Each holiday season, I am greeted by an enormous collection of cards and branded trinkets on my desk, multiplying day by day until the New Year. As I sift through the piles, I am reminded of just how many personal relationships are maintained in property management. In our industry, development of new relationship opportunities and maintaining current relationships often are tenant and client focused. After all, they are the reason we have this profession in the first place. But when I glance at the names signed at the bottom of these cards, I can’t help but notice that most of them are my vendors, vendors upon whom I have called in some of the most confusing and pressured moments of my career. This notion that they should be thanking me is a bit backward. Many of my successes are a direct reflection of their expertise and execution.
How do we foster these vendor relationships? Developing a genuine interest in the people and their company’s goals helps identify the vendor’s strengths and gives you a better understanding of their objectives. Determining how you can utilize their expertise and showcase their talents will result in relationships that are mutually beneficial. By doing so, the vendor is set up for greater success and the outcome is generally more positive from the building’s perspective.
With the constraints of a property manager’s time, the ability to cultivate a meaningful relationship with every vendor is impossible. Therefore, it is imperative to be purposeful with the ones you do choose. That’s not to say that every vendor relationship is not important but focusing on vendors that directly correlate with your building’s positioning and program for deployment of future repair and maintenance and capital projects will serve you best. In my case, I have chosen to focus on vendors such as janitorial service providers, who have a daily impact on the happiness of my tenants, as well as general contractors, upon whom I depend heavily to ensure my tenant improvement projects are run with precision, resulting in the meeting of both my financial and timeline goals.
It also is important to understand how your internal company promotes vendors relations. We treat our vendors as a customer or client. Vendors receive periodic gifts and thank you notes. In addition, we focus on such things as: Do we pay on time? Are our buildings and staff prepared for the vendor to begin work? Do we respect a vendor’s time and not overuse the bidding process, deterring the vendor from responding to requests for proposals? Our proprietary training program includes a full module on developing successful relationships with vendors. This results in a consistent approach across our management ranks.
With a strong market and a shortage of labor to fill vacant positions, Colorado vendors can be more selective as to which customers they want to work with based on profit potential and relative proximity. This dynamic looks very different from that of 10 years ago, and managers must take into account that vendors do not necessarily need you. The goal is for you to court your vendors, so that they want to do business with you.
It may seem overwhelming to add vendor relations to the priority list, but even small efforts can make a big impact. It can be as simple as being proactive in your communications with them or acknowledging a referral they provided for a future client or employee. Writing a thank you note to recognize their efforts on a well-executed TI project or to boast about a positive interaction with an individual employee goes a long way as well. Our success depends on the arsenal of vendors with whom we have surrounded ourselves. If we have prudently selected and fostered relationships with vendors who view property management as partners, and not merely customers, they are much more likely to exceed expectations in both cost-effectiveness and quality of work. This creates additional value for clients and tenants and should be at the forefront of our intentions.
I encourage all property managers to evaluate their own perception of vendor customer service and reserve time to get to know and find meaningful ways to appreciate them. After all, we simply cannot be successful at our jobs without them.