Driving Innovation in Facilities Training
Mobile Training Unit
Rush, 30 days
When it comes to maintenance training in the
multifamily industry, typical classroom settings often miss the mark for employee education. Such was the case for Cortland Partners’ facilities and services team in their efforts to improve maintenance training for employees serving 40,000 apartment homes in 17 markets throughout seven states. Since facility service and maintenance professionals tend to be hands-on learners, standard classroom training can disconnect with the audience, creating less knowledge retention and lack of real-world application scenarios. Known for doing things differently, Cortland tackled this
challenge with innovative gusto. It all started with a rough idea literally sketched on a napkin by Ron Cline, Director of Service and Quality, and presented to Jonathan Tucker, Cortland’s EVP Facilities and Services. Realizing the magnitude of the idea, Tucker presented the sketch and idea to Cortland’s CEO, Steven DeFrancis, who commented,
“We have to do it!” The brilliant idea that ignited the Cortland executive leadership team was the concept of a mobile training trailer for Facilities and Services, a first in the multifamily industry. Cortland turned to Benson to make their idea a reality through a close collaboration in an expedited time frame.
Realizing the magnitude of the idea, Tucker presented the sketch and ideato Cortland’s CEO, Steven DeFrancis, who commented, “We have to do it!”
While the original concept for the mobile training unit began as a pick-up truck and small trailer, Steven DeFrancis had a grander vision similar to a NASCAR event and hospitality trailer. The final format was a larger, experiential vehicle that came to Benson in the form of a blank canvas. Originally, Benson was retained to do custom branded vehicle graphics for the trailer, but Cortland quickly expanded their role to full development and rapid prototyping of the mobile training unit. From critical color matching on the exterior brand graphics to the full engagement of Benson Limelight graphic designers and Benson Signs fabrication and engineering experts, Cortland and Benson collaborated closely to customize every detail to their exact specifications. Benson was even engaged to design, fabricate and install Cortland branded plumbing, electrical and safety displays.
According to Jonathan Tucker, “Our Facilities Mobile Training Unit was a first in the industry, so it had never been done before. We had no templates or plans to follow, and we encountered a lot of hurdles along the way. Benson figured out a solution to every hurdle we encountered, so we kept going back to them. At every challenge, Benson responded, ‘Yes we can.’ Without a doubt, we are stronger partners today because of this project.” Benson’s CEO, Brian Benson, agrees and states, “Cortland is a unique and highly creative company. They understand the importance of adhering to their brand standards on every project, big or small. We are always honored to work with them, but we are especially proud of what our team created for their Facilities Mobile Training Unit.”
Leading the way with an innovative approach to a mobile maintenance unit was wrought with design, engineering, quality and logistical challenges. As Jonathan Tucker remarks, “We repeatedly kept telling ourselves we were new to this, and no one had ever done anything like this before. We thought we had answered all of the questions, but we had the trailer at Benson for over a month. Every time something came in wrong from another vendor, they quickly adapted it and got it right.”
One of the biggest challenges came in the form of creating a realistic and functional plumbing display that allowed Cortland to train their maintenance team on every aspect, from the exterior hose bibs to the interior apartment plumbing components and fixtures. Just when Cortland thought the scale of this challenge might exceed the project, Benson volunteered to do a mock-up of the plumbing display for their review. According to Tucker, this proved to be the biggest and most pleasant surprise of the entire project. “Hands down, it is the most impressive piece inside the mobile training unit. It is not only extremely aesthetically pleasing but also functions beautifully by helping our staff easily understand how the overall plumbing systems operate.”
One of the biggest challenges came in the form of creating a realistic and functional plumbing display that allowed Cortland to train their maintenance team on every aspect, from the exterior hose bibs to the interior apartment.
Benson responded to another challenge with a unique innovation when Cortland wanted their logo on the back door, but the door folds down to provide a walkway into the mobile training unit. Due to Benson’s ongoing research and development into material intelligence, they were able to suggest and specify a new material that looked great but was also far more durable than expected.
Perhaps the biggest challenge of all was a short time frame for completion within the context of ongoing complications and changes to project components. The Facilities Mobile Training Unit was set to be unveiled as the grand finale at
Cortland’s annual X-Factor Conference for their
community managers, service managers, and corporate associates. Benson had the trailer at their facility for just over a month before the conference, and continual hurdles and changes had to be executed and approved by Cortland on a daily basis. “We were down to just three days before
the conference,” says Tucker, “and there were still
a lot of changes that needed to be made and other vendor components that had to be corrected. Benson worked 24/7 to fix them all and deliver the trailer to our conference in perfect condition. There are very few companies in this industry that move as fast as Cortland, and Benson is one of them. They kept up, did not miss a beat, made great suggestions and met our deadline.”
View Cortland’s Video Overview of the Facilities Maintenance Training Unit
Cortland revealed the Facilities Mobile Training Unit at their annual X-Factor Conference on September 15, 2016. After introducing the concept through a teaser video, Cortland invited attendees outside to view and experience the trailer in person. The response was overwhelmingly positive, and in fact, Tucker said they had to basically force people back inside to finish the conference.
More important than the ecstatic first impression, the Mobile Training Unit is now in full service and traveling to Cortland’s entire portfolio around the country multiple times a year. The innovative mobile education center visits each region for a two-week period, and training can be customized to meet the maintenance needs in each area. In addition, the vehicle is invaluable as new maintenance programs and initiatives are rolled out on a national basis.
By taking the interactive classroom to maintenance teams in person, Cortland is capable of training more effectively and rapidly, and this translates to resident satisfaction. “Being the best in the industry requires us to continually out-perform our peers in all areas. The faster and more accurately we complete service requests, the happier our residents are over time. Therefore, a better-trained maintenance team directly translates to happier and more satisfied residents. The Facilities Mobile Training Unit has allowed us to meet these objectives more effectively and efficiently,” states Tucker.
In fact, the experiential training unit has also
enhanced Cortland’s perception with other critical
stakeholders. According to Tucker, the Board and
Investors’ reaction was “over the moon” due to the
innovation of the project, and even the company’s
insurance carriers responded positively due to the
Dedicated Safety Program initiative that also utilizes
the mobile training unit. Not limited to the Facilities
Service team, the enthusiasm runs deep and company-
wide according to Tucker. “Everyone in the company wants to be part of the Mobile Training Unit, including our interior design team, construction group and even outside vendors.” As an example, Tucker received a very enthusiastic response to an email notification informing property managers of
the arrival schedule of the Facilities Mobile Training
Unit. Ana Penaherrera, Leasing Manager, Bowery
Bayside in Tampa, replied, “Can I go? Where are you
parking that bad boy? I want to learn stuff!”
The unbridled enthusiasm for the project has been
rewarding for both the Cortland and Benson teams.
According to Brian Benson, “Everyone in our organization
was committed to making Cortland’s great
idea a reality, and we applied our full capabilities
and talent to this project. It’s especially rewarding to
learn and grow as a team when you are doing great
work for your client.” Jonathan Tucker agrees the
Facilities Mobile Training Unit originated with
a great idea from Cortland, but he concludes, “The
idea is the easy part. Execution is where it matters,
and Benson delivered on every detail. It was their
grasp of the big picture and patience that guided us
to make this project successful.”