We recently caught up with Danny Pope, State Operations Manager for Higgins Coatings, Brisbane, to chat with him about what he has found to be best practice for commercial maintenance suppliers when working on living units in retirement village complexes.
So, Danny, first tell us a bit more about what you do?As State Operations Manager, I oversee building service and maintenance operations for the Higgins branches in and around Brisbane. I am responsible for keeping my finger on the pulse of anything related to cost, to keep projects on budget and troubleshoot any problems that may arise.
Why is it so important for Higgins to polish their approach when working in retirement village complexes?Retirement village managers and stakeholders generally have their own in-house strategy sessions, in which all things related to the retirement village are discussed. This can be from medical supplies to gardening issues. At Higgins Coating, we know that our projects need to be spot on every time because bad news travels really fast. We always need to put our best foot forward and be protective of our brand.
Describe the ideal approach to use when doing commercial maintenance work on aged care facilities
Aged care residences are generally divided into high care, medium care and low care living spaces. For elderly residents living in low care, independent living units (ILUs), their units are their entire world. Each time we visit a site to do maintenance work, we are well aware that we need to be mindful of even the tiny aspects of these living spaces. We are careful not to damage property, flowerbeds, or give residents any reason to be worried.When we work on ILUs, we generally work on a block of living units at a time. The number of units we work on depends on the configuration of the retirement village and the size of each unit. We give residents a three-to-four-day notification period before starting any project. For this, we pop a notice into their post boxes or under their doors. We generally find, though, that what works best is face-to-face interactions with residents to ‘massage’ our way through the process. Relationship building is really key when working with the elderly.
Do you have an initial contact session with residents to explain your process to them?Once the sales team has the commercial maintenance project secured, we then pay the retirement village a visit for a start-up meeting with some of the elderly residents. At each village, you’ll generally find a core cluster of residents who are likely to raise the biggest objections and have the most questions about the project. We find that if we discuss any issues with them upfront and face-to-face, it’s far easier for us to win them over. Things generally run more smoothly from there on out.
What are the biggest questions asked at these start-up meetings?
- Paint colour
Elderly residents first want to know what colours are to be used on their units. We normally take a sample board of the selected colours with us to the initial meeting. This colour board is a series of brush outs painted onto an A4 piece of cardboard provided by our painting supplier. The sample board shows residents where each colour will be painted (colour A for roofs, colour B for lattices, colour C for front doors etc.). We leave this colour board at the village, in a communal area, so that everyone can have chance to familiarise themselves with the colour selections.
- How long will it take?
Here we explain the process – that we paint one block of units at a time, and the timeframe of the project will depend on the size and configuration of the ILUs.
- How much notice will we get?
Dates for completion of projects are weather-dependant. If work is pushed out, we let residents know through the reissuing of notices in post boxes. We reassure residents that they will be kept in the loop about any delays and deadline extensions, so that they can plan their lives accordingly.
What are the key things that you tell new employees when they start working on commercial painting projects in retirement villages?
It’s always the little things that count. Top tips for new employees include:
- Being careful where they park their car. They should avoid parking bays allocated to living units;
- Only using designated lavatories, which are either stipulated by building managers, or provided by Higgins;
- Being sure to look neat and tidy at all times;
We also remind new employees to smile and greet residents whenever they see them to alleviate any fears or insecurities that residents may have about the ‘strangers’ on their property. It only takes one bad experience to sour a village’s perceptions of a company as a whole. On the flipside, I have visited a retirement village once and had residents asking me about one of our employees by name. He must have made a great impression!
Our last piece of advice to new hires is that, if they move anything, they should be sure to put it back exactly the way they found it and in the exact condition that they found it, as elderly residents are quite sensitive about their property.
As a population group, senior citizens are incredibly vulnerable. Painting companies doing maintenance work in retirement living spaces need to remember this, and their staff need to behave accordingly.