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Retaining tenants with the personal touch.

Retaining Tenants with the Personal Touch

A building's most valuable asset is its tenants. Yet, when managers develop an aggressive marketing and leasing program for an office building, existing tenants are frequently overlooked. However, the competition never overlooks your tenants. Aggressive brokers are canvassing your building regularly. The property manager can counter this action by developing a tenant retention program.

A tenant retention program has several components: improving the building, enhancing the building's tenant mix, adding amenities to the building, and developing tenants' employees' loyalty through the personal touch. This article will focus on developing the "personal touch" component of the tenant retention program.

Tenants' employees spend from eight to eighteen hours a day in the office, building. The workplace is their second home, and they should be made comfortable in this environment. This can be accomplished by de-institutionalizing the workplace.

The Frontier Building in Anchorage has developed a "personal touch" program that incorporates employee recognition, emergency procedures, community involvement, social activities, and quick response to tenants' requests.

Making personal contact

The first step in the "personal touch" program is obvious, but frequently overlooked: the manner in which the building tenants and their employees. Contacts with the employees are an opportunity to create a friendly environment and give personal recognition. Contacts occur during normal building operations: the daily building walk-through or weekly janitorial inspections.

The building's staff should know as many tenants by name as possible. Personal recognition makes the tenant feel important and part of the "inner circle." Building managers and staff are similar to the mayor's office of a small city. People feel special when they receive recognition from that office.

Visiting the break area at break times or greeting tenants in the lobby in the morning or evening provides excellent opportunities for employee contact. Locating the management office next to a break area or mail room allows the staff to recognize and get to know tenants as they pass by management's office door.

Janitorial and security personnel are key elements in tenant retention programs. All staff members must be friendly and helpul to tenants. Service personnel must be thoroughly briefed on how their work influences occupancy levels.

Security personnel are usually the last building contact of the day for tenants. if the experience is unpleasant, it is remembered and passed on. Similarly results of the night janitor's work are the first impression the tenant has of the building each morning. If those results are displeasing, the tenant begins the day with a negative impression.

Planning for tenant safety

Emergency procedures are the second element in a tenant retention program. Tenants' employees are familiar with their office and the common areas on their floor and the main lobby; the rest of the building is probably foreign, and even frightening to some. Confidence in management comes from the staff's ability to assure the tenant's safety. The unknown can erode comfort levels if tenants do not fully understand the building's safety and design features.

Tours of the building's mechanical system can expand the tenants' understanding of how air systems relate to sick building syndrome and to overall tenant comfort. Tenant knowledge of the building construction, fire/earthquake suppression systems, and fire and elevator safety systems can greatly reduce apprehension and discomfort.

Another means of familiarizing employees with the building is through practice evacuations. Surprisingly, evacuation and safety drills done properly can provide entertainment as well as safety value. Mini-seminars with the police and fire departments also educate employees on emergency procedures and make them more familiar with the building. Assigning responsibilities to floor wardens during an emergency gives tenants an active role in their safety.

After an emergency, real or simulated, the building's manager or assistant manager should visit each tenant and explain what happened and why management responded the way it did. This practice instills confidence in management's ability to respond to emergencies and eliminates rumors that can create fear and destroy that confidence.

Instilling a sense of community

The third component of a "personal touch" program is the development of a community spirit within the building. There are a variety of community involvement programs which establish such "espirit."

At the Frontier Building, an "Angel Tree" uses a simple paper angel with a needy child's first name and age to decorate the lobby's Christmas tree. (Lists of children's names will gladly be provided by the Salvation Army or other social service organizations.) Tenants take an angel, purchase a gift for the child, and deposit it under the tree. Activities such as food and blood drives are easily coordinated with the tenant's employees and community agencies. Community involvement promotes good will toward the building and gives tenants an easy way to contribute to a good cause.

Providing a sense of fun

Developing a calendar of social activities that enables employees to become acquinted with one another is the fourth element in a tenant retention program.

Each summer the Frontier Building celebrates an employee appreciation day with a picnic on top of the parking garage. The building's contractors are encouraged to share in the good will generated by participating in the cost of the event. Many tenants voluntarily participate by providing specialty food items. Each participant is recognized with a sign above the item it sponsors.

Many of these problems and solutions are incorporated into the building's public relations plan. All community events receive media coverage. When the fire department is conducting a special drill at the Frontier Building, the media is always present. Even the Tenants' Appreciation Day Picnic appears in one of the daily newspapers and on the local TV news hour.

"Brown Bag Seminars" are conducted during the lunch hour. Tenants in the building - bankers, stockbrokers, real estate firms, travel agents, beauty operators, and others--are invited to give short presentations of general interest. In addition, other topics of interest are presented by individuals and businesses outside the building.

The following is a list of "Brown Bag Seminars" conducted by the management staff of the Frontier Building.

The following is a list of "Brown Bag Seminars" conducted by the management staff of the Frontier Building.

January - Frontier Travel: Tropical Climate

Travel Packages February - Pete Panerece: Slides of a climb

in the Pamir Range in Russia March - Central Park Florist: Spring

flower arranging April - J.D. Wood: African safari slides May - Gary King Sporting Goods:

Fly trying June - REI: Bicycling through Alaska July - Achorage Organizing Committee:

1994 Olympics Street Rod Car Show: On top of garage

with tenants voting for best car August - Nordstrom Department Store:

Accessories workshop for

men and women September - Sunshine Sports: Cross-Country

skiing techniques October - Joe Redington, Sr.: Climb of

Mt. McKinley by dog team November - Central Park: Holiday floral

arrangements December - Holiday gift wrapping and

cookie exchange

These seminars provide a welcome relief to the work day.

Many employees are interested in furthering their career and personal growth. The International Toastmasters chapter meets at Frontier Building, and other educational opportunities are offered to improve the quality of work life. For example, a computer users' group, secretarial producedures seminar, or managers' leadership conference could be offered to enhance employees' business and performance skills.

A festive atmosphere is created during the Christmas season. On the 23rd of December, Christmas characters greet the employees at the building entrace, and "elevators elves" take tenants to their floor.

Responding to maintainance needs

The manner in which the building's staff responds to the tenants' needs is one of the most important elements in the "personal touch" program. Tenant problems are handled as priority items. A member of the maintenance staff handles hot and cold calls immediately with the building manager or assistant manager as back up. All janitorial problems are resolved by the manager or assistant manager.

Hot and cold calls receive hourly follow-up for the next three hours and during the following day until adjustments to the system are stabilized. Janitorial calls are followed up with visits by management over a period of three days to ensure the problem has been corrected. Personal attention instills confidence in management because tenants know that their needs are a priority.

Ensuring ongoing satisfaction

Improvements in the appearance of the building may often affect the success of tenant retention. Upgrading the building's curb side appeal by enhancing the landscaping or the building's signage are just some features that alter tenant perceptions.

Interior appearance can be enhanced by modernizing the elevators and elevators cabs, refurbishing the restrooms and the lobby, adding new wall treatment and flooring in the corridors, and developing an interior landscaping program that changes with the season. These improvements instill a sense of pride in the employees' workplace.

Upgrades to the building's life safety system include adding a sprinkler system, pressurizing the stairwells, appointing floor monitors, adding floor alarms, and installing evacuation schematics on each floor. Life safety systems instill a greater sense of safety and security in the employee.

Enhancement to the building's tenant mix, such as adding a restaurant, gift shop, hair salon, travel agency, or bank and instant teller machine, enable the employee to conduct personal business during breaks or immediately after work, thus saving invaluable personal time. Adding amenities to the building, such as a concierge desk, a mobile car was in the parking lot, a health club, or a day care center also save personal time.

The next phase of the Frontier Building's program is to improve on the building's internal communication by adding a monthly building newsletter, featuring events in the lives of the employees. A tenant employee discount program is being planned. Management will solicit discounts from local retailers and service businesses such as health clubs, restaurants, and gift shops, for the building employees.

Evaluating the cost of retention

The cost of the "personal touch" aspect of the building's tenant retention program is not measured in dollars. The tenant picnic is paid for principally by the building's contractors. The Angel Tree uses the lobby Christmas tree. The only program that costs more than $100 is the Christmas characters event.

The major investment is time. The building manager and staff together devote an average of 10 hours per month coordinating all the above events. New events are always evolving, limited primarily to the management staff's imagination.

Needless to say, the benefits that the employees receive are shared with their employees receive are shared with their employers. For many companies, especially service businesses, payroll cost is by far the company's largest expense, far exceeding rent. Happy employees who enjoy and are proud of their work environment improve the efficiency of a business and reduce employee turnover, thus increasing profitability. When this happens, tenants are less likely to be attracted to another building by a canvassing broker. Though it is impossible to quantify the actual increased income and savings in reduced tenant turnover costs, lowered concessions and saved commission costs, it is obvious that a comprehensive tenant retention program adds value to the building.

Richard R. Muhlebach, CPM [R] CSM, RPA is president of TRF Management Corporation of Bellevue, Washington, the largest commercial fee management company headquartered in the Northwest. He is also vice president of leasing for TRF Pacific, a commercial developer in the Northwest and Alaska. He has authored over 30 articles and received the JPM Article of the Year award in 1983 and 1985. He is on the faculty of IREM and the International Council of Shopping Centers.

James O. Wood, CPM [R] is vice president of property management for TRF, Management Corporation, Anchorage, Alaska. He oversees the operation and maintenance of 1.5 million square feet of commercial office and retail space in Alaska. This includes the management of the Frontier Building and Regional Park Plaza, where he is responsible for the management of a high-rise office building and adjacent parking structure and strip mall.

PHOTO : The Frontier Building's Angel Tree project not only benefitted needy families recommended by local charities, but brought tenants together in the spirit of holiday giving.

PHOTO : Tenant appreciation day provided an annual summer event to aid retention.
COPYRIGHT 1989 National Association of Realtors
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Muhlebach, Richard F.; Wood, James O.
Publication:Journal of Property Management
Date:Jan 1, 1989
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