Someone mentioned that Paris is the most visited city by tourists in the entire world. After visiting there in June, I have to believe that every tourist visited the same week that we attended the retailer roundtable.
It did not help that the train workers went on strike the same week which made getting around the city an absolute challenge to navigate. What normally takes 5 minutes in a taxi took 30 minutes and cost 10 times the normal fare. The locals were unperturbed, France does have a culture of strikes, but they tend to be short, local affairs that affect one company rather than vast national movements, even though those are the ones you hear most about. It's a matter of history: French citizens won the right to strike 20 years before they got the right to unionize, creating a culture of workplace power struggles.
This still did not stop over 8 major retailers from getting together to hold the 1st ever European Retailer Roundtable meeting in Paris.
This meeting was held a a hotel in Paris over a two day period and included retailers such as Abercrombie, Apple, DFG, Estee Lauder, Fossil, Gap, Sephora & Swarovski. There was an interesting group of job titles ranging from Facilities Managers to Sourcing Specialists to Procurement to Sustainability and Construction.
Paul Walsh, of Paul Walsh Consulting, kicked off the meeting by welcoming both the retailer and supplier attendees to Paris. Paul re-emphasized that the reason we come together for these meetings is to network and share best practices.
France is a unique place to do business in the sense that the requirements are somewhat different from many other countries in Europe and around the world. In order to support our brands, we owe it to the companies that we represent to familiarize ourselves with the requirements and laws in order to effectively do business.
Unlike the U.S. where the retail facilities management industry is more mature and there is an abundance of vendors to choose from who are quite sophisticated and often specialize in supporting retail or multi site locations only, the difference i have noticed with Europe is that there is an almost complete reliance on major companies that hire sub-contractors to actually do the work.
This adds a layer of management that is typically absent in the U.S. Of course, there are multiple languages and currencies to navigate which adds another layer of complexity also absent in the U.S.
The meeting kicked off with each attendee introducing themselves, their role and what they hoped to gain from attending the retailer roundtable. A common theme heard from the retailer attendees was that they wanted to build their network, learn how retailers are structured to support facilities, what their organizational structure look like, share best practices, what has worked well and finally discuss areas where they need input from their retailer colleagues.
There was a presentation from IR317, a company that assists retailers to understand the legal compliances when constructing or remodeling a store in France as well as the some of the legally required post-store opening inspections. Basically, if you know how to operate in France, what is required, you can open a store on time and learn how to keep it open. There are additional challenges when it comes to managing store remodels but again, what is key is knowing what is required from an administrative and process point of view. There is a heavy reliance on architects and consultants throughout this process. The group discussed what they had just learned and shared best practices based on their experience in opening and closing stores.
LED – you cannot have a conversation between multiple retailers without the topic of LED coming up at some point during the day. We had anticipated this and invited Optelma, a lighting and LED company serving Europe to talk about what is new in this field of lighting and to share what they know about the challenges around LED. The presentation was extremely informative and the questions that followed demonstrated that many of the retailers already knew a lot about LED and wanted more information about the payback and energy savings associated with LED. The attendees discussed topics such as distribution of light bulbs across Europe, challenges associated with designs that come out of the U.S. but have to be implemented in Europe and how best to educate everyone on the challenges and differences that exist.
Steven Gottfried, CEO of ServiceChannel and main sponsor of the European Retailer Roundtable shared some important benchmarking information that his company has developed over the past few years. He promised that by the time the group meets again in September, he will have benchmarking information just for Europe.
Steven shared a view of the industry from his vantage point. He sees more and more U.S. companies expanding internationally to both East & West and recognizes that ServiceChannel needs to continually adapt and grow to support these retailers. The launch of Google Translate across ServiceChannel has been applauded by their current customer base especially those that are U.S. based and need to support multiple languages in Europe and Asia. Steven also shared the latest update on Fixxbook and how ServiceChannel is building a network of commercial service companies that can provide service across Europe. This was of major interest to the attendees.
A discussion followed about the importance of benchmarking, and how can we compare what each retailer is doing compared to our peers. This was a heated debate with a lot of passion on all sides about the merits of benchmarking. Many discussed the need for certain naming standards for similar issue types and, more importantly, the differences between the US & Europe when it comes to retail facilities maintenance. For example in the U.S., each trade is usually managed separately but in Europe, MEP (Mechanical, Electrical & Plumbing) is typically one category.
We ended the day with a presentation by Gerry Walsh from Dynamic Resources where Gerry shared an overview of his company, a major fixture installer in Europe. Gerry talked about his extensive network of self performing contractors located across Europe. Each sub-contractor is trained at Dynamic’s main training center in Dublin, Ireland and is certified before they can do any work. Gerry answered questions about the challenges of setting up a network that crosses multiple countries, languages and currencies.
We wrapped up the day with a recap of what we had learned and a general discussion on other issues that had not been covered during the day.
Later that evening, we all met up for dinner and continued to network and discuss issues that were of importance to each other.
Friday, June 20th, we started the morning with a tour of the Apple Grand Opera store lead by Karen Paxton, the Apple Preservation manager for Apple. This was an excellent opportunity to visit a store in France, understand from the store operator some of their challenges and ask questions of each other related to the various elements in the store. The team spent about an hour in the store including listening to some of the initial challenges that faced Apple and how they worked with various agencies to make sure that they were all in compliance. We discussed lighting again. security, how we track who is coming into the store, work order management and the role of the store, when work can take place, and how Apple deals with urgent calls. The store visit was one of the highlights of the meeting.
After arriving back to the meeting room, Ken Engle from Dollar Financial Group provided an overview of the maintenance structure within his company and shared the challenges that faced Dollar as they entered into new markets in Europe. There was a lot of dialogue around three main topics:
- What is the right structure for a retail maintenance department?
- Sourcing local service providers across numerous countries in Europe
- Communication challenges related to language differences between countries in Europe.
Benchmarking came up again as a topic and we agreed to spend more time during our next meeting exploring how we can potentially share data that would all help us with our current responsibilities.
The group discussed vendors and how to share the names of vendors that are setup to support retail facilities type work in Europe. The group agreed that when they next meet, each participant would add their vendor names to a database.
We talked about the meeting format itself, what had worked well and what could be done better next time we met.
It was agreed that we would have less speakers and more time for dialogue between the retailers that attended. The group agreed that each speaker provided great substance but that the balance needs to lean more toward discussion, with only retailers present.
It was agreed that the next meeting would be held in September or October in London or Amsterdam and that each attendee would commit to trying to invite one retailer to the next event.