Paula Kirk – Powerhouse
Who has time to change lightbulbs, paint walls or clear snow when they own a business?
Even if a business owner or manager can find the time for such tasks, finding a dependable contractor can take longer than the time it takes for them to make needed upgrades and repairs to plumbing, heating or HVAC systems.
Kirk leads the interior services division that provides basic and complex facilities management services for clients in 11 industries currently including logistics, retail, financial services, hospitality, health care and senior living.
“Powerhouse is a one-stop-shop for our clients when it comes to day-to-day repairs, project work and exterior services like landscaping and snow removal,” Kirk says. “Clients can focus on their core business while we manage the exterior and interior facilities.”
Signs and balloons
Powerhouse has come a long way from its 1996 origins as a retail signage provider. As the sign business grew quickly, the three co-founders took the opportunity to provide other services, too. In a 2002 partnership with a fast-food chain, Powerhouse installed 12-foot inflatable balloons of movie characters as a promotion on the roofs of 4,000 of its U.S. restaurants.
That effort launched Powerhouse’s roll out services for companies launching new promotions and programs and was followed by expanding into refresh and remodel services, facilities maintenance and exterior services.
Powerhouse is currently divided into three divisions. Its multi-site enhancement services continue the refresh and rollout work, although inflatable movie characters are a rarity these days. Instead, the company can install and implement everything from curbside pickup programs to coffee bars, display cases, kiosks or upgrades for safety and Americans with Disabilities Act compliance.
The division also installs electric vehicle charging stations, including making site plans, coordinating with utilities and adding signage and pavement markings. Powerhouse’s exterior services management division provides landscaping and cleanup services, including turf maintenance, pruning and mulch applications, sweeping or pressure washing parking lots and removing snow and ice in the winter.
Kirk supervises a team of 115 operations directors, facilities managers and coordinators who manage the facilities maintenance needs for clients throughout the U.S.
“Our division focuses on what’s between the four walls of their building,” she says.
Adding structure and data
Kirk’s team doesn’t perform the repairs and upgrades themselves. Instead, they oversee a nationwide network of contractors and vendors in their service areas that do. Though industrial and commercial trades are facing labor shortages, Kirk says Powerhouse offers its contracted vendors a volume of work that ensures they have plenty to do while clients can enjoy competitive pricing.
Vendors are screened by a company vendor services team and Powerhouse keeps scorecards based in part on client responses on vendor performance, Kirk says.
While demand for the divisions services and the industries it works in has increased, Kirk says expanding services to existing clients while also adding new ones is one of her biggest responsibilities. However, she’s also been working to improve customer service by having directors and account managers assigned to work with clients in specific industries. Doing so allows them to better understand what clients need and share information to create best practices, she says.
Clients’ needs vary greatly, as do the regulatory requirements for maintaining facilities. For instance, vendors serving a client in health care or senior housing have more stringent requirements for maintaining air pressure and temperatures in an HVAC system as well as different types of plumbing and fixtures.
Kirk is helping her division expand its use of data and analytics, too. Powerhouse has been using a third-party computerized maintenance management system to provide data based in part on the scorecards customers provide. In 2024, the company will integrate a CMMS built in-house.
The new CMMS will also better integrate with ones used by her clients, extracting data that will also make working with them more transparent.
“The CMMS data will allow us to be proactive about our clients’ repairs and needs,” Kirk says. “We’ll be better able to resolve an issue before it occurs and provide an additional level of value to our clients.”
Finding a fit
Kirk grew up in Hilton Head, South Carolina, and earned a bachelor’s degree in speech communications from the University of Georgia in 1992.
“Nobody grows up dreaming of working in facilities management,” Kirk says. “I started in the sports industry, which led me to Johnson Controls through their HVAC business. It’s been a natural progression.”
Kirk joined Johnson Control in July 2003 as a customer service business manager. She oversaw HVAC management and repair services for 825 retail stores through 128 service branches and was named customer business director in 2006. In 2013, she was named director of global self-perform delivery, and when Johnson Controls sold its global workplace solutions business to CBRE in 2015, she continued in that role with the new entity.
By this time, Kirk says she was aware of Powerhouse and its services, but the timing to join the company was never quite right until it reorganized its internal structure and was searching for someone to lead the interior services division.
Still a Bulldog at heart, Kirk avidly follows Georgia’s football team, which is easier to do now that she’s moved back to the Atlanta area from Dallas. She says she wants to hear cheers as Powerhouse’s interior services division grows, too.
“We want to make our customers raving fans,” Kirk says. “We want to provide them with such great service that they can’t stop talking about us and they spread the word to their peers.”
View this feature in the Blueprint Vol. I 2024 Edition here.
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