In-Sourcing Maintenance & Managing 170 Engineers at Travelodge Hotels

Episode 10

Maintenance Management Podcast


About this episode

Mark Timmins, Head of Maintenance Delivery at Travelodge Hotels, shares his expertise on maintenance management at one of the UK's biggest hotel chains including the impact of COVID-19 and the positive outcomes of in-sourcing work.


Matt (HOST) [00:00:30]: Hey everyone. Welcome back to the Comparesoft Podcast. Great to have you with us again. Today our guest is Mark [Timmins]. Mark is Head of Maintenance delivery at Travelodge Hotels. Mark has worked with well-known companies like Marks & Spencer, Kirby Group, and currently is with Travelodge Hotels.

Mark has worked in many operational positions from single-site management to multi-site management in central London and head office secondments – so it will be really interesting to hear his take on maintenance management.

Welcome to the show, Mark. How is it going, sir?

Mark Timmins [00:01:12]: Yes, it’s going really well. Thanks for the opportunity to come on the podcast. [Iā€™m] really looking forward to talking about how Travelodge has been for myself and particularly in maintenance.

Matt [00:01:25]: Great. And we were just talking in the green room about how this year has been and how post-COVID has been the busiest time ever for Travelodge. Am I right in saying that?

Mark [00:01:38]: Yes. Absolutely. Obviously, COVID was particularly impacting for a lot of businesses in the UK. But particularly in hospitality, we were probably hurt the most when we had to close all of our hotels within a matter of day’s notice, particularly in lockdown one.

We were able to keep some hotels trading to support local councils with people that needed emergency accommodation, but predominantly we closed pretty much 95% of our hotels within two days. So it was a massive impact for the business and the hotels were closed for five months in some areas of the country. Obviously, we got back open and thought, right, that’ll be the end of COVID and then we went into lockdown two and then had to close another 300 hotels for the second time. It was really a significant period for us and something that we’ve never done in all of my lifetime.

In Travelodge, we’ve never closed the hotel so that brought a number of challenges. But since the lockdowns finished last summer and obviously the restrictions on international travel, it’s had such a positive impact on the hospitality industry. Lots of people staycationing in the UK that maybe otherwise would have travelled abroad so that’s really helped Travelodge in terms of its occupancy and I’m sure other hotel companies as well. We’ve just not stopped for the last 12 months. It’s been the busiest we’ve ever been.

Matt [00:03:34]: So just jumping into the first question. How do you go about setting a good facilities management culture?

Mark [00:03:45]: I think the key thing for us in hotels obviously, we work very closely with our hotel colleagues. Ultimately, they are our customers so you know they are delivering the Travelodge brand to customers every day. So working closely with the hotel operators on their maintenance requirements is absolutely key for me.

As you mentioned at the start of the podcast, obviously, I’ve worked a lot of my time in Travelodge in the actual hotels on the operational management side. When I moved to maintenance, one of the biggest things I thought I could bring to our culture with our maintenance team is really an understanding from the hotel’s perspective [and] what maintenance looks like for them in terms of what types of jobs we do for hotels, what things impact customers the most so that we can help support the hotels deliver the best product for our customers. That’s really been the culture that I’ve tried to bed in, in my seven years that I’ve been Head of Maintenance with the company — really drawing on my experiences of being a hotel operator, a hotel manager, and even way back [as] a hotel receptionist.

That’s really the biggest part of the cultural thing that we try to really deliver, treating the hotels like a customer who we’re ultimately serving — our ultimate customer that’s staying with us every night.

Matt [00:05:24]: How do you recommend planning maintenance activities?

Mark [00:05:30]: I think building on obviously, the relationships with our hotel colleagues. It’s really important that we’re alongside fixing things for hotels, which is obviously the majority of what we do, day-in day-out, is fixing things. It’s really important to understand the hotel’s needs and requirements so spending a lot of time in hotels, auditing, and looking at what things we can do to lift the product for the hotel. Looking at sort of mini refit strategies.

We have a refit strategy within Travelodge that will effectively refurbish every bedroom on a cycle of six or seven years. So working closely with the hotels inside that cycle is really important because, inside a six-year period, we’re going to have things that need to be done, rooms to be redecorated, carpets to change so really understanding what our product is is really important.

We do a lot of visits to hotels, we do a lot of surveying of our bedrooms to really understand what are our stock looks like, what things we need to do. That then really supports the hotel as I say in delivering the best product that they can to our customers.

Matt [00:07:01]: How do you recommend implementing an effective maintenance plan?

Mark [00:07:10]: Well for us our maintenance plans are all built around a really strong communication plan. We have 170 engineers who work within the maintenance team. We have to really join up with our hotel colleagues when we’re doing pockets of work, whether or not we’re doing carpet refurbishment programs, or we’re doing redecoration programs, working really closely with hotels on making sure we can get access to rooms.

Making sure that the hotel knows what days we’re coming so that they can smart allocate customers during their check-in periods so that we can get access to rooms to do the work. Because if that plan and communication are not well thought through, then we can be arriving at hotels to do pockets of work and we can’t get into rooms because there are still customers in them. Then very quickly, you know, a well-thought-through plan becomes a very disorganised plan that we can’t deliver because we can’t get through the basics of getting into a room to do the work for the hotel.

So really that kind of strategy of planning upfront, working with the hotels is so important — that communication. We need to be the extension of what the hotel is doing rather than a separate function that works within Travelodge that’s working in a silo is definitely not the way to work.

It’s got to be a full joined-up plan with the hotel operators to make sure that we can deliver the plan that we’re setting out to do.

Matt [00:09:01]: Talking about delivering plans – do you think software tools are useful for managing maintenance activities?

Mark [00:09:14]: I think they’re absolutely critical. There are lots of different solutions from bits of paper and engineers writing down manually what they’re doing. But equally, when you’ve got — certainly for Travelodge with 170 engineers out in the field doing programs of work, it’s absolutely critical that we use software to enable us to support the engineers in reporting back what they’ve done. We use tools with Google. We have a job management system that enables engineers to report back on what jobs they’ve done and how long they’ve spent doing that job, giving them new jobs.

Without that, if you try to manage a team of 170 engineers and have no software solution in the background, [it] would be an absolute nightmare – being frank. You’ve got to have technology in and the size of business that we are with the number of engineers we have in the field. We couldn’t do it without software solutions, to be honest.

Matt[00:10:29]: And how do you see connected technologies changing the way that we work in the future?

Mark [00:10:37]: Yes. I think connected technologies are so critical in today’s world, particularly for Travelodge with so many engineers in the field. Alongside our planned works that we’re doing, we also have a large volume of reactive work that we need to do to make sure that as many bedrooms are on sale every night for our customers.

Could be we need to go and replace a TV or we need to replace a toilet seat or fix the lighting. So having connected technologies where potentially things like real-time travel data from Google Maps helps us understand how long it’s going to take an engineer to get from Hotel A to hotel B. That then enables us to inform the hotels of when they can expect their engineer to arrive to do that job.

Basically, everyone is well communicated on what’s happening with their maintenance jobs for that day. There are technologies that are becoming more and more — for Travelodge with so many engineers in the field, having connected to technologies like that is absolutely critical for us so that we can get the best use of our engineers who are out in the field.

Sometimes it might be better to send an engineer that’s slightly further away because we know from the technology that they will get to the hotel faster than another engineer who’s slightly closer but he’s going to get clogged in traffic trying to get to the hotel. Connected technologies for us are absolutely critical in how we work in the future.

Matt [00:12:20]: So then, going a little bit more old school – what do you think about using spreadsheets for maintenance management? Do they still have their place?

Mark [00:12:31]: I think for Travelodge in our world, absolutely old school. We will have relied on Excel spreadsheets in the past but in today’s world, they really have no place for us. Technology [has] moved on suitably now where you can use live data forms that enable us to see what engineers are doing in real-time.

We do surveys with technology where engineers can be auditing bedrooms and we can see live what issues they’re picking up. When they’re doing jobs, we can see what time they start a job and what time they finish a job.

Certainly, for Travelodge, spreadsheets are definitely a thing of the past. But I’m sure for some companies spreadsheets probably are still an important part of what they do. For Travelodge, technology’s moved on now. We don’t use spreadsheets anymore.

Matt [00:13:45]: How do you use maintenance as a competitive advantage for the business?

Mark [00:13:53]: I think for Travelodge, our biggest competitive advantage is probably about nine years ago, we moved from a completely outsource model of maintenance and switched over to an in-source model that takes off around 80% of all work with a very small percentage left with outsourced contractors. That really gives us the mobility to be able to react to things a lot quicker because we have so many engineers in the field that can react to things within hours.

Whereas with outsource providers, whilst they have a place in our industry for sure the response times are not going to be quick versus our in-sourced engineering. And equally, probably the biggest benefit that having an in-source team has brought to hotels for us is the volume of work that we can get through versus our outsourced providers when we used to do it that way.

The cost as well, so being able to do things in an in-sourced way rather than an outsource way has definitely enabled us to save money, which then in turn has enabled us to reinvest that back into our business.

The big journey that we’ve been on as I said is insourcing as much work as we can and then using the benefit of technology to really help us maximise the efficiency of the engineers in the field. That’s probably our biggest advantage, we’re doing things at a lower cost, doing them faster, and putting those cost benefits back into the hotels. That’s really been the advantage that we would have is the speed at which we can react to things and save money, which we can reinvest back into the business.

I think the biggest thing we’ve learned from moving into more of an insourced model — it’s been able to do a lot more jobs. From a product perspective, previously, before we had this insource resource that we could rely on, every job was costing us a couple of 100 pounds. Inevitably you would be picking and choosing which jobs you can do. Whereas if you’ve committed to an insource resource, then you can do a lot more jobs. And ultimately, if you’re in a customer-facing industry like Travelodge where how your product looks, and how it portrays the brand to customers is so so important.

Being able to do a lot more work in hotels to be able to portray the product in the best way has been probably one of the basic biggest successes that we’ve had. Because doing that work more frequently has also enabled us to extend our refit program instead of maybe having a desire to try and have to refit hotels every four years, we’ve been able to extend our refit program because we are doing more all of the time. That has a massive impact on things like capital expenditure.

Certainly, if you have insourced maintenance, it will cost you less to get work done. That’s the massive journey we’ve been on. What we’ve had to learn on that journey is the technology because when you work with an outsource provider, you don’t need to worry about Help Desk Software and planning engineers and all of those things. That’s a steep learning curve that we’ve had to learn as well because with 170 engineers, how do you get them from that job to this job?

We’ve gone on a steep, steep journey with technology as well over the last sort of nine years.

Matt [00:18:04]: What are your top three tips for our listeners on effective maintenance?

Mark [00:18:17]: So I think the absolute top tip that I could give is you’ve got to understand from your customers, and for our maintenance team, that’s our hotels, and then ultimately, the hotels working and delivering our products to customers. You’ve really got to understand what your customers are looking for.

As a service provider, it’s really absolutely critical that you understand what your customer wants and needs. Spending lots of time with your customer asking lots of questions and understanding their requirements is probably the biggest tip that I could give from a maintenance point of view. Because ultimately, for our customer, which is the hotel managers, they’re dealing with their customers each day. So without their insight into what their customers are saying, customers that are staying with us every night, what they’re feeding back as to how their stay has been, without that insight from the hotel managers, it would be very difficult to really understand the direction of travel that the maintenance team needs to take. That’s certainly the biggest tip.

Then equally, the delivery of that maintenance then, once you understand what you need to do, the delivery of that maintenance is absolutely key. So using technology, moving engineers around as quickly as you can, and being efficient with that resource is so critical. Again, using technologies is an absolute key tip for us that I would say.

Then ultimately, probably the last tip I would say I’ve spoken about before is the insourced element of being able to do more maintenance when you’ve got your own insource team. So as I say, outsourced providers will always be an important part of maintenance because they bring expertise and specialisms that are very difficult to have in an insource team on mass.

We still use outsourced providers for things like lifts and gas and electrical works which come with a lot of specialism. But equally, the insource team can move great pace on general building maintenance. That would absolutely be my tip to any companies that still outsource maintenance for general building maintenance, would be to have a look at how you can try and move your company to an insource model because you’ll get a lot more done and it’ll cost you a lot less.

Matt [00:21:13]: What’s your favourite saying or quote on maintenance?

Mark [00:21:29]: We have a motto in Travelodge, which I would say really epitomises what we try to do within hotels in terms of trying to make sure that the team deliver the best job they can. For us, our motto is you’re only as good as your last job.

Matt [00:21:46]: Okay. Well, there it is for the listeners. Well, it’s been absolutely amazing having you on the show Mark and you’ve dropped some fantastic knowledge there for us and for the listeners – thanks so much for coming on and being a guest.

Mark [00:22:03]: Thank you for inviting me.

Matt [00:22:07]: Well there we go. Thanks again to all of you listeners for dropping by again. We really appreciate having you here and we’ll see you on the next episode. Cheers!