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Vendor Q&A: Help for navigating FM amid uncertainty

Rob Almond
Rob Almond is CEO of NEST.

With cost efficiencies top of mind for retailers, Chain Store Age spoke with Rob Almond, CEO of NEST, a pioneer in integrated facilities management, about how NEST is helping companies navigate in today’s environment.

Many retailers say they need to cut costs in the face of uncertainty. What are three things NEST is doing to help its retail partners right now?

In terms of our approach at NEST, there are several areas where we dive in with our existing partners and new partners during times of economic uncertainty. A few include:

1. Financial consulting. When the facilities department is told they need to make cuts, NEST will help advise and analyze all outcomes. We work to determine the short-term and long-term repercussions of each scenario. Success is defined by the ability to understand and use data. We’re experts in this area.

2. Prioritize customer experience. Our analytics tools can help decipher where a facilities department can cut its budget without impacting the customer experience. Real-time reporting and accruals ensure they know where they stand at every moment.

Mobile technology is key to keeping managers and other personnel on the floor so they can focus on the customer. A better customer experience keeps the customer coming back.

3. No subscription fees and complementary technology. If a retailer is paying subscription fees for FM software, this is an area of immediate cost savings through NEST. This approach goes beyond times of uncertainty. It’s our policy at NEST not to charge tech fees.

One more area of focus for NEST is tying the KPIs to customer satisfaction in the field. Once they make necessary cuts, it’s essential to understand the impacts in real-time. Through our custom NEsT promoter score, we have the technology to analyze service verifications and tie them right back to KPI. Based on the data, we help retailers adjust quickly.

In the context of the retail industry and FM, how does this current economic climate compare to some of the other periods of uncertainty we’ve seen during the past 20 years?

NEST was founded in 1994. We saw similar uncertainty in the housing crisis of 2008 and the months following 9/11 in 2001. We also supported our clients through the early Covid shutdowns, and we’re prepared to see them through the current economic climate.

The common theme is cost savings while maintaining superior customer experiences. We helped our partners survive then, and we’ve added more strategies and resources to support our partners now to combat labor shortages, supply chain issues, inflation, or other factors that may negatively impact an earnings report.

How do you view the role of brick-and-mortar for the next 12 months?

For the savviest retailers that understand their customers’ journey, brick-and-mortar is still an area for expansion and remains the foundation of a successful business model. Employee retention and labor will be essential for this next holiday shopping season. The companies with a foundation of desirable work culture, philanthropy, and equality will be best positioned during the next 12 months to combat labor shortages and inflation.

Also, and by the way, we’ve heard for years that the brick-and-mortar will go away. That’s nonsense.  If you provide the right experience, the consumer will always want to go into a store and shop.

Labor has been a concern for many employers. What has been your approach at NEST to retain and attract talent?

I work closely with our HR department to create a culture where NEST’s employees and our independent service providers are valued and, as a result, become ambassadors. It’s important for our leadership team to roll up our sleeves, too. Even as we continue to grow, we want to have a team mentality at all levels of the organization.

Our approach to the hiring process and employee retention mirrors many elements that job seekers are looking for in 2022 and beyond.  That includes philanthropy through our NEST Nurtures endeavors, flexibility through a hybrid work environment, inclusiveness and transparency through regular communication, equality through training and learning, and culture by listening and responding.

Our approach today looks a lot different than even three years ago when we were 100% in an office environment. We’re a better company for it in 2022.

What trends do you see in the trades when it comes to recruiting and the workforce?

The skilled trades need our support now more than ever. And when I say skilled trades, I am not just talking about plumbing, HVAC, and electrical. I’m also including critical areas like janitorial, landscaping, and floor care.  

It starts with grassroots and education. Roughly 10,000 baby boomers are expected to retire every day between now and 2030.

There is a misconception that vocational education is subpar compared to a four-year university. But when breaking down the numbers, there is a compelling case to consider the trades. Pre-pandemic, the average undergraduate tuition cost was roughly $28,000, which equates to more than $110,000 after four years. Comparatively, the total cost of a trade school averages $33,000 for the entire education.

In my experience, the trade school curriculum is typically designed to be completed in one or two years. It gives students the additional benefit of entering the workforce sooner and even heading down a path to being a business owner in the trade of their choice.

At NEST, we sponsor a construction camp for girls in the Philadelphia area through NAWIC. We work with some retail partners to support the programming throughout the summer. The MyWIC camp is free to all participants and provides hands-on experiences and mentorship.

With women only making up 10% of the construction industry, there is a massive gap to close. Early education about the opportunities that exist in construction and the various trades will help.

What are some of the most common mistakes you see retailers make regarding their FM programs?

Our partners understand the benefits of an integrated approach. We hear about their challenges with other models and why they want to get away from things like an hourly rate model that includes paying for emergency fees, overtime, and trip charges. We also hear about the exorbitant costs associated with paying tech subscriptions and customization fees.

Other missed opportunities exist in the areas of analytics and insights. When you’re working off of Excel spreadsheets, you’re not able to get an accurate picture of the data, where you can save money and predict future trends.

With an integrated approach, we become an extension of a retailer’s FM department and help them avoid common mistakes. And with the 24/7 nature of FM, we can help improve the quality of life.

Rob Almond is the CEO of NEST, a pioneer of integrated facilities management in North America since 1994. Follow NEST on LinkedIn.

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