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A Solid Foundation for Partnership

For vendors and FMs, communication is vital to ensure a good working relationship.

By Jason Henninger


To be a successful multi-site facilities manager, you must be knowledgeable about the mechanical and physical side of the business — HVAC equipment, plumbing, waste management, lighting and more.


But being good with people is also crucial. Building and maintaining solid relationships with vendors and suppliers can make the difference between efficiency and chaos. Good supplier relations lead to efficient operations and improved service delivery.

Christina Schechter, Fexa
Christina Schechter, Fexa

What’s the best way to create these relationships? “Treat people like they’re people,” said Christina Schechter, Manager of Implementation and Professional Services at Fexa, a provider of retail management software. She believes the goal is to provide a partnership more than simply a service.

Donnie Geyer, Bath & Body Works
Donnie Geyer, Bath & Body Works

“We truly believe that having a strong relationship with our partners is key to everyone's success,” said Donnie Geyer, Director of Store Facilities for Bath & Body Works. Currently operating about 1,800 stores nationwide, Bath & Body Works is pretty evenly split between malls and freestanding locations and values its relationships with vendors and suppliers in either case.


“If you approach it as a partnership, things will always go more smoothly with open interaction and communication,” said Danita Leach, Project Manager at Fexa. “Our end goals are always going to be the same for both parties: do good work and complete the work in a timely manner for the agreed-upon cost.”


What Makes a Great Working Partnership?

Danita Leach, Fexa
Danita Leach, Fexa

The hallmarks of a good partnership include prompt, clear communication and accurate expectations. How can suppliers and FMs develop this kind of partnership? Part of the answer is to be honest and move slowly.


Geyer pointed to his relationship with Fexa as an example of a relationship done right.


Starting a partnership with the vendor is typically a very slow process, he said. “When we first met and started speaking with Fexa, we were meeting the executives — talking about services and costs and things like that — and continued that conversation to build the relationship before it got down to brass tacks.”


Some companies, Geyer said, will promise the world and say they're great at everything, but of course, no one is great at everything. “They were really good at underpromising and overdelivering, while being very realistic in their expectations,” he said. “I think that's key.”  


When Things Go Wrong

This relationship-centered approach is especially important when emergencies arise or the scope of a project begins to change regarding time or cost. Without that sense of partnership, things can go south quickly. In fact, the biggest red flag of a deteriorating FM-vendor relationship is diminished communication on either side.


With an honest, established and realistic flow of information between the FM and vendor, changes can be accounted for without harming the sense of trust. It also may keep further problems from forming.


“From the vendor or supplier perspective, the top priority in that relationship should be the intent to make the FM’s life easier,” Schechter said. “When the FM calls you, and they have a dire emergency, they need to know they can count on you. When they have that trust in you, that's when you know that you have a solid relationship with them.”


Leach stressed that when changes and difficulties arise on the vendor side, the response should be immediate. “As soon as an issue is brought to your attention, it should definitely be brought to your FM's attention, and they should work hand-in-hand with you,” she said. “You want to explore what changes are being made and any cost difference involved and make it a conversation with them, not just you telling them what it will be. And you want to provide that information in writing, as well.”

That said, it’s possible to have great communication and still not be a good fit. It may be that a sales rep has a rapport with an FM, but the promised goods are never quite delivered. Even when it’s a poor match, open communication is best because the expectations have been laid out and should the business relationship come to an end, it can be handled with civility and clarity.


Maintaining camaraderie between FMs and vendors is both a challenge and a reward. “It's like having a personal relationship with a friend,” Geyer said. “You have to get past all the bumps in the road. However, we can all work through the challenges and differences if we communicate. That's just the biggest thing I've learned over the years.”

Looking for more Supplier and Multi-Site FM networking opportunities? Check out the Connex Xperience events this summer!

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