Becky Hanner, BOMA Fellows Chair and Principal at Commercial Asset Services | The customization of tenant amenities and ROI | 24:16

Transcript

DA: Welcome to TEN, the Tenant Experience Network. I’m your host David Abrams. In this episode, we are connecting with Becky Hanner, BOMA Fellows Chair and Principal of Commercial Asset Services at Hanner Academy, providing expert asset management and tenant related services. In this episode, we’ll learn about Becky’s journey to her current role at Commercial Asset Services where she combines her early experience working in accounting with her training in property and asset management. We will tap into her thinking around offering boutique expertise to smaller asset owners, the continued focus on health and wellness in commercial real estate, and the customization of tenant amenities with a sensitivity to the bottom line and driving ROI. We are excited to be sharing this podcast with you. So be sure to follow TEN, so you never miss an episode of the Tenant Experience Network. And now I’d like to welcome Becky to the show. Really glad you could be with us today.

BH: Yeah, thank you for having me.

DA: Great, let’s start with your journey to your current role as Principal of Commercial Asset Services and Hanner Academy. How’d you get started? Walk me through that, and share a little bit more about your current role.

BH: Yeah, yeah, I mean, what a fun time. Just like everybody else that’s in commercial real estate, I just happened upon it by accident. I actually went to school for accounting and started working with a small local developer who, you know, this gentleman really had a lot of foresight because he wanted me to run the property management group but I’m like, I can’t run the property management group. I don’t know anything about property management. And he said, he was first of all, he was a country boy from Virginia, and with an accent. So he says, “Well, you know how to count beans, don’t you? If you can count beans you can be a property manager.” But you know, the interesting thing is that back then the property managers did not do as much accounting work as they do today. So it served me very well because I had that background. And I just, you know, he trained me, I learned from him, and I worked for several different, small local developers which was fantastic because when you work for a small company, you wear a lot of different hats. So I was exposed to, of course, the accounting, and the property management, but development and helping with design, and what made sense, you know, when you’re building something, and in construction, and leasing I mean, it was just really great to be able to be exposed to so many facets of real estate. I did so many of the loan originations too as far as working with the lenders to get loans for these properties. Experiences I never would have had if I was with a larger company. DA: Right. BH: So from there, I also went to a national REIT and was an asset manager with them handling property in several States. That again, fantastic experience. I worked, one of my mentors, I worked with the gentleman who taught me all about leasing, you know, just ad nauseum what every single lease provision meant, you know, in the lease agreement which served me very well from that aspect. And you know, the network worker party, you know, international companies. So, you know, it’s been great because I just feel like everything that you learn from one experience to another helps make up that fabric that leads you into who you are today, and, you know, you remember it. So, yeah, so I’ve had a very varied background which I wouldn’t trade for anything. DA: Right. I think you’re also very connected to BOMA. Maybe tell me a little bit about how you got involved with that organization. BH: Yeah. Yeah. BOMA’s been a huge influence in my life. So, well we can just go back. When I worked for that country man with a small local developer, I became aware of an industry organization that’s not even around any longer, the Mid-Atlantic Council of Shopping Center Managers, because at the time I was managing shopping centers. That’s what our sweet spot was for this development company. And I got involved with it because I didn’t really know, you know, I was kind of like, you know, just flying by the seat of my pants, and I didn’t really understand the best way to handle certain situations. So I joined that group, and I’ve learned so much from them on, you know, it was learning the best way to do things, best practices, but it was also validation because it would, you know, if you handled a situation, and you weren’t sure if it was the right way to handle it or not, you can check with people and they’re like, “Yeah, that’s what we would have done too.” So, it really made you have the confidence to be able to continue on with it. Well, that organization went defunct. And then several years later, I was actually approached by, at the time BOMA was Carolinas and West Virginia. It was three States. And they were based out of Charlotte, which is the other side of the state from Raleigh, which is where I’m from. DA: Okay. BH: And they asked if I might be interested in helping them start a group in Raleigh. So I did. And from there it just grew, you know, it was like, you know the Raleigh group has grown tremendously, you know, regionally I’ve been involved. I’ve been involved really in leadership on just about every level. I actually started the group in Raleigh. Regionally I’ve been the president of the region, and internationally, I was an international officer or the secretary treasurer. In BOMA, is not an automatic roll up. And I realized that when I was secretary treasurer, I really shouldn’t continue further because I didn’t have the support of my company because of the duties I had in my office. And it just didn’t make sense, so I didn’t do that. But I am involved with BOMA very much so. And that’s a great place where people can learn leadership skills because you’re running committees, you know, committee meetings, and you know, you’re making presentations to people, and you know, you put together panels, and you might, you know, put together education sessions for people to attend. And these are things that you may not otherwise have an opportunity to experience. And you really take that with you to your next job. DA: Absolutely. Well, just so you know, I always enjoy these conversations learning more about our guests, and sort of where they began, and just so you know, we have what we have in common. My background also is public accounting. So that’s where I started, a bit of a number cruncher, or a bean counter. BH: Oh, yes. DA: And I’ll agree with you that those skills are pretty foundational, so it has served me well. BH: And you’ll never say the word bean counter the same again, will you? It’ll be bean counter. DA: Right. So why do you think you were so uniquely suited for this opportunity? What’s helped you along the way to become successful? You talked about mentors, but skills, mentors, colleagues, books, what would you say has contributed to your success? BH: Yeah you know, it’s just never turned down an opportunity. It’s just a situation where if somebody asks you to do something, you know, it’s not a situation of gee, that’s just more work. It’s like, oh man, let me just try that out, and see what I could do, and see what I can do with it. I’ve always loved new business generation. That’s kind of my sweet spot. But when I decided to go out on my own, you know, things just kind of fell, you know, fell in place. It just made sense for me to do certain things. You know, we’ve got a sister company that does our actual day-to-day property management for the properties that we manage, the commercial asset services. You know, I provide asset management services. What I’ve done is, you know, everybody handles the big boys, all the institutional owners, but there’s a lot of people that, you know, smaller owners, ownerships that a lot of times they don’t even know what their goals and objectives are for their properties. They need someone to help guide them, and help them achieve them. So, and I love working with the smaller groups rather than… I also enjoy big institutional clients too. But, it’s just a different mindset when you’re working with some of the smaller companies. You can give them more of a boutique experience, which is always fun. DA: Right. BH: So yeah, I just, one thing kind of led to another and then someone asked me to start teaching some courses for the real estate commission. So I started doing that as well. So, it’s just some things have fallen in place, and I love the diversity, it’s just so much fun. You know, you can always, there’s always something new and different to do. DA: Right, great. So let’s, you know, we can’t avoid the obvious. Let’s agree that living through a pandemic is a horrible thing. That being said, you know, we’ve now taken the perspective that it can no longer be an excuse. You know, the reality is we live in a world with COVID. So from our perspective, we’re working hard to make sure that we can be better, build better, and do better. So I’m just curious, if I was to give you a hundred thousand dollars of budget right now, how would you spend it, and why? BH: A hundred thousand dollars. A hundred thousand dollars, oh man. DA: American, US dollars, US dollars. BH: Well, you know, I would, this is so boring. I’d probably squirrel it away. DA:  Ah. BH: I know it’s, I’d probably squirrel it away for retirement. You know, I’m still building my company. I don’t have any large capital needs for my company at this point in time. So, I’d probably squirrel it away. DA: Alright. BH: But, you know, you mentioned, and the pandemic is horrible, there’s no question. But I don’t know, I just feel like people are really reprioritizing, you know, they’re thinking about their lifestyle, and thinking about their priorities in life. And I think there’s some things that have been really good that’ve come out of this too. DA: Well, I agree with you, and I think that’s where the be better, do better, build better. I think that there are going to be some outcomes from this that are going to make the world a different, and more interesting, and perhaps better place. BH: Yeah. DA: You know, I’d like to think there might have been an easier way to get there, but you know, here we are. So, there’s still a lot that we don’t know. You know, I feel pretty confident that we will return to the workplace. I think it’s going to be much slower than we first thought. Flexibility is continuing to develop and evolve as an emerging beam in commercial real estate recognizing that people are going to be working from everywhere, including the home. I’m just wondering what your thoughts are on that. BH: Yeah. That’s such a great question. And isn’t that the question of the day? I mean, everybody’s always wondering. Well, so I think that first of all, I think everybody thinks that they were really efficient when the lockdown started, because there was no place to go. So, there was nothing to do, but sit at home and work. So people were really efficient. However, I also continue to hear that people feel that they’re not as efficient as they were. I don’t know about, you know, in Toronto, but certainly in North Carolina, my gosh, there are so many cars on the road now, it’s almost like it was, you know, pre-pandemic. So, people may not be going to work, but they’re certainly out and about. And I know that BOMA is saying 2022 before there’s any sense of normalcy for sure. But, you know, I truly feel that there’s so many people that are either caring for children at home, or parents at home that really want to get back to work. I know that the employers really want their employees back to work because the employees are losing their sense of culture for the younger folks that are fairly new in business, you know, like 30 and less, and younger, that they’re not really getting the the training that they would get if they’re in the office because working from home, you know, they can call someone and talk to them. But, you know, I’ve actually heard managers say, “Gosh, I don’t get any work done ’cause all my employees are calling me on stuff.” You know, they just, I don’t think that there’s that depth of training that would happen in the workplace. So, I just think that, you know, I think it’ll, you know, whether it’s a hybrid of working from home and work, I just feel that, you know, there’s definitely going to be a lot more people coming into work, probably the latter part of this year and next year too. And we’ll just see where, I think every industry’s going to be different. You know, if it’s a tech company, maybe people will be more at home. If it’s an attorney’s office, more people’ll be in the office. I think it depends on the industry. DA: I agree. I think industry, I think the type of work that you do, I think that the position that you might have within the company, I think that’s going to continue to evolve and change. I do believe that, like you’ve suggested, people are desperately wanting to come back to work, and that, you know, this kind of work style, while it did work initially, is not necessarily sustainable. So, I’m looking forward to seeing what will emerge, and I think it will be a blend. I think flexibility, again, is going to be the flavor of the day, and people are going to choose when it’s right to be in the office, and when they, you know, head down, can get more accomplished by just staying at home. BH: I don’t know if you’ve heard anything like this or not, but, you know, one thing that’s interesting is I’ve heard that the, you know, there are companies that are leaving high rises, and leasing out and suburban buildings because if something like this should happen again, they want their people to be able to get up and down you know, like if it’s a two or three story building, people can go on the stairs, and not have to worry about elevators. So, they still want a presence in the high rise, but a smaller presence than then their larger business will actually be in a suburban building. So, have you seen any of that in Toronto? DA: Well, certainly we’ve seen a lot of talk about the hub and spoke sort of a strategy. BH: Yes. DA: Which I think is what you just suggested. BH: Exactly. DA: Yeah. I still think it’s early days for us. I think again, we’re still in a pretty tight lockdown here and that will continue likely for the next few weeks. So, you know, while people are, you know, on the road to do essential outings, primarily they very much are still working from home. And I think companies are really trying to, you know, continue to assess what their needs are, and what their strategy will be going forward. But there certainly is a lot of talk about the hub and spoke. I’m not so sure that we’ll see that really become a major force here in the Toronto market. We already did have sort of, you know, branch offices already in suburban markets. So I think we’ll see how that evolves. BH: Right, right. Yes. It’ll be interesting. DA: Yeah. Let’s take a short break, and we’ll be right back. Commercial Break DA:  We’re back with Becky Hanner from Commercial Asset Services. So, the commercial real estate industry is moving faster recognizing that their core business is actually not just owning buildings, but rather about creating the best customer experience for their tenants and their residents. So, any thinking around how we will define and deliver tenant experience in 2021, and likely into 2022? BH: Oh, wow. So, I think the tenants, when the office workers, when they come back to the office, are still going to want all the services they had before they left. And I think more than ever, they’re going to be focused on health and wellness on top of it. So, you know, the two words we’ve been using all year, escalate and pivot, certainly these are, you know, words that describe this as well because it’s escalated just how important it is to provide a good tenant amenity package. But I do believe a lot of these are going to go mobile. So what I mean by that is even before the pandemic, the workers wanted to make time for their weekend. They wanted to take care of their errands during the week, and not have to run around on the weekend and take time to do these things that they couldn’t do you know, during the week. So a lot of services, anything that was traditionally brick and mortar, was already coming to the office. I mean, you could get your bicycle repaired. You could get to the golf clubs repaired. I mean, you know, you could have chiropractic service at the office. These things have been around for several years, and these things were built. The services that were available in each market had been in a building. Well, certainly when people come back to the office, they’re going to want to continue to have that. And I’d say even more so, but they want to make sure that it’s in an atmosphere that’s healthy and well. So, someone who has a fixed space fitness center for example, you know, you can only have so many people in the fitness center. Even after the pandemic, people are going to be more careful about this. So there may be more, you know, outdoor yoga classes, or boot camps, or that sort of thing that will be outside that would compliment the fixed office space you know, that that’s at the office space. DA: Yeah. And likely virtual will continue. I think to your point, you might see outside spaces utilized more so, but I think the virtual programming that we’ve seen emerge, particularly in the wellness space, will likely be a part of our ongoing experience. BH: Yeah, yeah. DA: I think to that end, you know, the technology that helps drive the connection and interaction with these kinds of programs and services I think is going to continue to be that much more important in the marketplace. So, I think there’ll be a lot of strides forward in helping these buildings becoming more tech enabled just to recognize that, you know, those amenities in those services need to be delivered and accessed in a very different way. BH: I could not agree more. Communication’s the key. And each worker wants to be able to control their own environment, and create their own, you know, what their program is going to be, so to speak. When I say program, their amenity program, you know, pick and choose. So, I agree. Communication is the key for sure. And yeah, we’re going to see a lot of changes in that regard. DA: Yeah, I like your point about, you know, each tenant wanting maybe to curate their own kinds of programs. So, you know, it just makes me think that the need for more customization, that it can’t just be a cookie-cutter solution that they also need the flexibility to pick and choose. BH: Yeah. And technology. You know, again, escalate. I believe, you know, the, the rising role of technology for commercial real estate is just, you know, it’s so important, and it’s important for property managers to understand that if they don’t start implementing technology in their buildings, your building’s going to be left behind, and it will no longer be a differentiator. You know, somebody might go to another building. And it’s, I don’t know if you’ve heard this phrase or not, but there’s been this thing about you know, that the property manager’s role is to help the tenants find workers. DA:  Yes. BH: And that started being bounced around a few years ago. And this is all part of it because now HR is more involved in site selection than ever before because they look at the things that are, you know, in the building that they’re looking at maybe leasing. They’re looking at these things as part of their benefit package for people that would be a prospective employee that would come work for them. So, all of these things are really important. DA: Yeah, you’re right. I’ve heard the theme, you know, that buildings, first of all, they’re all about people again. And that if buildings, the building experience can help their tenants attract and retain the best talent, that may be as job number one. I think that’s definitely a theme that will continue to come to market. I think it’s still relatively early and new for that. I think that that’s an important realization. And I think that opens up all kinds of opportunities to your point to begin to differentiate. You spoke earlier about working for the big institutional asset owners versus some of the more entrepreneurial, independent owner operators. And I’m just wondering just some insight on your perspective, you know, are they, do you think that there’s still the same opportunity for adoption of technology, you know, small or big? In my opinion, I don’t think it should matter. What are you seeing at sort of that smaller, independent, more maybe local or regional operator level in terms of looking at technology to help differentiate the experience they offer? BH: Well, it truly is about the bottom line. I mean, even though the buildings are, you know, an experience that people do invest in real estate because they want to make some money. So unfortunately, you know, that’s definitely the biggest part of it, but so, yeah I think it depends on the project. I mean, it can be a small owner, but they might own a property that has the cash, you know the cash flow to be able to handle technology that would help attract more tenants there. If it’s a small building, it may not make sense. It depends on what kind of technology it is. There’s so many things to choose from when you look at the world of technology. I mean it could be technology that would help you operationally, you know, pay bills, or it could be technology that might help you control your HVAC system, or your building access, or you know, the amenities that you were talking about, or tenant communication or alert system. I mean, there’s just so many different types of technology. And I think that the managers just kind of need to think about, okay what are my challenges with this building? And what is most important to me today? What will I get the biggest bang for my buck, you know, using? And you know, it was not like everyone can implement everything all at one time, but maybe you do one thing this year. Maybe you think about next year, something else might be the next step. So, you have to step into it just like when we did sustainability. It was baby steps at first. DA: Right. Right. Agreed. Agreed. Can you share any details about something new you’re working on, or a challenge you’re facing in light of current world circumstances that you think our listeners might find interesting? BH: Well, I don’t know how interesting they find it, but the big issue now, of course, is how much has COVID wreaked havoc on our operating expense reconciliations. You know, I mean, so many people, you look at your expenses for 2020 maybe your expenses were a lot higher than usual because you had a lot of extra cleaning costs, or maybe they were lower than usual because you didn’t have as many workers in the building so you could save on electricity costs. And what does, you know, when if you gross up your expenses, you’re doing it based on occupancy, which typically has been, you know, translated as your vacancy factor. Well, okay. So if you’re grossing things up, there are people are not in the office. Are people going to be thinking, okay, well, it was vacant, but they might’ve had a skeleton crew there. So it opens up a myriad of questions, and how to handle things. And, you know, the whole idea behind operating expense reconciliations and gross-ups is to be very fair to both the tenant and the landlord. So again, communication is going to be key because there’s going to have to be a lot of conversations between tenants and between the owners right now while the 2020 recs are going out. And it’ll be the same next year. There’ll still be more issues next year as well. DA: Thank you. Interesting. So, our closing speed round. If you could have one super power, one super power, what would it be? BH: Wow. Yeah, I don’t think I want to read anybody’s mind because I think that would just drive me crazy if I should hear their thoughts. I would imagine probably flight. If I could just like, sometimes, you know when you’re in a crowd, you just want to just get out of there, and, you know just be able to get to where you want to get. And I could probably get to super sales quicker than everybody else if I could fly. DA: All right. Sounds good. What city or country would you like to travel to first when you can, and why? BH: You know, I’ve really been wanting to get to South Africa, and I don’t know when I’ll be able to, but that is all my list, and that’s, you know, everything I’ve ever heard about it is so amazing. I’ve got friends that live there, and I’ve got to get there. Have you been there, David? DA: I have not. Not yet, no. So, when you’re not working, what are you doing? What’s keeping you busy? BH: What hobby don’t I have? I don’t have enough time for all the hobbies I have. You know, I mountain bike, I hike, I play golf, I yoga. I sew, I’m a quilter. And since I’ve been staying in the mountains of North Carolina, the big thing in this area is barn quilting, which is actually painting. So you paint the design of a quilt to put on the side of a barn. And that’s actually a lot of fun, too. So you know, what don’t I do? DA: That’s great. That’s great that you can say that. That’s wonderful. I love it. What’s the number one thing you miss about the workplace? BH: So, I work from home. I’ve been working from for three years with my company. DA: Okay. BH: So, I’ve not been in a workplace atmosphere, however I’m always out and about. I’m always, you know, with people, whether, for different things, whether it’s a meeting, or working with them on a project. So, and I’m a real people person. So, I really miss seeing people and socializing. DA: I’m with you on that. Okay, most important question of the day, your favorite recent TV or streaming movie, or series. BH: Okay. I watch way too much TV late as of late. And what have I not seen? I would say that probably my favorites are the “Queen’s Gambit”. DA: Okay. I love that one. BH: “The Crown”. DA: Okay. BH: And “Schitt’s Creek” is hysterical. Oh. And actually a very wholesome one that is from Canada, “Homeland”. DA: Right. BH: Yeah. DA: All right. All right. Listen, Becky, I really enjoyed spending time with you today and getting to know you a little bit more, finding our common roots in accounting, our passion for commercial real estate, and I like you, I also, you know, enjoy working both for the large institutional investor, but also those smaller owner/operator, entrepreneurial type owners. They’re certainly, you know, were very instrumental in helping us get started, and get our platform out into the market. So, it takes all kinds of clients to help make it work. Thanks for spending the time with us. I look forward to continuing the conversation. And stay safe, and stay healthy. BH: Thank you. Thanks for having me on the show, David. DA: Alright, take care. I want to thank Becky Hanner for joining me on today’s episode of TEN, and for sharing her journey from early beginnings as an accountant to now delivering a boutique like experience to property owners of all sizes, great learning for all our listeners, and an opportunity to gain insights into what it takes to become an innovation leader. Please be sure to follow 10 for future discussions with leading professionals and industry experts who all have something to say about the impact of technology on tenant experience in the built world. If you or someone you know would like to be a guest on a future episode, please reach out to me directly at david@hiloapp.com. And until our next episode, I wish you all continued success in building community where you work or live. Thank you.
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