TechView: Technology Drives Real-Time Property Management

Planned Companies, New Jersey, Newark, San Francisco, Atlanta, University of Pennsylvania, Parsippany, Brooklyn, Alexandria, Atlanta, Freehold, Nordstrom
Image credit: Planned Companies

By Meghan Hall

The advent of the internet and mobile phones have impacted every industry, driving clients’ desires for instant updates and quick service. This trend has also urged landlords and property owners to respond much faster to tenant requests. Planned Companies, which began in 1898 in New Jersey, has evolved alongside the tech revolution to deliver janitorial, maintenance, security and concierge services to tenants.

The Registry spoke with Robert Francis, the chief executive officer of Planned Companies, to learn more about property management in today’s tech-driven era.

Robert Francis, Planned Companies CFO

Can you tell me a little about yourself and your role at Planned Companies, as well as a bit about the platform (where and when it was founded, etc.)?

Planned is a fourth-generation business founded by my great grandfather in 1898, in Newark, N.J. We started as window cleaners because it was one of the easiest businesses to start; [we] just had a bucket of water, a mop, a rag and a squeegee, and we didn’t speak strong English. [The] inspiration was to start working, and if we cleaned one store front the right way, with consistency and passion, more buildings would follow. And fortunately, they did.

As the decades followed, the business evolved from window cleaning to what we proudly do today – best-in-class janitorial and maintenance services, as well as concierge, front desk and security services. The markets we service and the types of properties we service also evolved, as we are now throughout the northeast and mid-Atlantic and even entered the San Francisco and Atlanta markets and service corporate, commercial, residential and retail properties and communities.

And as for me, I was born and raised in New Jersey. I went to the University of Pennsylvania [as an] undergraduate, and while working at Planned, obtained my MBA from The Stern School of Business at NYU. I have been in the business for a fast 20 years. I am married with 2 kids who are entering their teenage years.

What are some of the current-day goals of the company and what are some of the services that it provides its clients with? Where and across which sectors does the company operate?

Planned Companies, headquartered in Parsippany, N.J., consists of three real estate service divisions – Planned Building Services, Inc., Planned Security Services, Inc. and Planned Lifestyle Services, Inc. Through these service brands, Planned provides best-in-class janitorial, maintenance, concierge, front desk and security services to a wide array of clients. Planned Companies is known across the markets we service as being passionate, accountable, professional and reliable. We have offices in Brooklyn, N.Y., Alexandria, Va., Atlanta and San Francisco, as well as our HQ in Parsippany and a satellite office in Freehold, N.J.
Our current goals are the same goals as always – to deliver on our service promise, live our core values of integrity, exceptional customer service, [and] teamwork while never being complacent, and become THE brand synonymous with customer service in our industry. Day by day, client by client, account by account, Planned is accomplishing just that. We started from one person – my great grandfather and one account in Newark, N.J. – to over 3,600 employees across 10 states and growing.

Can you elaborate on the four-part strategy (janitorial-maintenance-security-concierge) that Planned Companies provides its clients with? How does this strategy fit into broader trends that you have seen in the property management industry?

Our product is our people. Given that fact, as we were screening and hiring for professional janitorial and maintenance personnel for commercial and residential properties, we made a strategic decision over two decades ago to complement that with professional security and front desk and concierge personnel. There truly is a science and methodology to hiring individuals who are appropriate for this industry. It’s not a perfect science by any means, but like the Nordstrom family and business (also four generations), you can hire for attitude, train for skill and statistically tip the scales in your favor. Property managers welcome a company like Planned where our culture is to passionately deliver on our service promise and provide individuals that reflect their brands and communities.

More generally, how have you seen the demands of clients changing over the last 2 to 3 years when it comes to what tenants look for in their properties?

Tenants are looking for clean and safe work environments and convenience – convenience in conducting their business as well as balancing business with their everyday responsibilities.
To that extent, we have made advancements in our communication and reporting systems that allow for seamless work order and service requests and updates, as well as systems that provide for immediate response (definitely desired by today’s clientele) with knowledgeable and caring team members ready to assist.

How is the increasing influence of technology (e.g. the Planned Portfolio Manager app) impacting how Planned Companies looks to serve its clients?

Technology has impacted us in a big way. We recently purchased the IT consulting company that was developing our internal systems for over 16 years and integrated their IT team into Planned. We have our own technical platforms that benefit both our internal team and our clients, including enhanced reporting and communication systems, time and attendance, facial recognition, portfolio management and more. As an example, our team of over 3,600, which is growing in 10 states, receives text messaging from our HR and Ops team to keep apprised of initiatives and happenings at the company. Recognized as PECS (Planned Employee Communication System) — it is an effective way to educate, empower and engage our growing and dispersed workforce.

More broadly, is the adoption of technology more of a necessity — rather than a preference — for companies looking to stay ahead of the curve and ahead of other competitors?

It is an absolute necessity. I used to say that we were in the people business. And we are. However, we are in the people and technology business – as the very systems we use to recruit, respond, report, recognize and engage with our clients and employees alike must be the most seamless, updated and convenient platforms to use. And what might be amazing today will not be down the road.

Our acquisition of our technology consulting company, coupled with our continued investment in platforms like time and attendance, automated workflow reporting with mapping and visuals, communication systems and more, will allow Planned to make technology a strength of our service offerings.

What are some of the challenges involved with meeting the evolving needs of clients across a wide range of industries and sectors?

The big challenge is to ensure that the culture [that] defines Planned is being seen and felt throughout the markets. This is where having a defined process – on all aspects of the business, [including] continuity, consistency and standardization – along with the Heart and Passion that define the brand, is paramount. From how we hire, to how we train, to how we supervise, oversee and communicate with our employees and clients alike, how we take feedback and improve, how we recognize, reward and promote our team, all require to be consistent in each market. It is a challenge, one that requires process and standards.
It is challenging today to properly screen for work ethic and integrity, as the labor pool is more selective and has narrowed, and their needs sometimes are not in alignment with ours. We want individuals who want careers, not jobs. Many applicants feel they want careers but their loyalty and patience are not the same today as in prior years.

In the current era where new strategies and technologies are continually brought to the table, what is the continued importance of training and educational programs to how companies are evolving? Are these training programs more of a necessity now than they were a couple of years ago?

Training and education is paramount in our business and likely, in any business. We understand the value of training and are constantly researching and developing new methods to best serve our clients and associates. Trained and empowered personnel will perform janitorial, maintenance, security and concierge services in a more engaged, attentive and proactive manner for you and your tenants at your property.

To encourage continued learning, we built a 2,000 square foot, state-of-the-art training center called the O.R.A.C.L.E. (our real estate service and professional development center) in Parsippany, N.J., where industry trade organizations and companies run classes. We were able to get other best-in-class service providers – those in roofing, elevators, energy savings, fire suppression and more – to offer their modules and educational content for the training center. Property and community managers run through the stations and conduct interactive tutorials at our headquarters (the Field of Dreams – If You Build it, They Will Come). We were recognized by Workforce Magazine and awarded the Optimas Award for Vision for building our professional development center.

Further, we have Planned University, online classes and real-time webinars available to our entire workforce – courses for both technical and interpersonal skills – to allow for our team to gain new skills and reinforce existing ones, as well as to get to the next level. Content on safety, effective communication and reporting, customer service, as well as on Word, Excel, presentations and more – all enhance the skill set and productivity of our growing workforce.

Does Planned Companies have plans to expand into other business sectors in the future? What lies ahead for the company?

We are truly fortunate – a fourth generation start-up that has a 95 percent client retention rate, the highest NPS (net promoter system) client satisfaction rate in our industry and yet, we are just getting started. With so much market share to gain in the very markets we are in – we must stay diligent and focused on enhancing our front-end systems of recruitment and screening. We must continue to educate and empower our field, operations, HR and entire team, while maintaining our culture and brand throughout the markets.

We will hold true to the core values and core competencies that has allowed us to get to this point and in turn, become the industry leader in our markets. Over time, if other labor and staffing opportunities naturally lend themselves to our model, we may entertain further and future service lines. But for now – we will be the best janitors, maintenance, security and front desk and concierge in the corporate, commercial and residential sectors.