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Episode 41: Melissa Banko

BTG Episode 41

Josh: Welcome to Bridge the Gap senior living podcast. I’m Josh. I’m here with my cohost Lucas.

Lucas: What’s up?

Josh: What’s up man? So, today is very special and unique for those of you that are regular listeners. You know that I’m usually not the one doing the intro. So, sorry to disappoint.

Melissa: You did it right.

Josh: Well, thank you. So, I’m here today not only with my cohost Lucas but one of our favorite people Melissa Banko of Banko Design. For those of you who have been listening to our show for awhile, you recognize the name because Melissa was one of our first guests back at like a NIC conference, right?

Melissa: Yep, yep! We met a NIC.

Josh: So, exciting today. We’re here at Banko Design and right outside of Atlanta. We had a brief tour, got to meet some of the team and they’re doing awesome things. We’re going to let Melissa tell a little bit about what they do here. We’re going to do a little bit deeper dive and talk about design. We’re gonna talk about procurement; we’re gonna talk about timing; we’re gonna talk about some space planning as we’re repurposing communities. So, excited (and) welcome to the show.

Melissa: Thanks for having me back! I guess I didn’t screw it up too bad the first time if you guys want to hang out again so I appreciate that. We love having you here at the studio. So, you listening might here chatter in the background of the designers coming in starting the day and getting going on what it is we do all day.

So, I think we get that question a lot- what all is included in interior design; when we hire you on, what are you giving us? What’s the scope cover.

There’s sort of two parts to that. There’s the actual design side. There’s the specification side. There’s working with the architects and the engineers to coordinate everything that we would like to go into that building- how are we going to address that space.

But, before that, it’s the space planning and the program side of it. So, another question we get a ton is when do we need to bring you in to the project? We actually talked about that when we spoke the first time and we like to be brought in pretty early on after the architects are through schematic design and the reason why we do this is we want to make sure that the program that we need that that building to function actually fits in the space.

Josh: So, we were talking about some practical examples of that earlier. I’m an operator. Lucas deals a lot with this because he’s in the renovation and construction business. But, share some practical examples of some things that make it not go right that you can prevent from happening. Just some practical things you shared about carpet.

Melissa: It’s not major changes, right. Again, it’s just the collaboration and the tweaking things that make sense but that can have a huge impact on the overall cost of the job and again the program of the job.

So, we were talking about corridor widths and what does that look like. So, we always help our architects and we work with them to make sure that we’ve got five-foot wide or six-foot wide corridors- that’s plenty of space for my seniors to be able to get by each other. But when we start getting much wider than that and we’re specifying product that’s a roll good, if we’re much wider than that, we’re having to buy twice the goods, right? So, we want to preserve those facts. We want to make sure things are acting exactly as it needs to that the widths are right.

Another big example that we run into is there’s space allotted for things like dining rooms and then we started to look at seat count and we really start to scale what that furniture is in that space. Come to find out, we maybe need to bump that building out two feet or, which our developers love to hear, shrink the building. You’ve got too much space and you can actually come in a little bit because we’ve been able to get all the seat counts we need in there and just scale appropriately that space.

Again, it’s just the conversation…in the beginning when an interior designer is brought in and works with all those consultants.

Josh: Yeah and so it can potentially save you a lot of money-

Melissa: Yes.

Josh: -particularly with projects now where everybody is concerned about cost. But also, it just helps you prepare and not over-budget because a team or community, they may be committed to those 8-foot corridors but they just need to know maybe they’ve under-budgeted and if they’re committed to that, they just need to make sure that they’ve planned appropriately.

Melissa: Exactly.

Josh: Bringing the team together, as we talked about, it’s gotta be a complete team. They’ve all got to be around the table talking about the same project from the start.

Lucas: If you pick the wrong material and that waste factor goes sky high-

Melissa: -right.

Lucas: -then you’re below your budget and so having that conversation upfront on how you want to lay that carpet and the seeming diagrams- it can’t be an afterthought that comes up that’s something that is a budget buster.

Melissa: Right. And if we know we’re working with 8-foot corridors and that’s just what the building is and that’s what the owner has requested, then let’s be smart about what the specifications are. Let’s look at something modular rather than having the team pick something that’s probable and sort of go down that rabbit hole of what that specification is again.

So, again, it’s just about communication upfront and what the end goals are and then we can design to whatever we need to. We just need to be privy to those conversations.

Josh: So, a very much a small detail but I think is really important- we were just talking through some things here for folks, we talked a little about timing (and) when to bring the team together but you were even giving us some interesting facts and Lucas and I were sitting here thinking, gosh, that’s a long time. We were talking about carpet. Go through some of the typical timelines for things when like- I think a lot of people I don’t think know (and) I did not know and I’m in the business and we need to be planning for 16 weeks?

Melissa: Sometimes it’s 16 weeks for furniture or if it’s semi-custom flooring, wall covering, what have you- and again that’s not every product, right. So, but it’s just we have the education of what those lead times are and we’re happy to walk through that as a schedule of our owners and our operators.

But, again, it’s just communication upfront about what that is. We get that question- lighting is also something that has a really long lead time and that’s not custom, that’s just quote unquote off the shelf. So, we want to make sure that we are specifying appropriately and our owners, our operators and our GC knows, hey, you do have 16 week leave time on a lot of lighting so let’s plan appropriately so the team doesn’t fall in love with the design, everything is budgeted and it comes down to, oh, crap, we’ve got a lead time that’s way too long. We’ve got to get this building done.

Lucas: So, on lighting, I’m going to interrupt you because this just hit me. How do you feel about value engineering as a designer? Do you hate it? Do you love it? Everybody wants to say something-

Melissa: Do you want me to be honest?

Lucas: Yes, be honest. Lighting is a category where people are always like ‘I found another light, is this the same thing?’ It’s $20 less per unit.

Melissa: Right. So, we try to prevent VE. We need to know it’s a real life thing. It’s a part of the process sometimes. Sometimes we’re being held in a budget. Maybe something went a little haywire in the project and we need to help our owner VE something to get some dollars, I get it.

But, our job is to really prevent that. So, again, having the conversations upfront about what those budgets are, what the goals are of the project and then design wants. If you have to tweak, something’s out of stock, what have you, then we reselect. But we are really challenged with helping our groups not have to VE.

That’s a great segway into product. So, Banko is set up. We are a full ID firm so we design and we create drawings and we create this holistic interior’s package and that’s one part of what we do. The other part is the procurement part.

So, after we specify things like lighting and furniture and we hold those budgets, we can then procure for our owners and that is something I was really passionate about when I started Banko. I came from firms that didn’t do that and I just thought why are we not making that a seamless transition for our owners and why are we not handling that for them rather than bringing an agent in. That is a big part of what we do.

So, you guys toured the warehouse-

Josh: -and it’s amazing. I knew you had a warehouse but that’s a serious warehouse and there is loads of furniture here so that tells me you’re very busy. But explain what goes on back there.

Melissa: Yeah! So, on the procurement side after we’ve designed and we’ve budgeted for those furniture items and we’ve space planned for those furniture items, the team does select everything which is included in sort of the design side. So, we specify all those goods. But then I have an owner look at me and say, okay, now I need you to make it happen, you know, let’s talk about procurement.

What’s wrapped up in procurement is we have those specifications. We order all those goods. We check on all those lead times to make sure things are going to be here appropriately. If not, we reselect. And then we track those goods coming to the warehouse. It drops here at the warehouse- we have an amazing warehouse team which you guys saw buzzing around the warehouse back there. They inspect all of the goods to make sure that nothing is damaged. That’s something we don’t want to see pop up on an install day. It’s categorized on what job it goes on. It sits in those bays and is all safe until install day. Then we load our trucks, drive those trucks to the install, install everything, throw away all the trash, dust everything off and you’re ready to go with your furniture.

So, it is a laborious process on the back end but again it’s controlled by the folks that specified it. We’re here to troubleshoot and again make that super easy for our owners and our operators to say we specified it, we bought, we got it here (and) you’re good to go.

Josh: So, talk me through a little bit of that timing because obviously I walk through this warehouse and I ask you, gosh, this is a lot of furniture here, like y’all have a lot of projects going on. How early is this furniture usually arriving, giving you guys time to inspect it, make sure everything’s right- is there time to where if something isn’t right you typically have time to get it sent back to you?

Melissa: Yeah, we definitely build that schedule for you on the front end and so everyone’s on the same base. And we do weekly touch bases- here’s what’s here, here’s what we are waiting on. But what we do for quick flips, owners call us up sometimes: hey, we need to do a quick furniture refresh, how fast could you make that happen?

We are educated enough with the vendors that we have great relationships with to know who can get us things faster than others, right. So, we would specify appropriately if you needed something a little quicker than typical but for a new build where we would have a little bit more time, you’re looking at six months. So that is to be able to budget, order, be able to get everything in here, have a little flex time to make sure that things aren’t damaged or not damaged and reconcile that if we need to.

On a new build where you have a whole new community that needs all new furniture, we would like to start ordering 6 months ahead of time.

Josh: Wow, so, more reason to get that team working together early on.

Melissa: Yes, yes.

Josh: Well, that’s exciting. So, I can tell you I can see the huge value in what you’re doing on this procurement side because having developed, started and opened a lot of communities, nothing ever goes right when you’re dealing with construction schedules and all of that. But one of the things that is a controllable I feel like is this whole procurement piece and getting the furniture inspected ahead of time, I can’t tell you how many times furniture arrives, construction’s already behind, you’ve got residents at your doorstep waiting to move in and you can’t sometimes even get your inspections and everything until your FFE is in the building. You start opening boxes and the boxes you’re seeing for the first time and they’re caved in and they’ve crushed because sometimes things get damaged and if that hasn’t been inspected, you’re sometimes left without your center focal piece or a lot of pieces.

Melissa: Dining room furniture- how are we going to eat? Or lobby furniture which that is your first impression when you walk into a building is to have that ready and beautiful, right? So, that can be an issue.

Josh: I could sit here and talk about horror stories all day. Like, please learn from our mistakes. Even simple things, like I heard you say trash removal. That’s something that detail people don’t think about. I’ve been on projects where you’re installing 120,000 square foot building with furniture (and) people don’t understand how much trash and boxes-

Melissa: -so much trash.

Josh: -and then there are people arriving and they’re like here’s your furniture, see ya! And then, you know, 25 dumpster loads later that somebody’s absorbing the costs on that- is that the general contractor, the owner, you know, is that the operations messing with all of that-

Melissa: -right and it’s very translucent with us. We’re very open book about when you get an estimate from there us there are things that are itemized out and we walk through with our owners about what all of that includes-what’s included in your procurement fee. There’s cost of goods and we are very aggressive with our vendors to our owners and operators the very best price on goods as a unit cost, right. And then there’s the procurement fee which is really our time as team to do all these things that we’re telling you we do, right.

But one benefit with us is we have our own warehouse. So, it’s one of those details that we’ve had come back and look at us who have, you know, maybe worked with another group or have a different setup and they’ve said, we had no idea how much we were going to pay in warehousing. Well, the warehousing is wrapped up with our procurement fee. That’s a bonus that you get with us. Each group can be setup different.

But again, it’s itemized out, you don’t have any hiccups down the road going oh my gosh, I had no idea I had to remove trash, ex-stallers. I didn’t know I had to pay additional warehouse ex-stallers. It’s all there, it’s all number, it’s itemized out and we can talk through that with our groups so that we don’t have those oh my gosh moments.

Lucas: I think we’re talking about failure points and on complicated projects, you’re trying to control the outcome. How many points of failure along the line are there and who is the point person on that? And when you have a cohesive team, you’re limiting the points of failure by having a good point of contact for these big category projects.

Melissa: Exactly and it’s how we make the process better. Now, that kind of rolls into renovation versus new build to two totally different beasts, right? So, we do work in both of those spaces and the new builds are great and they’re these big beautiful buildings but there’s a lot renovation that’s coming online. We’ve got land that’s harder to find. We’ve got new builds that are taking longer to come online.

So, there’s a lot of work in sort of that repositioning that renovation place. So, how do we make that process as seamless as possible from a design and a procurement and an install process, you know, how do we do that? Because we’ve got residents that are living there so how do we minimize the mess-ups-

Lucas: -the impact to the resident.

Melissa: -right, of them being there. So, that’s another reason why we take that so seriously.

Josh: So, is there a difference between the team compostion. Because, you know, obviously on new builds you’ve got your general contractor in conjuction with your developer, an architect, an interior design team, procurement, your operator. Is that- obviously you’re probably in some cases dealing on the renovation with the general contractor- is the architect also involved in this process or is this usually just you guys?

Melissa: It depends on the scope. Sometimes we get requests from owners where it’s truly an interior refresh. Anytime we start touching any walls or there’s anything MEP, we bring on an architect to help us manage that and work with us on that and then bring in consultants appropriately to do that. But if it’s a finish, refresh and furniture, then we can manage that on our own. So, it just totally depends on the scope of the renovation.

Josh: So, a couple other minor points that I wanted to ask because again this goes from a lot of different types of projects (with) 13 plus years in the space. A lot of times the details like the window coverings, the art, the lamps, the details- what are your recommendations on that because I see a lot attempted, I’ll say attempted, value engineering on this that goes radically wrong where you’ll have an owner that’s like, oh, don’t worry about it, my wife can handle the art package-

Lucas: -red flag.

Josh: -yeah and then there’s a big- everything else looks great and we go cheap on the art and it’s just not consistent, it’s not space-planned right. So, how does your firm address or what are your recommendations?

Melissa: So we are thinking about the project all the way through and all joking aside, I even tell people what I do for a living and they’re like, oh you’re a decorator! I love HGTV. I’m like, it’s much more than that and we try to educate that it is much more than that because it is so much about the interior architecture and the program and all that and we do think about the project all the way through even through what we call the pretty stuff- the accessories and all of that.

So, we again make sure that we are holding allowances for those things so it’s not something in the end that we can say, we don’t have the dollars for that. And that’s really a shame if you do work with somebody to get a project going and you get your major goods in there and that kind of thing and then you don’t have the budget to the art because then you’re not finishing-

Josh: -you end up with even lack of a window cover. I mean, I’ve gone into places that have the most beautiful furniture and flooring in the world and then it’s like, are you going to put anything on the windows? You know what, we ran out of money.

Melissa: Yeah, so Banko is going to help you figure out where those dollars need to go and make sure that they’re held appropriately and that you don’t have those instances where it’s like clearly there was money spent here and time and energy spent here and it wasn’t finished well. So, we help you manage that to make sure that that doesn’t happen.

Josh: We always say, Lucas, finish strong, right?

Lucas: That’s right.

Josh: Finish well.

Melissa: Yeah and it’s in the details. It really is in the details. That’s a good comparison of communities and groups. It’s the details (and) looking at those fine lines and making sure they’re good.

Lucas: Absolutely. Well, I think with the very active space in seniors right now, there’s a lot of acquisitions taking place. Things are moving quickly. There’s a lot of deals taking place. Budgets are shifting and changing and the market place is very, very strong and so we’re really glad to be able to sit down with you and talk about this topic that is very, very meaningful to us and to the audience. So, we don’t want the conversation to stop here. We’ll take it online. Feel free to ask questions and connect. We’ll make sure we connect with Melissa Banko and her team if you want to talk to them a little bit more. And thanks for listening to another great episode of Bridge the Gap.

Melissa: Thanks! Bye!

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Episode 41: Melissa Banko