James Massey

Before the Low Hanging Fruit, Pick up the Ones on the Ground

Real Estate 101: Turning your Properties into Resources, not just Assets

 

Customers are the lifeblood of any business and the vast majority of energy and focus is rightly spent on margins, products and what happens within “the four walls”. But with so much emphasis on operations and marketing, real estate – especially existing locations – is often treated with benign neglect.

 

In any bricks and mortar business, where real estate is key, the management of these assets affects many aspects of the business, and lack of easily accessible information can be costly. One common example is the hidden costs of non-operating properties. Are there other company uses for these properties? At the very least, these tie up funds that could be used elsewhere. You need to treat your existing real estate as dynamic resources with return responsibilities, and in turn, improve returns on your team’s efforts.

 

In my over 28 years working in real estate, financial planning and asset management with the world’s largest convenience retailer, I learned that some of the biggest drains on profit happen away from the spotlight – underutilized properties and capital wasted on poor investments.

 

Why does this happen?

 

The simple answer is that data for good decisions is often difficult to assemble and there are very few metrics that bring these opportunities to light. For example, when big capital programs are announced, the Construction Department doesn’t have time (or responsibility) to track down all concerns about every property. The people in charge of approvals stitch together decision criteria, but data is often unavailable. In the end, everyone does the best they can and the program is called a success because the last project was complete before the ball drops in Times Square. No one looks back because next year it all starts over again. If the worst happens, it takes place long after attention is focused elsewhere, or it’s not expensive enough to sound the alarm.

 

Because no one source of the truth exists, missed opportunities abound. By taking ownership of all data sets and ensuring a single source of the truth you can:

  • Free up cash by selling excess property or sub-renting vacant space.
  • Improve capital returns by making decisions with complete information.
  • Make many department’s lives easier by avoiding the maintenance and reconciliation of separate data sets.

OWN YOUR DATA….

How can you own your data? Your first step should be to simply set up data fields in your Store Lifecycle Management (SLM) or Integrated Workplace Management System (IWMS) solution to track facility usage at the department level – and in a manner that does not require specialty in their field. Remember, you will be sharing data so use terms that others can interpret. The system should have fields for every characteristic you need to be able to easily find and analyze quickly. Various teams must maintain data sets somewhere, so why not centralize all data in your SLM / IWMS solution? Facility attribute examples include:

  • Property Use – operating, closed, warehouse, pending, open
  • Special Facilities – training store, college campus, airport, kiosk, etc. Management frequently wants to look at profit trends and capital planning across all types of facilities, not just stores.
  • Acquisition – make the name meaningful, including Target/Area/Year (Ex: XYZ stores, TX – 2012). If you have more than one group of stores (seller, area or year), you can track each deal easily.
  • Sale/Leaseback – this helps identify properties with similar opportunities, restrictions or lease patterns.
  • Divestiture Group – if you have assigned leases, you may have to assess potential liability if your buyer declares bankruptcy.

In addition, keep decision-critical data about properties:

  • Closure Approval and Planned Date – simplifies repair/replace decisions; one of our clients found that over $1M was spent each year on capital maintenance in stores that closed within 12 months.
  • Lease End Date – get more lease term or finish negotiations before large capital expenditures.
  • Relocation in Progress – sometimes stores close because of their success, not problems. Because these don’t go through the normal closure process, they sometimes get missed.
  • Market Value – do you have a deal? You might also have an “opportunity” because rents are well over market, effectively reducing the incremental relocation cost.
  • Status – What is the status of key activities? Example: if for sale, is it under contract? If waiting for a franchisee, has one been found?
  • Life Changing Events – some record pivotal events that affect subsequent operating or real estate decisions – like loss of customers due to major layoffs or furloughs. Can stores be saved? What has been done? Are there operations reports you can tap that can help decisions?

KEEP, BUT DON’T OWN…

So should you take responsibility for all real estate-related data? Obviously not. Some areas are far too complex, and most users outside of those departments don’t need much detail. The key is commonly used data for the company. However, data-intensive departments spend SO much time keeping their systems current, they are not going to key the data twice. In these cases, it is better to plan simple integrations to give better visibility to their data. Your SLM / IWMS may be the only platform for information on all properties (active, dead and under construction), so it often requires the least work to serve a broad audience. Areas to integrate include:

  • Organization hierarchy (Division/Regions)–these fields are usually maintained by the Financial Reporting department.
  • Franchise ownership/territories – Legal is often the best source for this complex issue.
  • Cost to Close – Greatly impacts closure and renewal decisions so Accounting is the best source.
  • Impaired properties – this decision is usually owned by Finance or Accounting.

How do you get people to participate? In my experience, most see asset tracking as a task they’ll gladly relinquish. As more data passes through your group, mutual dependence will encourage broad cooperation. The net of all this is you can save money, make others’ lives easier and give visibility to the good work your team does by simply taking responsibility for tracking your companies real estate assets.

 

Finally, for all this to work, data must be accessible to those that use it, which means some sort of reporting/query capability. You’ll want to make sure users are self-sufficient in this area or you risk creating a burden for yourself. Plus, if others cannot have data on demand, they will not give up control. The good news is that for most users, the reports are now very easy to construct because so many decision-relevant elements are in one place.

 

I’ve listed some of the more common real estate data that is used across departments, how decisions made by one department affect the decisions of another and how the organization of simple data can improve decision effectiveness. How much lost opportunity have you witnessed? As you take on the design and implementation of an SLM or IWMS solution, make sure to take the easy wins and help others see real estate as you do – as active resources, not just assets.

 

For my insights into developing smarter location strategies and making better capital investment decisions, download Tango's Predictive Analytics datasheet below.

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