Shining the light on dark store management
By Kevin Smith

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For some of you, the work begins after your stores are closed for good. Of course, we are speaking about dark store management. It is the proverbial thorn in the side, rising up to poke you when you least want to deal with it. For many, the issues often are not identifying what needs to get done or monitored but at what frequency and scope. Today, we are going to assume that the dark stores in question are vacant sites with no tenants or active customer activity. The work at these sites can typically be broken up into three components.


Do you have trouble maintaining dark stores?
  • 1. Yes
  • 2. No

1. Landscaping

I would sum up a successful landscaping service on a dark store as one that avoids any municipal violations. Items like grass cutting, weed control — especially in the paved areas — and low hanging branches or limbs over pedestrian walkways are always red flags for a municipal inspector. Factor in monitoring of dumping large debris on the property and you have summed up a "best in class" scope of work for a dark store site.

2. Snow removal

For many municipalities, you have 24 hours after a snow event is over to perform the basics. What are the basics? They typically include clearing a fire lane path from all entrances to the front and rear of the facility, shoveling out any active fire hydrants on the property and clearing a path from the plowed fire lanes to the front entrance of the facility.

3. Building Inspections

This is by far the largest of the three components, as it often can encompass multiple trades, including security, HVAC, plumbing, electrical and handyman as well as general assessments of the properties. For many of our clients, we recommend performing a standard inspection where we have isolated 12 different inspection points.
  1. Parking lot exterior lights. Here, you are checking for lights out, either in the lot, around canopies or in exterior stairwells. It is also relevant to make sure lights are not on during the day, costing you money.
  2. Parking lot conditions. With this scope, you are checking for potholes, trip hazards, any curb or bollard damage, signage or striping needs.
  3. Building exterior. This is a combination of aesthetics and safety. Broken windows, fence repairs, cracks in the façade and graffiti checks are the primary focus. Doors are also inspected to ensure they are locked and secured.
  4. Loading dock area. During this inspection, you will check for dock plates in good shape, no still water, free of trash and debris and all railings in good condition.
  5. Landscaping. Unlike the prior service, this is an inspection to make sure there are no visible code violations on the property. As we discussed previously, items like branches, dumping and dead/dying trees are identified.
  6. Interior lights. In addition to checking emergency lighting, you will identify what lights are working and more importantly, what lights are on and should they be on. A hard count of lights out is typically done quarterly.
  7. Building interior. This check includes identifying any wall repairs needed, potential trip hazards on the floor, the status of existing fixtures and random damage or exposed pipes. Items like hot water heaters, HVAC units and janitor closets will be inspected to ensure equipment is in working condition. Equipment tests will be done as needed. Also, thermostat verifications for proper settings will be completed during this check.
  8. Flooring and carpeting. Is the building generally swept clean, are there missing tiles, exposed holes from removed fixtures and an inspection of the flooring is completed.
  9. Ceilings. Here, you are checking for potential leaks, missing or damaged tiles, exposed wiring and a count of any material stock on the property.
  10. Restrooms. As part of this check, an overall plumbing inspection of running water will be conducted. Inspections of urinals and stalls will be done for a review of the equipment, sinks will be checked and tested and any damage within these areas noted.
  11. Fire sprinkler system. In addition to checking for any leaks, last inspection dates will also be noted.
  12. And finally, roof leaks. A complete walk of the roof checking for any damage, still water, potential leaks and all roof equipment will occur.
So the obvious question is what happens with all of this information. Assuming a best-in-class partner is handling this work for you, a complete inspection report should be completed with pictures identifying any areas of concern. Prior to a program going live, there should be a clear understanding of what you are looking for from these walks. Some clients expect proposals to handle any fire, life and safety concerns while others may want quotes for some of the more critical aesthetic issues.

Most clients prefer some kind of portal where this data can be stored and a more formal best practice of calling out any areas of concern via email with quotes. Now, even with the best of programs, these inspections are often done no more than once a month and sometimes as little as quarterly. So how do you cover yourself between inspections if an issue does arise? We recommend having your partner install signage identifying who someone should call if they feel there is a concern on the property.

Obviously, with an inspection of this magnitude, a best-in-class inspection report should be created to ensure complete coverage of your property. Each one can be customized to address some of the unique features that many buildings may have. Items like elevators or escalators, drive-thrus and security systems are just a few of the one-off items that can be built into your inspection report. Often, there is a "takeover inspection," where you may want your service partner to rekey the facility and perform certain one-time inspections. I would recommend walking through these needs specifically with your service partner.

So in taking a look at all of these items, the one component that at the end of the day is so critical is having a set of eyes on your property — a consistent set of eyes that can also monitor every aspect of your property. The best programs are typically ones where all of these services are performed by the same service partner. For example, when delivering snow removal, the service partner will be directing the local crew to check the building's doors and windows to make sure they are secured, or calling out lights that are on during the day. By leveraging all of the resources of a single partner, you can maximize the amount of "touches" your properties receive.

How do you take the first steps in putting a program together? Of course, identifying your list of sites is priority one and then determining what potential needs you might have. Work with your service partner to build out a checklist, discuss frequency of each service and work closely with your real estate department where appropriate to determine when properties may be turned over and need to be spruced up.

Taking a proactive approach to identifying maintenance needs will often eliminate significant one-time costs when an inspector drives by or a building is damaged. Sometimes, something as simple as flushing a toilet during an inspection can identify a small leak that left unchecked could result in thousands of dollars in water bills or damage down the line.

A best-in-class dark store program stands alone as a separate program from your open stores. It has its own needs, its own benchmarks and deserves a program designed around delivering the best value back to your company. While no one wants to spend money on stores not generating revenue, a best-in-class dark store program reduces future expenditures through the proper management of those assets.

Kevin Smith is Vice President of Operations at Ferrandino & Son, Inc. He has 11 years of experience in Facilities Services and Exterior Maintenance, has written many articles, White Papers, and produced Podcasts and Webinars on “Best Practices” within the industry.