Retail destinations increasingly need to provide an outstanding customer experience to ensure people keep coming back. We find out how the FM team at the famous Bluewater shopping centre is contributing to its success
The retail sector has been going through a reboot in recent years to help it compete with the online shopping boom. The aim is to offer customers much more than just a place to shop, but a memorable day out which draws visitors back again and again.
This approach is exemplified by Bluewater, Europe’s leading retail and leisure destination. The shopping centre, which was forged out of a former chalk quarry in Kent, has a triangular design with a flagship store at each point – Marks & Spencer, John Lewis and House of Fraser. It is spread over two levels, with three distinct shopping malls featuring around 300 UK and international brands, 60 places to eat, 13,000 free parking spaces and 50 acres of lakes and parkland.
Co-owned and managed by Land Securities, Bluewater has appointed Incentive FM to provide the full range of FM services, including engineering maintenance, cleaning, security, grounds maintenance, environmental management, concierge services and traffic management.
The three-year deal, which began in October 2015 and can be extended for a further three years, is Incentive’s largest contract. Managing the facilities for a venue like Bluewater, which serves a catchment of 6.6 million people with £13 billion of available spend, is a massive challenge. Bruce McDonnell, Incentive FM’s Managing Director, believes it represents the largest true total facilities management single site contract in the private sector.
Explains McDonnell: “As part of our bid, we said ‘let’s live and breathe it for three months’, do a soft landing in essence, and look at our findings in our one hundred-day review. We presented this back and that gave us a road map of changes and developments which we are literally now just completing. The road map examined everything, from supply chain to staff structures, footfall alignment to service alignment. There isn’t any one department that hasn’t been changed as part of that process. It’s all about evolution.”
One of the key initiatives to come out of the hundred-day review was a look at the footfall analysis. This helped to determine where the peaks and troughs were, and make sure that the services aligned to visitor numbers. Put simply, when there are more people at the centre you need more cleaners picking up litter and putting it in bins. Equally if the cleaning team is performing a slightly more invasive deep clean, it should be done when the least number of people are using the facilities.
As far as visitors (known to Bluewater as guests) are concerned, Incentive’s people are interchangeable from Bluewater’s and are often the first port of call in terms of interaction. They manage the car parks, run the security and, crucially, man the concierge desks, which are dotted around the site to guide guests and help them make the most of their visit.
According to McDonnell, the main advantage of Incentive’s approach is its one-team ethos. “What we don’t do is act as a managing agent, with our cleaning business looking after the cleaners, security looking after the security etc. They are all on one payroll and work for one team,” he explains. “So, for instance, if you’re a security officer you should never step over a piece of litter, for that has an impact. Equally, if you’re a cleaner and you see something that doesn’t look right, that needs to be reported. The intention is to get everybody – and it doesn’t matter which part of the contract you work on – to work as one team.”
When it comes to results, it’s not just about meeting typical FM contract KPIs and SLAs. Given the importance of what Goodman describes as Bluewater’s ‘constant evolution in retail and catering’, the effect of the approach is professionally measured in terms of guest feedback.
Three years ago the Service Management Group (SMG) was engaged to work on Bluewater’s ‘share your thoughts programme’, which measures people’s experience of the centre. Guest feedback is gathered on a daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly basis, and as the programme has now run long enough to compare year on year, it has been built into Bluewater’s partnership relationship with Incentive.
Robert Goodman, Bluewater’s General Manager, says: “The team will look in particular at where we are in terms of highly satisfied guests, because we’ve done a lot of work with SMG around the benefits of moving our guests from being just ‘satisfied’ to ‘highly satisfied’. Our research shows that highly satisfied guests will come back again, tell their friends and spend more.”
For its part, Incentive has linked the SMG feedback into the reward mechanism for its team. This means that in addition to giving bonuses based on achieving standard KPIs, SMG data is also taken into account. This rewards staff who have bought into it and focused on it.
However, the focus is not just on the performance of the Incentive staff, as McDonnell explains: “It is as important for me to engage with the team as it is for me to engage with Bluewater management. So I make sure that whenever I am here I spend as much time as I possibly can walking the floor – we call it management by walking around – engaging with the team, thanking them and asking for feedback.
“That is something that we have tried to instill with the management team here to put this kind of measure in place. A typical complaint in the FM sector is that you never see people from management once the contract is won, with typical complaints being that ‘we saw you when you did the consultation but we haven’t seen you since.’ We don’t want to be those people, which is why the management team on site know this and rise to the challenge.”
The success of the contract is also dependent on offering the retailers, which include flagship stores for brands such as Top Shop and H&M, being satisfied with the facilities provided at the centre.
The 24/7 helpdesk facility is situated on site next to the centre’s police office, and staff spend a lot of time managing access control for the huge volume of contractors and delivery people – a lot of which is out of hours. And with retailers increasingly running to just in time deliveries, replenishing stock up to once a day, Incentive’s team is kept busy ensuring health and safety compliance procedures are met.
To help keep the centre fresh, Bluewater is constantly refreshing its retailer brands. When new retailers move into the centre, with the exception of the retail design element the whole process goes through the Incentive team. “As far as the retailers are concerned,” explains McDonnell, “We’re all viewed as one team, whether Bluewater or Incentive, which is exactly what we’re trying to achieve. We deal with retailers on a variety of areas, from waste management to compliance, which means we have regular contact with the tenants and have established an open and positive relationship.”
Adds Goodman: “We gather our guest customer feedback and we work very closely with our retailers, but ultimately for us it’s about being guest centric.” This means keeping a commitment to ensuring that Bluewater’s guests have such a good experience they come back, which helps to grow the business. After all, while people may be ready to share positive experiences, they’re always more than ready to share the negatives.
To encourage people to visit and revisit the centre, Bluewater holds regular events, whether it’s the Christmas lights switch on, or a visit by the Easter bunny. The Incentive team gets involved in the project management for all these events, including crowd control, security, cleaning, technical support and, of course, providing concierge hosts.
According to Goodman, guest feedback has shown that interaction with these hosts helps to drive positive feedback, which in turn helps the team to achieve that much desired ‘highly satisfied’ experience. “We use a lot of this data, but the important point is doing something with it,’ he says. ‘For instance, the management of car parking is very important to our guests, so a lot of planning goes into that.”
Future expansion plans include the redevelopment of Bluewater’s event space, which will include four new cinema screens, three new restaurants, and even a trampoline offer. In the longer term there is outlying planning permission to grow more space for existing retailers who want more space to expand their flagship stores.
Says Goodman: “We are a day out destination and we want people to come here and enjoy themselves. To create surprising and memorable experiences for our guests, we’ve got to get the basics right, which means ensuring we are clean, secure and safe, and that our services and restrooms are at world-class level.
“The people involved in helping us deliver this are key, which is why the TFM contract with Incentive helps us to ensure that this retail, dining and leisure destination is the best in the UK.”