away from soft surfaces that could potentially hold harmful contaminants that transmit easily via touch. Ensuring you have maintenance standards for daily cleaning and consistent and clear communications in place for those who will carry out those tasks is critical. 

Even as the vaccine brings bright spots to better days, pandemic proofing your surfaces will help future-proof your operation. Implementing ultra-violet technology could be a valuable investment to restore consumer confidence and maintain a safe atmosphere.

Stay prepared
The need to future-proof and plan for the next crisis can’t be stressed enough. And while each emergency presents itself uniquely, we do know one thing: time is of the essence. Don’t wait for the next disaster to re-evaluate your facility management practices. Staying up to date on maintenance and the latest technologies will not only help ensure the safety of your customers, but also your people. 

Barry Wood is director of operations for JLL Retail.

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