Trouble in Large Retail

Trouble in Large Retail


Jul 29, 2021


It is now received wisdom that Australia’s retail sector is in trouble. Depending on your place within that broad category, the defining moment might have been the shuttering of Roger David in November 2018 after 75 years in business; or it may have been in that same year when Myer reported its first ever full-year loss.

But if you were to step into a large shopping centre in a major city, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the death of bricks and mortar shopping is a myth. Even on weekdays, malls are busy; on weekends, they’re bursting at the seams.

The incongruity might be explained by what those people are doing. While it’s true that Department Stores have experienced a consistent drop between 2014 and 2019, restaurants, fast food and clothing (as in, boutique stores) have all recorded strong gains. Gyms and Fitness Centres, now becoming commonplace even in small suburban malls, have experienced near 5% growth in that 5 year period.

Weekday traffic in large retail centres might be further explained by the shift from some retail types to general commercial office space. Every large mall now offers some adjunct facility to rent general office space or for shared workspaces. This is a key growth opportunity for large retail facilities as city centres and inner suburbs become increasingly overcrowded. The ability to get to a job in the outer suburbs and avoid city traffic is a draw, as is the easy availability of all the other services a shopping centre provides- from food to medical care, all without having to leave the grounds. To a smaller extent, shopping centres offering accommodation facilities for visiting shoppers is another growth market, though it’s far more limited in potential.

Supermarkets, which work both within and without the large retail sector, are facing their own crises. While they have jumped onto online shopping and delivery with more enthusiasm than their big-box counterparts, it still feels like hedging. When Amazon and/or Costco put their full shoulder into online delivery of grocery staples in Australia, supermarkets will need to have something else to offer. Luckily they do, with some fairly wholesome ready-to-eat meals. Of course, this means fitting supermarkets with plant for cooking, exhaust, hygiene and waste. All of this adds to the load for facilities managers of supermarkets and their wider ecosystems- shopping malls and neighbourhood shopping strips.

Lastly, while malls have always offered entertainment in the form of cinemas and arcades, that sector has room to grow with the hazy category of ‘Retailtainment’. While this can be applied to a more immersive and interactive retail shopping experience, it can also apply to bars, seated restaurants, lending libraries, creches and other service-based retail outlets that capitalize on the spaces left destitute by the rise of online commodity shopping.

For a retail facilities manager, the job of managing a large shopping centre was already varied and hectic enough- some tenancies are kiosks in the middle of a common space that require nothing but power and maybe the occasional handyman, while food retail require everything from plumbing to waste disposal to independent HVAC. With office space and hotels, the role gets only bigger and broader, and the pace of change would be relentless. What tools do retail facilities managers have at their disposal?

The Legacy of Legacy

When it comes to software, FMs in retail are in a similar position to other sectors that are outside of the core legacy sector that defines FM- namely commercial and industrial real estate. While a commercial FM has the benefit of being able to control the pace of change in their facilities, a retail FM must deal with almost constant change. Software that requires sitting at a workstation is de rigueur for a regular FM, and would be utterly pointless for a retail FM that is away from their desk most of the day. A fully featured mobile app is necessary.

Another key consideration for a retail FM is the need to add, delete and modify the tenancy list on an almost daily basis. In commercial real estate, adding a new building to your portfolio would be a relatively rare affair, with plenty of forewarning as leases are being worked out with bump-ins going on over several days at least. In large retail, where all the leasing action takes place under one roof, the need to have top-down control of how your tenancies are displayed in the system is crucial. You simply do not have the time to wait for IT to populate a new facility in a system with assets, geography and documents- you need to be able to do all of that yourself, and have it always be available.

Lastly, while communication is the key to any FM success, in a large retail environment a lack of communication tools would create near-constant stress and anxiety. Mobile phones are good, but then a record still has to be recorded somewhere, eventually. And most importantly, inductions and other documents must be kept up to date as meticulously as possible, to avoid delays when contractors come onsite in an emergency.

FMClarity offers an uncluttered, web-based front end that’s immediately familiar and easy to navigate. Both the web and mobile apps are easily accessible on any device. High-level access to modify asset and property databases are available to facilities managers and relevant staff. All communication can take place within the app, with all live-chat time stamped and logged per work order, or per site- making announcements much more straightforward than email distribution lists. Documents and inductions can be quickly set up with rules to prompt alerts, restrict or allow access depending on the guidelines that the user needs.

Large retail is arguably the most demanding built environment for facilities professionals. As it moves to ever-more complicated mixed-use environments, your organization will need to make sure that it has FM Job Software tools that are lightweight, but powerful. Easy to implement, and easy to modify. Most importantly, you will need FM software that is immediately familiar and that takes User Experience seriously.

FMClarity creates simple, intuitive and powerful Facilities Management software that makes the job of managing facilities and compliance dramatically easier than anything else in the market. To find out how our cloud-based, easily implemented software can benefit your organization, contact us on 1300 111 FMC (362) or