Understanding vendor management and vendor communication

What is vendor management?

Vendor management is a large part of serving on the board of a managed community. Every community has outside partners for services like landscaping, sanitation, cable and Internet provision, pool maintenance, valet services and more. Open and effective communication among the board, the management company and the vendors employed by the association is an important part of making the most of any community’s operating budget and improving the lifestyles of its residents.

Vendor communitication: Why it matters

What can happen in vendor management if communication among those entities isn’t consistent, open and effective? “Ineffective communication with vendors can cost your community money, but more importantly, it can result in loss of trust,” according to Bob Rogers, executive director of high-rise at FirstService Residential. “That means trust that the residents have in both the management company and the board, and also the trust the board has in the management company for vendor management and recommend the right vendors for the community. It only takes one poor communication for things to turn sour.”
Jim Magid, vice president of lifestyle at FirstService Residential, asserted that poor communication can lead to services not being timely or not performed to the level that the board would like. “Building great relationships through ongoing dialogue helps to make sure that the property is serviced at an appropriate level so the community residents will be happy.”
Poor communication with vendors can cost your association money too. If you don’t understand the details in a contract and don’t keep an open line for questions and clarifications, you may not realize that your community isn’t getting the services you think you are signing up for…. and then you will need to pay for the missing elements separately, impacting your operating budget.
Magid is an advocate of vendors and boards maintaining a “12-month-relationship.” “Talk to your landscaper in the middle of winter, not just spring and summer,” he directed. “If you’re an auditor, check in with the board and management company a few times of year, not just when the audit needs to be done.”
If you aren’t sure whether or not your current property management maintains open communication with vendors, ask! It’s important to make sure that outside vendors operate in the best interests of your community. “At FirstService Residential, our associates are all well-versed in the importance of vendor relations and effective communication,” Rogers explained. “Boards appreciate that we bring that additional level of support. Because of the trust we create with our vendors, almost any situation between boards and vendors can be resolved fairly.”

Speaking the language

A basic part of vendor management and vendor communication is simply understanding the language each party is speaking. Most board members are not going to be experts in all the areas of running a managed community, but it’s important that you have a basic knowledge of the terminology being used.
“Board members are expected and required to execute contracts related to things like landscaping and other topics they may not be previously familiar with,” said Derrick Lee, manager of business development at FirstService Residential. “That fiduciary responsibility means that they need to understand what they are signing, what the work entails. It’s not enough to just consider price. Board members need to know more about what vendors are doing in order to make sure it’s being done.”
Magid agreed, but maintained that the board should be involved early in vendor discussions and leave the details of execution to the management company. It is important the board communicate any critical elements of their vision for the community to the vendor and be clear about what they require from each potential vendor they meet with.
“Board members must know enough to understand what they should expect, what level of service is being provided for their community and what reasonable expectations are for that vendor. A landscaping company that cares for a dozen large properties isn’t going to hand-prune every shrub, but that may be what some board members expect because they don’t yet understand the basics of large-scale landscaping,” he explained. “Of course, a self-managed community is going require more knowledge from the board members as far as monitoring the work being done and knowing that contracts are being fulfilled properly. Having a professional management company involved takes that responsibility off board members, because we know best practices, thanks to our experience managing multiple communities.”

Learning the lingo

How can boards and management companies know they are up-to-date on the terminology and jargon being used by their vendors? Some management companies offer educational seminars or round tables that let board members hear directly from vendors. “In addition to our in-house educational opportunities, I suggest that board members go to home shows, garden shows and other trade events so they can interact directly with vendors and pick up literature on the latest techniques and products,” Magid said.
Keeping your management staff informed and educated is important too. “We have a LEADS vendor event every two years,” Rogers said. “LEADS stands for Learn, Evolve, Achieve, Deliver, Succeed. Right now, it’s only open to vendors and our FirstService Residential associates. I tell my managers to spend time at every one of the approximately 80 vendor booths. Get to know them. Collect brochures. Build those relationships. We bring in keynote speakers as well. Over the years, vendors have shared with me how they have been impacted by the LEADS event and how it makes them want to be part of our success. Obviously, associates learn a lot that they take back to their boards.”
Rogers also said he encourages his team members to take advantage of First Class, which offers associates and board members professional development and educational opportunities on a variety of topics. “Of course, we also bring in subject matter experts from other parts of FirstService Residential when we don’t have the knowledge to address an issue locally. Because of our size, we have that ability to tap into other people in the company when needed.”
Lee said that vendors in many different disciplines host events that allow property managers to earn continuing education credits, and that many welcome board member attendance as well.
Now that you’re committed to communicating to enhance your vendor management and relations skills, and to getting educated in speaking their language, you’re ready to work with them as partners, to optimize your community association’s budget and improve the lifestyles of the residents in your community.
For more information on vendor management and how a professional property management company can help you work with vendors to make the most of your association’s budget, contact FirstService Residential, North America’s leading property management company.
Thursday May 04, 2017