Facility managers are aware of the need to improve their overall operations by being more efficient and economical. Many are learning they can accomplish this by outsourcing building service work to companies that specialize in needed service areas rather than relying on in-house staff. Building service contractors can seize such opportunities to expand business.

“To better sell services to facility managers, BSCs have got to understand our objectives, mindsets, and expectations about enhanced efficiencies in time, performance and costs,” says Tom Wadham, property manager for U.S. Bank, Dayton, Ohio. He oversees maintenance operations of 67 bank branches in parts of Ohio and south central Indiana.

Many facility managers find it a challenge to outsource work because they have to ensure that they will get the proper service performance from their subcontractors, according to Lonna Blake, facilities manager for International Capital, Inc., an investment and property management company in Dallas.

Choosing a subcontractor

Many issues are taken into consideration by facility managers when making decisions to outsource, says Marty Patzner, vice president of commercial property management for the Lund Company, Omaha, Neb.

“To do the job of correctly hiring and monitoring subcontractors, we’ve got to carefully define and communicate our service requirements to them,” he says.

If conveying those requirements is not done properly, a BSC will be unsure of expectations and may not perform as well as they should or could, Patzner says.

A contractor’s performance also needs to be correctly evaluated to make sure a good job is being performed.

Responsiveness and reliability are two important hiring criteria that Blake considers when looking at potential subcontractors. She has an internal staff of building engineers and porters but subcontracts for HVAC improvements, janitorial, pest control, carpet cleaning, and electrical work.

“We attempt to find companies we can rely on — companies that do excellent work in an economical, timely fashion and meet the agreed-upon schedules. The good ones run very efficient operations. That makes it less expensive to outsource than hiring a large in-house staff,” she says.

When looking at outsourcing candidates, Patzner pays particular attention to reliability and customer service parameters, he says.

“Because of the tenants and owners we are responsible for, we feel that we, too, are in the customer service business,” Patzner says. “We want a subcontractor that can provide us with preferential treatment in emergency, spur-of-the-moment situations. Someone we can rely on to get to our location as soon as humanly possible.”

Overall, honesty and integrity exhibited by a subcontractor are important factors that Patzner invariably considers.

“Everybody makes mistakes. It’s just a matter of confessing the mistake and correcting it, as long as both parties acknowledge it. But if the subcontractors attempt to hide their mistakes, they lose credibility,” he says.

Determining what’s needed

Facility managers are often faced with an important question: Should they hire multiple subcontractors or go with one company that has diversified and can handle multiple operations?

Some facility managers point to the complexity of using several subcontractors. That means multiple contracts to be negotiated, multiple contacts for billing and work order changes and multiple reviews for company performance. Hiring one company with the ability to provide most of those services can take care of those drawbacks while providing all of the associated benefits.

“If our subcontractors could diversify by adding to their service offerings, we’d prefer that,” says Wadham. “That would mean easier administration and supervision for us, as well easier communication, and perhaps better pricing.”

Blake agrees.

“One diversified janitorial company would be easier to manage. I’d have better knowledge of their strengths and weaknesses,” she says.

Some managers, on the other hand, see no current need to subcontract with janitorial companies that diversify and bundle their service offerings, and are content using a janitorial company strictly for janitorial services.

“We’re quite satisfied with the way things are working out,” Patzner says.

He does understand, though, that using fewer subcontractors could be easier on management.

“And there could possibly be a savings of money if we contracted with one company for doing the bulk of our portfolio,” he says.

Common diversified services BSCs offer include window washing, security, grounds care, pest control and snow and ice removal.

“Some of our janitorial subcontractors don’t have the expertise and power scrubbers to wax, buff and deep clean hard floor surfaces. That could point to their need to diversify by adding that service,” Patzner says. “We have about 50,000 square feet to clean nightly. It stands to reason that companies that focus specifically on certain areas can do it quicker and better than in-house people.”

Projecting service needs

BSCs who are electronically and technologically savvy will be needed in the future, predicts Wadham.

“We’ll need their help to ease our considerable paper flow. They’ll need to electronically communicate and invoice,” he says. “They’ll also need to effectively and quickly respond to complaints.”

The cost of living will rise, Blake says, indicated by gas price increases — and it will be even more important for facility managers to conduct business economically. Patzner, too, is concerned about the price increases he is seeing.

“That’s going to continue. Snow removal and lawn care subcontractors will charge more on a pro-rata basis if gas prices exceed a certain level,” Patzner says. “That’s already beginning.”

Carlos Salmon, facilities manager for Petrocelli Electric, an electrical communications contractor in Long Island City, N.Y., foresees more subcontractors becoming more aware of the importance of “green” products and techniques to preserve the environment.

“Today’s BSCs are using more green chemicals and less conventional chemicals in their cleaning operation,” Salmon says. “And there’s a greater use of HEPA backpack vacuums to enhance air quality. That will continue, of course. And there will be a heightened emphasis on education about the principles of cleaning. That’s needed greatly.”

The future holds excellent promise for efficient and ambitious BSCs savvy enough to know what facility managers need and expect, and are capable enough to provide it. Those willing to listen to customer needs can successfully expand service offerings.

Jordan Fox is a Milwaukee-based freelance writer.