Jonathan Gains of ResiGains was recently interviewed by UK Build to Rent to discuss management operations in BTR. The interview is reproduced below by kind permission or you can read the original interview here.
Q: What is the best pound saver for operating cost you’ve seen in your career?
A: There is already so much pressure on the Opex that finding a silver bullet to move the needle significantly is difficult, the key challenge being how to engineer out cost without diminishing the value proposition for residents.
Technology will increasingly provide the key to reducing operating costs, and some good single solution software products exist that address one or other of the key building management issues. The problem is that implementing a patchwork of siloed solutions quickly lifts the overall tech stack cost and creates a drag on the Opex rather than a tailwind.
A better solution would be a single integrated platform delivering multiple incremental Opex benefits from different functionalities, and identifying cost saving opportunities through insights that are invisible to single function systems.
I am currently working on the launch of Kotelo for example, a new building management platform which combines resident engagement tools with access controls and physical sensors to provide a digital platform on which to run the physical building and deliver resident services. Each functionality of the Kotelo platform maps to a different area of the Opex, so a deployment will reduce the overall operating costs and complexity for managers while raising service standards for residents. A virtuous circle.
Q: What advice would you give to someone first hiring for a BTR development management team?
A: I’d be advising clients not to try and squeeze every onsite function into a single role and expect flawless delivery across the board.
If a job description includes acting as front desk concierge; parcel distribution manager; check-in and check-out supervisor; bin storage manager; viewings negotiator; parking warden; defects inspector; inventory clerk; complaints handler; toilet flusher in empty units; and community events organiser, then it’s probably not going to be a recipe for success!
Equally, I wouldn’t be advising clients to split these tasks into more and more headcount for the building.
Onsite roles are an expensive overhead, so operators must have a clear understanding of where onsite roles really add value, then create other support mechanisms for building and resident management to free up the bandwidth to do so.
As in so many areas, technology will be key in optimising this balance in future delivery models.
Q: Who do you see as an outstanding build to rent management company and why?
A: I’m continually impressed by Moda Living having seen their journey from the early stages through to opening their first building in Manchester last year. Moda invested considerable time and brainpower thinking through their brand and service delivery model long before opening. The result at Angel Gardens is an amazing building with a great onsite team who have been rightly recognised for their great approach to resident management and welfare during lockdown. With a strong pipeline of future schemes, I expect Moda to remain at the forefront of UK operators for the foreseeable future.
I’m also interested to see the growing impact of large US operators coming into the UK market. Speaking to American operators in the UK, what comes across clearly is the depth of corporate operating experience they bring from the hugely established Multi-Family market. Over time, I expect to see new market norms emerging as a result in areas like staff hiring and training, use of technology, yield management strategies and customer service commitments.
Q: What is a unique or quirky management technique that you felt really worked well within the development?
A: This would be a role that exists mainly in my mind and inspired by a trip to Disneyworld with my son a few years ago – an amazing experience and an education in customer focus. Disney became world class at operating theme parks by creating the perfect blend of place, people and technology and then endlessly re-engineering the recipe with astonishing attention to detail to deliver a seamless and near-perfect guest experience.
With my imaginary CEO hat on then, I’d hire someone with Disney guest experience skills and task them with de-constructing and rebuilding the entire BTR resident experience from start to finish, sprinkling in some little moments of delight along the way, to end up with a world class operating model. Simples!
Q: What do you think will be the separator of top tier management companies in the coming decade?
A: Almost every aspect of our daily lives is now lived digitally, but building management remains one of the few exceptions. Technology allows operators to unlock potential in building management that is unreachable without a digital backbone. For me it is clear.
The next generation of top dog management companies will be those that embrace technology at the core of their building management model.
Not everything in this brave new world of technology is yet available, but platforms such as Kotelo are being built to anticipate the new possibilities that 5G and the Internet-of-Things will bring. Couple that with machine learning and process automation and you are looking at a transformation in the way residential buildings can be operated, freeing up onsite roles to focus on managing the resident experience.
Q: BTR management is all about fostering a community within the development – how important is integrating that community feeling to the wider area and how is this currently being achieved?
A: Management operators have a great opportunity to take the ingredients of place, people and technology and blend these to create the conditions where community activity can evolve naturally. BTR buildings provide a variety of indoor and outdoor places; the people are there in the building and potentially around it too; and the right technology platform can support and empower groups to come together, either with or without management intervention.
In terms of the wider local community, I hope more BTR schemes will offer semi-public areas such as co-working suites, cafes or gyms which can be accessed by residents and non-residents alike at certain times of the day. External areas around buildings can also be configured for better public access and community use rather than just for the enjoyment of residents. Areas of semi-open use like this can help break down the hard barriers that otherwise exist between a building and its place in the community.
Smart access control systems support the management of semi-public areas like this without compromising security and the separation of resident-only spaces. Technology platforms that support residents can also be integrated with local community groups to further blur the sharp edge between what is just for residents and what is available to others in a wider community.
Q: What do you see as the core values that should underpin any management team in a BTR?
A: Good people are by far the most important resource in operational management, so hiring and developing great individuals who care enough to go the extra mile in delivery should be a prerequisite.
Beyond that, there are many influencing factors that can help the management team achieve success in an often challenging role – a strong leadership team; good business model; clear customer proposition; thought-out operating model; clearly mapped business processes; strong technology systems; comprehensive and relevant training; supportive line management; motivational rewards and recognition; and the opportunity for career development, to name but a few.
Managing large residential buildings brings a variety of tasks and challenges on a daily basis, and on occasion also involves dealing with situations that can put extreme pressure on the delivery team. A heating system failure at the coldest time of year, a serious security incident on the doorstep, or the many impacts of a global pandemic such as we continue to experience. When the chips are down, you can only call on what you have in place, so it pays to build on strong foundations for just these moments.
(Published by UK Build to Rent on Monday 2nd November and reproduced by kind permission)