About the Retail Facilities Maintenance Industry

Retail facilities maintenance is a multi-million dollar, niche industry within the much larger facilities maintenance industry which covers the maintenance and upkeep of commercial buildings, entertainment venues, universities, hospitals, shopping centers and other publicly accessible and private environments. 

Retail facilities maintenance (RFM) differs from other segments of the industry because its focus is on maintaining and managing retail stores, distribution centers, outlets, lifestyle centers, strip malls and stand-alone locations supporting retail commerce.  RFM covers a wide gamut of functions from general maintenance/repair to disaster preparedness to preventative maintenance inside and out of the structures’ walls as well as the trades (heating, electrical, lighting, plumbing, etc.).  

The management of retail facilities differs from other segments of the maintenance industry as it typically consists of hundreds of stores located in multiple sites with a similar footprint to follow brand consistency standards rather than a single location consisting of a single footprint.  A store’s footprint may range from 500 sq. ft. to 50,000 square feet compared to other commercial buildings which can be over 100,000 square feet.

In recent years, the retail industry has come to realize its responsibility to the environment and taken the lead in designing and developing sustainable retail environments.  The industry acknowledges that proper disposal of its wet and dry waste and an efficient energy initiative can have a dramatic impact upon the environment, the retailer’s public reputation and a positive financial impact on the company’s bottom line when done well. 

The retail facilities industry is always challenged to initiate improvements that will control costs.  While the department is a cost center, it is equally an expense reduction center responsible for identifying innovative ways to reduce expenses and gain operational efficiencies.  Consequently, the FM Department is an integral part of any retail organization working closing with its stakeholders to provide excellent customer service. 

Generally, retailers’ use three business models to manage their facilities functions:  In-Sourcing; Co-Sourcing and Outsourcing.  The In-Sourcing model, which is the least common today, consists of a retailer having A o Z responsibility for maintenance from high level fiscal management to general maintenance repair staff handling  the service calls at stores.  The Co-Sourcing mode, which is most prevalent today, consists of the decision making and fiscal management responsibilities residing with the retailer’s in-house department and the daily maintenance and repair being outsourcing to third party vendors with specific trade expertise. The Outsourcing model, which is being adopted by some retailers today, calls for the fiscal management and FM related decisions along with the general maintenance work to be handed off to a third party provider.  Each model has its pros and cons and used based on the individual strategies of the retailer. 

About Retail Facilities Maintenance Professionals

The work lives of retail facilities maintenance professionals are challenging, rewarding and diverse.  They are quick thinking, problem solvers for retail stores whose onsite employees are primarily responsible for servicing customers and making sales. 

No two days are alike for RFM Professionals as their focus can change in an instance depending on the needs or unexpected events of a particular store.  HVAC failures, a power outage, or a health or city inspector can change the day’s “to do” in an instance.    RFM Professionals must be quick to react to ensure that store sales aren’t interrupted and business continues as usual. 

RFMs have an awesome responsibility within their companies to ensure their brands are safe and pristine environments inviting to the public.  Research studies have shown that poorly maintained stores at unsatisfactory temperatures can cause shoppers to retreat and take their business elsewhere.  This can cost the retailer thousands of dollars in sales and tarnish the brand’s image. 

Retail executives rely upon their facilities team to protect their brand’s image and efficiently manage the facilities expense.   RFM’s build their credibility with C-Suite executives by aligning their departments strategies with the company’s broader strategy.  Recognizing and advancing business processes and objectives that build the business and the company’s financial position go a long way to gaining recognition and trust of the C-Suite. 

They control millions of dollars in capital assets and maintenance budgets.  They also oversee centralized call centers handling store needs and manage a wide berth of vendors providing services such as landscaping, general maintenance, and cleaning to name a few. 

Facilities department staffing differs among retailers and is dependent on the retailer’s individual needs. But generally, budgets are controlled at the corporate level by a competent facilities management professional, at a Director or Vice President level, working with a FM team who also handles special projects (retrofits, re-openings, dark stores, etc.)  in addition to the routine daily maintenance requirements.

While many Retail Facilities Professionals do not enter the industry with a formal education in facilities maintenance, they have come into their present positions from other departments in retail, or with strong skills from commercial building maintenance, industry suppliers or the military.   Their on-the-job training has been enhanced with professional education and certification designations by industry associations, such as PRSM.  Today, there are several university program offering undergraduate and graduate programs in facilities management bringing a new breed of career minded professionals into the industry.