Early in the spring of 1991, I was in college, and I was hungry. The University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia is the home to a number of fine establishments catering to the college masses, of course, but I ventured off the beaten path towards the Pottery Town neighborhood for some good “Q.” I had heard about a great establishment with a unique feel. The restaurant, which is still there today, is known as Weaver D's Delicious Fine Foods. It’s a down-home cafe at 1016 East Broad Street in Athens.
The restaurant occupies a 1950s commercial building with a false front parapet. The neighborhood around the building originally served as the mill village for the workers of a local pottery factory.
I walked down the long hill to get to the restaurant. What I didn't know is that I’d get a lot more than a great meal that beautiful day. I got an unexpected life lesson from proprietor Dexter Weaver (AKA “Weaver D.”).
You see, Weaver has a large signboard outside of his cafe that reads “Delicious Fine Foods – Automatic for the People.” As I ordered my food from the now famous Weaver D, I asked him what “Automatic For The People” meant. He smiled a really big smile and crossed his arms thoughtfully. With a very serious, but friendly tone he said “Young man, that’s how I deliver my customer service. It’s fast and right; heck it’s just about automatic."
“And it’s always for my customers,” he continued, “the people who spend their hard earned money for my food. I listen hard and we make them happy – quick.”
I thought a lot about Weaver's seemingly simple comments. I was, and am impressed that a then small time purveyor of pork could think about his business in this way. He’s not focused on his food, he’s focused on his customer and taking care of their needs as best he can.
His approach has made him world famous (thanks to REM, as described below). Weaver has spent his life in the service of others, but I think he’s making a fair return. All these years later he has a book deal, and he’s become quite a celebrity in Athens, GA with his own Facebook Fan Page. Oh, and the food is terrific as well.
REM is Automatic for the People
It is this very same slogan that a little Athens act named REM chose for their 1992 album. The album went four times platinum (16 million copies sold worldwide) and was one of their most successful releases ever. It is still one of my favorites, and I am in fact listening to the music as I write this.
Automatic For Your People
Weaver D would have been a fine landlord. He understands the focus on customer through delivery of both a great product and service. Do your landlords across the portfolio have the same understanding?
Whether you are signing a lease for 5,000 feet for the sales office in Des Moines (nice town, by the way) or 1 million square feet for your jumbo new headquarters, how the asset will be managed is important. I have seen even tenured real estate executives forget to ask about property management. Many simply assume that landlords will take care of things. Besides, it’s in the lease, correct?
Weaver D would shake a finger at us for making that assumption. If you are performing the real estate function for your company, many are counting on you to deliver the right office space. Part of that equation is the service after the sale, also known as property management.
So what can you do to make the new pad Automatic For Your People?
1) Determine who will be managing the property on a day-to-day basis. Taking them to lunch is usually a great investment of time.
2) Is the manager on site or at another location? If they are at another building, how are day-to-day issues handled?
3) What is the tenure on property of the manager? How many buildings do they handle?
4) How many engineers are assigned? What is their experience and are they union or not?
5) Is the management company in-house with building ownership or is the function outsourced to a third party provider? Both can be great resources, but it's good to understand where the paycheck comes from.
6) How does your user group interact with management? When problems occur how are they reported and managed? Most firms today will have a technology solution (webpages that feed engineers with smart phones), but ask lots of questions about how the process really works.
7) Ask to see the capital improvement plan for the property. If you get a blank stare, beware.
8) Does the interaction seem to be reactive (we’ll respond when the light bulb burns out) or proactive (let's meet quarterly to make sure your needs are being met)?
9) Ask if you can conduct tenant interviews with other major users in the building. You will learn a lot about the asset and have someone in your database if you have issues.
10) Tour the physical plant. Can you “eat off the floor” or is it a mess? It should look as clean as a navy submarine, if you ask me.
11) Inquire about “life safety." A manager must have a well documented and prepared emergency response plan for fire, storm, wind, etc. Ask the manager to share his or her plan. If no such plan exists, then this is a clear red flag.
12) On the same subject, how does property management handle building security? What are the staffing levels? What technology does the property use? Have their been incidents, and if so, how is this information shared with tenants?
If you take the time to do some basic due diligence and note your findings to the file, you will have something to lean on when problems arise. Weaver D would be proud that you thought about your customers and went the extra mile. Automatic.
Thanks to "Automatic" Mike Mire, Regional Lead of Property Management at C&W, for his sage advice on this blog post.