In today’s experiential-focused work environment, building amenities are important to tenants seeking to attract talent. In response to this demand, many property owners are investing significant capital on shared space upgrades, including outdoor workspaces, lobby lounges, onsite cafés, coffee bars and fitness facilities.
Mobile service vendors, however, are becoming increasingly important to a building owner’s ability to differentiate their property’s appeal for both tenants and talent, enabling them—if packaged appropriately—to launch new amenities faster and with less costs and more variety than a brick-and-mortar addition.
LEVERAGING MOBILE AMENITIES AS SPECIAL EVENTS
Food trucks are the most popular mobile vendor, providing a variety of culinary experiences, from American favorites to unique cuisine from around the world. But food trucks are just the tip of the iceberg. Becky Hanner, BOMA Fellow, CPM, LEED Green Associate, RPA, principal of Hanner Commercial Asset Services, says, "Now there’s a mobile truck for almost every offering imaginable."
She suggests leveraging mobile amenities to cater office parties or create special event days. Mobile healthcare trucks, for example, provide an opportunity for a Health Day that offers occupants health checkups, such as cholesterol, blood pressure and mammogram screenings. Other options include a Hobby Day, featuring bike or golf club repair services, and a Health Spa & Beauty Day, with mobile vendors offering salon services and massages.
Joe Markling, BOMA Fellow, CPM, RPA, managing director of Real Estate Operations for USAA Real Estate, says that mobile vendors can provide owners of assets too small to justify the addition of onsite amenities an opportunity to offer their tenants experiential amenities similar to those found in larger buildings—though some vendors have minimum occupant requirements.
Markling also says that mobile vendors are currently supplementing amenities offered onsite, noting that building managers, for example, may invite food trucks to visit one or two days a week as a special treat for tenants desiring a break from what is served in the building cafeteria.
He believes that mobile options may soon dominate the focus on workplace amenities. "I can easily see in five years a future of food trucks replacing onsite cafés," Markling says. He notes that food trucks, for example, offer a much greater choice of cuisine than can be provided at an in-house café and have the ability to scale up or down, depending on the customer base or event size.
The biggest challenge for property managers adopting a mobile amenity strategy is time required to manage vendors and curate the experience, according to Markling. "Someone needs to organize it all—know who is coming and when, which can be a time burden for property managers," who already are being called to do more with less.
"Mobile amenity vendors won’t replace onsite amenities until there is a robust group of solutions available everywhere to manage them," Markling stipulates. And, while these solutions are cropping up in some markets, mobile vendor management services are still limited in their coverage areas.
Markling also stresses that property managers need to control when, where and what type of mobile vendors visit their properties to limit risk of liability. Property managers should also invest in upgrading sites where vendors offer services to ensure tenants have a good experience. He suggests designating a specific location for food trucks to park that is legal and provides visibility, easy access and electricity, and establishing an outdoor seating area with tables, possibly in a courtyard setting.
Otherwise, food trucks just show up and park wherever they can find space—which can be an annoyance and safety risk to tenants, rather than a perk. Markling notes that without access to electricity, food vendors must run gas-powered generators, which are noisy, smelly and dangerous to the property and its occupants, especially if parked nearby a tenant’s office space.
He stresses the importance of vetting mobile vendors in advance to ensure they meet legal standards, such as liability insurance and health and safety permits. Markling says that USAA Real Estate allows other vendors on site besides food trucks, like mobile car washing and detailing, but not those that change oil or fill fuel tanks, which present a major safety risk, as they often operate inside a building’s parking structure and store hazardous materials onboard.
He also emphasizes that curation of mobile amenities offers the best tenant experience, providing a scheduled variety of mobile vendor services, but notes that popularity of vendor services varies by location. Mobile dog grooming, for example, is a service that is particularly popular in tech markets with dog-friendly buildings.
MANAGING MOBILE VENDORS
For property professionals who want to add mobile vendors to their properties, there are new resources to help simplify the process—including a selection of websites and smartphone apps. Eric Garrison is the co-founder of MOBLZ, which offers one platform for creating a streamlined vendor management experience. As Markling notes, these services are not available everywhere. MOBLZ, for instance, only operates in Raleigh-Durham, Charlotte, Nashville, Atlanta, Jacksonville and Tampa, although the company ultimately plans to roll out its service nationally.
The MOBLZ platform informs mobile vendors of property-specific requirements that must be met prior to registering for an event at a property, including insurances and licenses, agreements or other documents. Then, the property manager shares their event calendar, allowing vendors using the system to see the opening details. Interested vendors select a time slot and proceed with registering, which includes uploading any property-required documents. If a vendor tries to register and does not meet the property’s requirements, the system will alert the property manager.
On the morning of the event, tenants will receive notifications from the platform detailing the expected onsite vendors that day. The MOBLZ system, specifically, sends alerts to vendors prior to their scheduled visits to ensure they show up on the right day and at the right time. Property managers will also receive real-time alerts throughout the day, including when vendors arrive on site.
According to Garrison, preparing for a successful event also means preparing for a safe event. "We have best practices for property managers to ensure mobile vendor safety and a good experience for tenants, including specifying a place for vendors to set up that provides an electric connection and tenant picnic area with trash receptacles," he explains. "Best safety practices also ensure trucks use wheel chocks and have a safety protocol if needed that includes turning off and cooling down a generator before refueling, among other things."
Following a successful event, property managers can encourage their favorite vendors to return through the platform or their preferred communication method. As with any vendor service, having a go-to list of preferred providers can make the process much simpler.
With tenant expectations continuing to evolve and grow, having simple, easy and mobile solutions for the current commercial real estate amenities arms race could be just what your building needs to keep tenants satisfied.