August 12, 2013
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The Best Programs Balance Cost Savings, Curb Appeal and Quality Service
NORTH PLAINFIELD, N.J., Jan. 6, 2014 – Retail activity is picking up commensurate with the strengthening economy, and, as always, tenants are seeking the most appealing, well-located shopping centers. North Plainfield-based retail real estate services firm Levin Management in recent weeks has secured several new assignments from property owners focused on ensuring that their centers are well positioned to take advantage of this renewed momentum. The firm, which serves a diverse, 95-property, 13 million-square-foot portfolio centered in the Northeast, also recently was ranked among the state’s top three property management companies by NJBiz.
In the following interview, Levin’s Robert Oliver, vice president of property management, discusses today’s top priorities and trends in retail property management. Above all, he notes that the best programs create cost-effective solutions without sacrificing curb appeal or service quality.
When you begin a new assignment, what are the first steps?
It is fun diving into a new property, but it also is work-intensive. The most important first step involves establishing relationships with the existing tenants. In many cases, management of a property turns over for a reason. Our priority is to determine what needs to change. Our property managers sit with each tenant and discuss their business at the shopping center, any issues they may have and, also, what is going right. This communication is vital, and in this sense our managers serve as ambassadors for Levin and the property’s ownership.
New assignments also come with administrative requirements, like transferring and reviewing utility accounts and service contracts. Strong contractor relationships are vital, and we work hard to establish them from the outset. Not only do these partners provide much-needed property maintenance services, they also serve as day-to-day eyes and ears. Our property managers are on site frequently, but our sweeping, landscaping and snow removal vendors often are key resources to let us know about a problem – such as a downed stop sign or a water leak. We stay in close contact with tenants at the properties as well.
Is increasing operating efficiency an early priority as well?
We always look to reduce or maintain costs, whether the assignment is new or one we have had for decades. Levin has been relatively successful at keeping costs steady for high-end services like sweeping, landscaping and snow removal. If we are happy with a vendor, when their contract comes due we will offer to renew it if they can continue at their current fee. For the others we go out to bid. We have very specific requirements and expectations, and we look for the best-qualified provider – which does not always translate to the lowest bidder. Vendors need to offer us superior service and a fast response time. To our advantage, because Levin has a large portfolio in a relatively concentrated area we are often able to save money using economics of scale.
Many service providers bundle services. Does Levin do this?
With just a few exceptions, I am not a fan of bundling. You absolutely can save money by contracting with one provider to handle snow removal, sweeping and landscaping. However, vendors frequently will excel in one or two areas – but not all three. Having multiple contractors in place also ensures a system of checks and balances when it comes to letting us know if they see maintenance that is not up to our standards. The ultimate goal is to balance cost savings and quality, and bundling emphasizes the savings side of the equation. At Levin, we approach this practice with great caution.
What are today’s “hot” money-saving investments?
Levin has established more aggressive recycling programs at many of our centers, which has lowered trash removal costs significantly. For example, we went to single-source recycling (where the hauler separates recyclables from rubbish) at one property where we have a large trash removal contract. Last year, we saved roughly $13,000 there.