By Joshua Burd
Opportunities abound for a business whose clients include multifamily builders and owners.
As Rob Francis knows, seizing those opportunities comes down to one rather simple goal.
“If they grow and they continue to like us, we’ll grow,” said Francis, the CEO and president of Planned Cos., which provides janitorial, security, concierge and other services to both commercial and residential buildings. “We need them to like us.”
That holds true for virtually any service-oriented firm, but Planned has achieved that goal when it comes to the booming apartment sector. The Parsippany-based company, whose roots date back more than 100 years, has seen its business spike in recent years amid the wave of new construction and new ownership within the multifamily space.
To that end, Planned provides services for more than 100,000 apartment units across the country. Its maintenance division, Planned Building Services, has grown its multifamily portfolio by nearly 70 percent since 2013 and serviced roughly 117,000 units at the start of 2019.
Francis attributes that growth to a host of developers, investors and managers, including the likes of AvalonBay Communities Inc., Morgan Properties and Applied Property Co.
“Multifamily has been the real catalyst,” said Francis, the company’s fourth-generation leader, whose offerings also include Planned Lifestyle Services and Planned Security Services.
The firm’s clientele includes a handful of New Jersey-based owners that it has served for more than a decade, such as BNE Real Estate Group, Atlantic Realty Development Corp. and Kamson Corp. But the rise of operators such as AvalonBay, Morgan and Windsor Communities have fueled its own expansion during the current cycle.
Much of that growth has come in New Jersey, where developers have built tens of thousands of units in recent years. Planned has also found new business from investors that have acquired existing properties and subsequently outsourced cleaning, concierge and other duties.
Satisfying those clients has helped the company move beyond its home state and into markets such as the Mid-Atlantic, where Planned has built a sizable presence. New Jersey, New York and Virginia account for about three-quarters of its business, Francis said, although the firm has also expanded into markets such as the Southeast, San Francisco and New England.
“If you’re addressing that need cost-effectively and professionally, they’re going to refer you and they’re going to let you grow with them, for sure,” he said. “That’s how we’ve done it.”
A larger portfolio has come with an ever-growing need to build a quality workforce. Planned hired nearly 900 employees to support new multifamily properties from 2013 through 2018, including 333 last year. That team is made up of concierge staff, security guards, janitors and other positions that developers have needed as they’ve delivered new residential buildings.
The firm’s headcount across all property types is now more than 3,600, including roughly 1,000 in New Jersey. But hiring and retaining talent is never easy, Francis said, especially for a company whose employees are interacting directly with clients.
“We want to find individuals that have a good customer service kind of work ethic, that care and are not looking for a quick job … (who) are in for the marathon,” he said. “So we really try to home in on characteristics and a methodology to not turn a lot of people, because that can be very damaging to the consistency of the work and it’s very damaging in terms of the brand.”
Fortunately for the firm’s multifamily clients, Francis said retention is considerably higher for employees who work in residential buildings, thanks in part to better pay and benefits. But Planned has sought to use referral bonuses, social media and other strategies in order to boost its chances of finding the right people.
The company has also invested in technology such as Employee Nexus, a platform that delivers information directly to its staffers’ phones and allows for two-way communication, in order to create what Francis said is a more engaged and connected workforce.
“If you’re always trying to backfill positions, you can’t grow,” he said. “The talent war is challenging and it’s a big reason why clients turn to us, because they, too, deal with the same craziness that we do.”
The company’s business has long been anchored by its commercial clients — from corporate headquarters buildings to shopping centers. That segment has also grown in recent years, Francis said, but not as quickly as the residential sector.
“Multifamily has definitely been the driver — and I’m proud of multifamily,” he said, noting that condominium buildings have also provided a major boost to its portfolio of late, as have multitenant commercial properties.
“I think it’s great that we’re not putting all of our eggs in one vertical,” Francis added.
Still, there’s no denying that the apartment sector has been an “amazing” source of growth over the past decade, he said. He attributes much of that success to the New Jersey Apartment Association, of which Planned has become an active member. The organization also provides it with a strong network of partners and referral business from vendors that can offer complementary services to its clients, such as pest control, landscaping and window cleaning.
“We stay true to what we do well,” Francis said, which is recruiting and training on-site service providers and “making sure that, day to day, you’re delivering.”
“That’s our passion and that’s what we do well,” he said. “And we’ve never wanted to bite off more than we could chew or start to dilute our brand.”