In the Lap of Luxury
Luxury brand FMs face additional challenges with store maintenance.
By Scott Mason
Facilities managers are faced with an ever-increasing mountain of tasks on a day-to-day basis. From maintenance and replacement to financial budgeting, an FM’s day is never dull. But for facilities professionals who work for luxury brands, that list of responsibilities and standards that must be upheld grows beyond what you see with traditional retail locations.
Luxury retail in the United States is as popular as ever, with growth on the horizon. Revenues are estimated to be at $69.52 billion in 2022, and the market is expected to grow annually by 3.26%. And according to the recently released data from ConnexFM, luxury FMs make up 6% of membership. While that number may seem small, all facilities professionals can learn a thing or two from this niche within multi-site retail.
What Makes Luxury Facilities Different?
When a customer walks into a luxury store, they’re expecting a more enhanced experience than that of a standard retailer. Alan Donohoe, Director of Store Planning Preservation Department at Louis Vuitton, likened what customers expect from one of his facilities to that of a museum or luxury car. “I describe it like having a Bentley but having six kids that you have to bring to soccer practice every day,” he said. “We build them like a museum, but they’re for everybody to go into.”
Jordan Campbell, Manager of Architecture Preservation at Bottega Veneta, agreed. “Part of the deal that we have with our customers is when you come into our stores, it’s a true luxury experience,” he said. “You're buying a little treasure that has taken an artisan several days, if not weeks, to craft. As a facilities manager, I'm in charge of making sure that every aspect of the physical condition of that store is up to that luxury standard.”
Here are a few areas that luxury FMs have to pay special attention to.
The first thing a customer will notice when entering a luxury store is how the products are displayed and the flow of traffic as they walk throughout the facility. Campbell said that he works closely with store managers to determine the best layout for consumers. “We involve the operators of our stores, including seasoned store managers, to recommend the customer flow that is really going to work best for their space,” he said. “We want to drive that customer from the initial greeting through what we refer to as the ‘selling ceremony.’”
While mentioned earlier by both Donohoe and Campbell that luxury stores are built like museums, it’s important to understand that any design or layout should not inhibit the true function of the space — these are retail stores, after all. “It shouldn’t be so delicate that staff or customers can’t actually use it,” Campbell said.
Customers expect an immaculate presentation when shopping for luxury items, and FMs must respond accordingly.
Campbell said the stores he manages were already pristine pre-pandemic, but that cleaning regimens increased as the world dealt with COVID-19. “One thing that we did implement, particularly in our higher-volume locations, is increased spot cleaning of high-touch areas,” he said.
Features like merchandise display cases need to be kept spotless and smudge-free. This can be performed by janitorial crews after operational hours, but also by staff throughout the day, although Campbell said he prefers to keep in-store staff cleaning to a minimum.
FMs also need to consider food and beverage spillage. Some luxury retailers will offer snacks or drinks to customers who are perusing the store, and a carpet stain or other floor damage caused by dropped refreshments can result in a facility presentation luxury FMs wish to avoid.
With merchandise often carrying a higher value or cost than your typical retail store, enhanced security is necessary to ensure the safety of the facility.
While he doesn’t directly oversee security staffing, Campbell noted that Bottega Veneta has a daily guard service to ensure the safety of the merchandise, customers and facility itself. “Guards are there every day, and they really develop a relationship with our staff,” he said. Sometimes, they even recognize clients who come by regularly. “They do tend to start to feel more like internal hires,” he continued.
But security guard staffing shortages are causing issues across the country. According to a recent Thinkcurity survey of 400 security guard firms in the United States, 34% of firms said their staffs were well below pre-pandemic levels. These low staffing numbers can lead to a variety of issues:
Decreased numbers of security guards may result in increased costs for guard services, and in turn increased spending for brands, taking away monetary resources from facilities departments.
Guards may be working longer hours than normal, potentially decreasing effectiveness.
Increased turnover may result in new or less-experienced guards being deployed to facilities.
Problems that result from security concerns may not be pinned back on FMs directly, but issues can trickle down to facilities departments, causing additional maintenance pain points.
However, Donohoe noted that while security is important, the customer experience reigns supreme. “We do anything and everything we can to limit our [security] exposures both during and after hours,” he said. “But as much as we don't want items stolen or damaged, the client experience is always the most important thing to us.”
Relationships with Suppliers
For luxury brand FMs, the suppliers you choose to work with have to be the best of the best.
Donohoe explained that he prefers to work with suppliers who have experience with similar brands to Louis Vuitton. “We try not to be the ‘guinea pig’ for a new [supplier] company or a company that's never done luxury maintenance before,” he said. “It's not the easiest to come in and take care of a Louis Vuitton when you've been taking care of a different type of facility.” Maintenance that may be allowed to take place in a traditional retail environment, like repairs during hours of operations while customers are present, are just not allowed at luxury retail facilities.
Campbell stressed that references from industry colleagues is the best way to vet potential supplier partners. “If a [supplier] is successful with other luxury retailers, particularly ones that I'm familiar with, that is a huge step in the right direction for me,” he said.
Donohoe noted that suppliers should be aware of the challenges luxury FMs face with regards to peak hours. “As FMs, we wish more suppliers understood the fact that retail facilities are seven-day-a-week operations — retailers do most of their business on the weekend, but they don't have their A-team on the weekend,” he said. This translates to needing supplier partners to be more readily available to assist with maintenance needs on weekends.
Advice for Membership
Both Campbell and Donohoe offered advice for any ConnexFM member who is considering working in the luxury retail space.
“The most important skills an aspiring luxury FM would need are attention to detail and creativity,” Donohoe said. “Being able to react and to ‘MacGyver’ a situation is necessary because you can have anything and everything thrown at you on any given day. You must be able to react quickly and creatively.”
Campbell also suggested any FMs with interest in the luxury field to stop by the Luxury Roundtables held at ConnexFM events to get a better understanding of what he and his peers are experiencing. “There's no Luxury Roundtable ‘police’ that are going to kick you out because your brand is not cool enough,” he joked. “Come join us and build those strong relationships.”