Most small-business owners understand the importance of building maintenance, but few of them can spare the time and energy required to focus on it. Effective planning ensures a company remains operational and guards against the possibility of customers no longer patronizing the business because of property disrepair and inconvenient closures.
“Any downtime is going to take away from the productivity of you and your employees,” says Penny Pompei, CEO of Pompei International, a small-business consultant in Singer Island, Florida. “Planning for maintenance—before something breaks—is a critical factor in sound business management.”
Know the lease parameters
Many small-business owners rent their property initially, so they become accustomed to a landlord conducting regular inspections and completing most repairs. However, a growing number of small-business entrepreneurs—especially those in the retail industry—must sign a triple net lease, which makes them liable for all of the costs associated with maintenance.
“They’re so busy, and they have so many fires to put out already,” says Pompei, who also volunteers in the Palm Beach office of SCORE, an association dedicated to helping small-business entrepreneurs solve business-related problems. “It’s hard for them to focus on the need to do anything else.”
When one of Pompei’s clients discovered a leak in her air conditioning system, she called the company that manages the property and asked for someone to come out and repair the equipment. The company told her to check the lease because it clearly stated that she was responsible for any maintenance in addition to the damages rendered.
“It was a big blow to her profit and loss for that month because she had not factored in the cost of maintenance on an air conditioning system, nor the cost to replace the stained ceiling tiles and remove the mark running down the wall,” Pompei says.
Money remains particularly tight for small-business owners during their first few years of operation, making it even more difficult to budget properly for repairs. The longer a small establishment stays in business, though, the more resources an entrepreneur knows to set aside for building maintenance.
Manage the overall budget
“In an ideal world, everyone wants to do more preventative maintenance, whether they’re a small company or a large company,” says Patricia Dameron, executive director for the Professional Retail Store Maintenance Association. “Because they’re a small business, they have to be able to react very quickly to their customer needs.”
That slim margin of error increases the significance of planning and scheduling regular maintenance for small establishments. The cost to fix equipment following a breakdown proves to be much more than the time and expense of servicing it consistently, and the machinery will ultimately provide a longer lifecycle.
“Everyone is looking for ways to be the most cost-effective they can possibly be and save dollars,” says Dameron, who recommends seeking out a reliable service provider that can perform routine maintenance and respond immediately to urgent issues.
“Look for an opportunity where you can build a contract, or you could set up a regular routine schedule,” she adds. “That would mean you are a reliable piece of business for them, and they’re going to be more willing to work with you than if you’re just calling them out of the phonebook for a one-time service call.”
The ability to develop a long-term relationship with a dependable service provider gives entrepreneurs peace of mind and allows them to concentrate on the more pressing aspects of running a small business. “Everyone likes doing business with somebody they know and they can trust,” Dameron says.
Identify the essential assets
To maximize the investment in a service provider, small-business entrepreneurs should consider contracting a third party only for functions that are critical for their business. That way, they can avert catastrophic failures to their most precious equipment and make sure the business survives by keeping its doors open to potential customers.
“If you’re an ice cream company and it’s crucial that the refrigeration units always work, then you want to have a reliable maintenance company that is going to be there to repair whatever needs to be fixed so you can be back in business very quickly,” Dameron says.
“If you don’t have air conditioning and you’re in Minnesota, you might be able to live without it for 48 hours,” she adds. “But let’s say you’re a business in Arizona and it’s the middle of August—then that’s crucial to your operation.”
A small business in Minnesota, for example, might be better served hiring a company that can remove snow and ice from the property so that customers avoid slipping and falling on the premises. Planning ahead for this type of maintenance and putting the processes into place early on can help secure the future of a business.
“A lot of small-business owners are very hands-on, and they may not be setting up the relationships today that they expect to take with them as they grow,” Dameron says. “As business owners look at growing, they need to make sure they’ve got the right service providers that are growing with them and can continue to provide services for them.”
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