FM & Maintenance at Man City FC, The Ivy & Flight Club Darts

Episode 4

Facilities Management Podcast


About this episode

Louis Atkins shares expert tips and advice from his time at Manchester City Football Club, The Ivy, and his current role as Facilities Manager at Red Engine Team - the team behind Flight Club Darts & Electric Shuffle.


Matt (HOST) [00:00:30]: Hi, everyone. Welcome back to the show. On this episode, my guest is Louis [Atkins].

Louis is the facilities manager at Red Engine [Team]. Louis started his career as a small business owner of Cheshire boiler services. He’s used his experience of being on the trade side to become the client and has since worked with well-known companies including The Ivy [Collection] and Manchester City Football Club and is currently working with RED Engine who are the team behind flight club darts, and electric shuffle.

Louis has acquired many skills working in the hospitality and sports industry, which include maintenance management, facilities management, operations, and equipment maintenance so it will be great to hear his take on facilities management.

Welcome to the show Louis, how are you?

Louis Atkins [00:01:27]: Hi, I’m fine. Thank you.

Matt [00:01:28]: Thanks for coming on the show. It’s great to have you on as a guest today. I’m sure you’re going to share some amazing information with our listeners.

Louis[00:01:34]: All the best.

Matt [00:01:35]: Let’s dive straight into the first question. How do you go about setting a good facilities management culture?

Louis [00:01:45]: I’d probably say communication and transparency are absolutely key within my team. We are always kind of switched on. We have 12 around the country now and there’s always something that goes wrong. It kind of helps us be able to be transparent with what’s going on not just with contractors but with our in-house team.

We talk multiple times a day. We try and set meetings quite literally once a week at the start of every week to action how we go forward with what we need to do that week and what’s the most important thing we need to attack and tackle that week. It can literally change within hours.

The Talking is key to be honest because our venues are – I’d like to say really well run operationally by our operations teams. We feel that the guest experience is completely key to making sure that you come in and have the best time with us. With that, we don’t want any bad feedback from how the venue looks a bit poor this week or like, when we came it wasn’t great. That was hanging off the wall. That wasn’t working. We are just completely switched on and then getting that culture — it’s not like serious. It’s not like we’re serious. We still have fun. We have a laugh. We have a good way of working but it’s just about being honest with each other all the way through. No one hides anything from anyone which is key I feel.

Matt [00:03:33]: What’s the best way to plan for facilities management maintenance activities?

Louis [00:03:44]: I feel that we have software that really helps us manage that. At the start of the year, we just implemented a new company. We moved away from our old company but we moved into a new company called expansive FM, which was a lot more
user-friendly for us, and for our venue teams.

[It’s] a lot easier to log our jobs and log our workload so it works out a lot better for us to manage on a weekly basis. They kind of built the system not for us, but they worked with us so we kind of told them what we needed, what we felt was right, what didn’t work within their system, what they needed to take out and it really was like a collaborative piece, which is not something that you would usually do with a software company. You just basically get it off the shelf and that’s what you have to deal with and that’s it.

But we look at that, we watch jobs come in, we see jobs coming in every day. We then manage that workload and then at the start of the week, we can then decipher who’s got to do what. And it just makes tracking that job a lot simpler than probably what we’ve used in the past, or even the old school way of spreadsheets and word documents which is an absolute nightmare I’ll be honest.

Matt [00:05:23]: A lot of the time we know that facilities management doesn’t get the recognition that it should deserve. People only talk about it when something’s gone wrong or when something isn’t working. How do you think facilities management teams should go about driving appreciation for the maintenance teams across the business, particularly with the top management?

Louis [00:05:52]: I’ll be honest, that’s a really difficult question in the position I’m in now. Because we are really well acknowledged. We’re not set away from the CEO or the CFO or the COO. We’re not away from them. We’re always in constant communication, not just as a team, but with everyone in the business. They’re very fully focused on everything that happens in every function within the business and they do actually recognize what goes on.

Yes. Sometimes you might pull a big 14, 15-hour shift that they don’t see, they might not know it, but they know that you produce that work to get them to that point to get that repaired on that project. We’re not having a venue shut down. And they will send you a private message for instance. It isn’t like that at every company, I’ll be honest. It’s not like that at a recent company that I’ve worked at but it is really well appreciated.

And it is such a tough question because you kind of want to feel like you’re almost like the unsung hero, but we do get sung about quite a bit. We have a lot of sway — not sway, we have a lot of scope over a lot of different functions within our teams within our business. We could be involved with like the finance team, or we’re involved with the office management side and the IT side, depending on the tech issues that happen within the venue, or where we’ve got a dressing and production team that usually needs some of our in house expertise and help.

We kind of have a little bit in everything so everyone still sees what we do. The CEO may just maybe phone us out of the blue, and just like congratulate us on a good job that we’ve done that he’s noticed. There’s all stuff like that. It’s really good. For that to happen and for that to kind of just come out of the blue a lot of the time is really good and it’s a really positive — not just positive, but it’s a confidence booster. And it makes sure you know you’re appreciated.

Essentially what I’m trying to say is that I feel like we are appreciated as a team and we know how hard we work and people see that. But as much as you feel like the top is the most important, for us, it’s the ground level. It’s the people who are working in venues; the GMs, the AGMs, the duty managers. They see us all the time and they know that they can message us whether it’s nine in the morning or two in the morning. I’m usually on the upper end of the phone so if they’ve got an issue at any time of the day, they know they contact me. I think they know that and they appreciate that they can get that support from us as a team. I’m not pushing all the work hard and working long hours, but this is what this job is and that’s why I’m in it. I enjoy working. I enjoy my job. I enjoy what I do and I enjoy problem-solving.

I think they know that a little bit so they kind of like know that they can contact me to give them assistance, advice, and guidance. It is a tough one. I’ve got to be honest. For me to answer that as if to say that we’re not appreciated because I think we really are as a team. People really do notice what we do, which is very good.

Matt [00:09:42]: I think that’s a great answer. I mean, it’s nice to hear that because usually pretty much everybody says, we need to find ways of building that appreciation from the top management and stuff. It’s nice to hear someone that says no, we’re appreciated so that’s great.

Louis [00:10:03]: Which is good. That’s why we get the support essentially and trust from our CFO. For instance, if we need to spend six grand on a new ice machine or we need to do something with air conditioning, or we need to do this, there’s never a turnaround and say, no, you can’t do that, you haven’t got budget. It’s because it’s all about the guest and it’s all about the people who come to our venues. And if it’s not right, for what we feel is not right and the venues aren’t comfortable with it, they know that the guest isn’t going to be comfortable with it, they would rather just pay for it and it be perfect for that experience into our venue, because essentially, you want customers to return don’t you.

Matt [00:10:48]: Yes. Of course. Of course. Well, moving on from that then. What’s the best way to implement an effective facilities management plan?

Louis [00:11:00]: Software essentially. I’ve got to be honest. Our expansive system really helps us. We’ve gone from — when I joined this company, we were using an older type of system. They didn’t have a facilities department. We just had a person in ops who was trying to run it and keep it alive and it was just a very busy project for them.

I joined the company two weeks before COVID hit. I was lucky to be kept on by the company. But that also gave me the opportunity to see the business and where we were spending money and we would never have gotten that without software, whether it was the old software or the new software. We literally had I think 5, 6 venues at the time. We probably had about six maintenance visits on six different pieces of kit in every venue.

We’re now running at about 30 Maintenance visits, for different pieces of kit for every venue and we can completely see from when we were doing the 6 to the 30 how little we’re spending on reactive. We do spend on reactive, but we’re not seeing it as much as what we were in the past.

The whole software is the key to running a good facilities management division. You get KPIs. You’ve got the ways you can chase your contractors. You can keep up to date with costings, your budgets – everything. You can see where you’re overspending. You can even see down to how many times have we had a call out on a certain asset. We use that information now, where if something fails over a certain amount of times, we won’t fit that in a new venue. Will advise doing something else.

Then the project team get involved with those as well and then they ask for our support and our advice on that as well. Have you had any issues with this? Have you had any issues with that? We can literally just [with] a couple of clicks of a button, we can find that information out.

Yes. I think using software is absolutely key to helping us plan for going forward. We use a software that makes it easier not just for us but for the contractors as well. That’s what we wanted. We wanted it to be usable and that was key for everyone.

Not only that but also so we could take it global with our openings in America and that’s what helps us now plan for our American maintenance as well. When we look at our American sites that we’ve got, we’ve got one open now and we’ve already seen stuff that we’re having a lot of callouts on that are being logged on that system. Now, we’re not going to put it in our future venues. So yes, it’s a full round.

Matt [00:14:16]: Obviously it’s a no-brainer to use digital software is what you’re saying. But did you have any issues when digitising and purchasing a software? If so, how did you overcome those issues?

Louis [00:14:31]: We did have a little challenge on when we were looking to move. There was a big thing about us. I would say that we are — essentially we found out we were going to open in America. That was the big one. We went to our old provider and we gave them obviously first refusal. Can we open in America with you for instance? We don’t really want to be running two different softwares paying to different companies. And the answer was just no. It’s not on our roadmap. It’s not something we do. We’re UK based only.

Okay. So that’s when we started to research. We got quite far down the line. We did a couple of tests with a few different companies. Just didn’t feel quite right, and we thought we had one with a company. I would have mentioned it but can’t really remember it. It was literally the day of signing the contract and I asked one question before signing the contract, and it held up the whole thing. Because it went from yes, we can do it, to no we actually can’t do this. Because you go in over say multiple time zones which then means that we’d have to have multiple servers and then that will cost you 1000s of pounds every year to run those servers. And it completely floored us because we had everyone on the table. We had the CEO of America. We had our COO involved. Everyone was there and ready to pay out for this software and this key piece of information which was asked was kind of missed. And it’s no, what do we do? So it just kind of got scrapped and then we had to go back to the drawing board.

And it was literally a guy called Josh, who runs the expansive system two days after slid into my DMs on LinkedIn, and was just like, are you looking for a system? I was like actually, let’s have a chat and see what you can do. And he showed me the system and I was literally blown away by what they could do and what they could offer. How it’s worked out now and how easy it is to use, means that, for instance, I don’t have to open my laptop anymore at 11 o’clock at night. I can just get on my phone, and it’s just all there on my phone and it’s that easy to use. You know what I mean?

It feels like I’m being a bit of a sponsor for them but they’ve really helped us and they have really helped us improve the whole process of how we do our whole maintenance projects. Not just projects, our PPMs, our reactive callouts, it’s really improved and it’s made everything so much easier for me and for my team and for venues as well. The venues are the ones that use it also every day and them being able to log the job right and log an engineer in and out, just some really simple tasks like that are just very easy.

It could have been a disaster and I could have probably lost my job if I signed that contract to be honest. Because it would have been an absolute nightmare. But yes, essentially that was a massive challenge.

Matt [00:17:52]: Moving on from that then, what’s your take on using spreadsheets for FM management? Are they still useful? Do they still have a place?

Louis [00:18:03]: No. Short answer? No. I don’t feel they do. I’ll be honest, I only used them at the very start when I was working at Manchester City [FC], I used them. It was confusing. It wasn’t easy to use. It’s hard to keep on top of. Facilities is so widespread. You get notified every five minutes about a new job and to do that in a spreadsheet is just an impossible task.

I’ll be honest. It’s not something that I feel is — it’s definitely not the future anyway of the industry and there is a lot of good stuff out there at the minute.

Matt [00:18:53]: Yes. All right. So spreadsheets are out. Digital is in.

Louis [00:18:57]: That’s it.

Matt [00:18:58]: All right. So what are your top three tips for our listeners on effective facilities management?

Louis [00:19:06]: Communication is probably the main one. Definitely communication between your stakeholder, and your team. That’s absolutely huge. Trust is also another one. I feel that trust in your own in-house team. Trust with your contractors and trust with the stakeholders who are actually logging work for you that they’re doing it in the right manner and they’re helping you as much as possible by logging jobs and getting these jobs signed off and what have you.

All right. Top three — Sorry, I’m just — I think planning. Planning is a big one. Making sure that you plan out your — not just your reactive side but your maintenance side. There are a lot of spinning wheels with a lot of sites and all different facilities managers are different kinds of buildings, whether it’s permitted or whether it’s access times or overnight works. There’s so much involved and you can involve quite a lot of multiple people. So it’s almost like planning organisation is probably one of the biggest ones.

Matt [00:20:30]: Wrapping it up in a bow then, this is the final question from me. What’s your favourite saying, or quote on FM?

Louis [00:20:38]: I don’t really want to say favourite because it’s not a favourite. It’s actually a hate. And I don’t really have a favourite saying other than well done. You’ve done a good job. But I’d say my biggest hate of a comment would be it’s not my job. I hate that phrase.

I feel that everyone can pitch in at any point, no matter what it is. I feel like — I don’t know if it’s just because of my work ethic and the way I’ve been brought up through trades and stuff like that, which helps me see a different side to work and what have you, but I just hate that phrase, not my job.

I’ve got to be honest. Well, just as a favour, it’s just literally just well done. I’ve got to be honest, just a well done. Congratulations. You’ve done a good job. That’s all I like.

Matt [00:21:32]: Great. Well, thanks so much for being on the show. You’ve dropped some real knowledge for us there and some fantastic insight for our listeners. Thanks again for being on the show.

Louis [00:21:45]: No worries. Thank you very much for having me. I hope I didn’t ramble too much.

Matt [00:21:48]: Well, thanks to all of you listeners as well for coming back and listening to us again. It’s always great to have you here and we appreciate you listening. So we will see you on the next episode. Cheers.