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Following 10 years with Mitie, Office & General’s new Retail Director, David Purdy, tells Tomorrow’s FM why big is not always best when brand identity is at stake.

Behind all of the talk about innovation, technology and value in the support services sector there is only one constant factor: the importance of people in delivering the core service being paid for by the client. Nowhere is that more obvious than in the retail cleaning market, because cleaning in the retail sector is a specialist job.

The end user, the shopper, is the real customer and they will always be king – something the cleaning teams and the management have to totally comprehend. Because if they do not, then they will not be creating the shopping environment that reflects and enhances the retail brand. This means that the cleaning teams working across the UK in various high street stores, shopping centres or specialist outlets – often working for big consumer brand names – need to have an appreciation for the location they are working in. They have to have knowledge of the retail brand, its style, its methods and how it wants its merchandise on sale to be perceived.

You can only make that connection and build that understanding via tight-knit teams and highly focused area management. Some larger scale service providers may struggle to get close to the form of an integrated team that can interact with the floor manager of a store and that intuitively knows how to clean round a display, or even replace merchandising whilst ensuring the retail environment is pristine and on-brand, ready for opening hours. The bigger players can be overly reliant on technology and this has removed the personal touch. The relationship with the individual team members, many of whom will often be waking up at 4am may not be close enough. These are the front line staff; they are fundamentally the single most

important asset to any support services company. But, too many organisations are not managing the relationships with their people effectively. In retail cleaning, small is beautiful.

“The onus on measurement encroaches on actual management.”

The cleaning industry needs to shift back to a focus on people and make sure that it has the right culture in place that fosters better people management and that encourages the right behaviours to ensure excellent customer service. This can be done in all firms – large and small – but the smaller the organisation the more flexible they are and the easier it is to see the required investment in people have a real impact. For example, the area managers in the field need to be allowed more freedom to make decisions. The onus on measurement of performance encroaches on the actual management of the people delivering the cleaning – they have expanding portfolios and less time to devote to developing their teams and making that connection with the store’s own people.

“Are they too big to bend?”

So, it is interesting that last month IFMA and CBRE made the case that if the facilities and CRE support services sector is going to make a step change and challenge the zero cost model that dominates the market, service providers have to embrace their softer side, focus on people skills and develop them to ensure FM and CRE support services succeed. It poses big questions for the larger service providers. Are they too big to bend and offer the flexible,

more personal service that the retail sector demands?

For example, speed of response in retail is often vital, which in turn means that small service providers may often have the edge over the bigger names in the support services sector. To some of the big players, a retail contract could potentially be just a number – and a number that may just have to fit within their established delivery structures and not a brand requiring a bespoke solution.

Retail cleaning requires an approach that focuses on people, culture and behaviours, and that leaves room for on-site decision making and empowered field management – not dominated by corporate box-ticking processes that could be more concerned with costs and margins rather than on focussed long term value.


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