The first thing regulators see at your facility can make a huge impression.
A lot of our clients come to us after they receive a violation, penalty, or some sort of enforcement action from regulators. 9 out of 10 times when we show up at their site we immediately know why. Just like anything else in life, people tend to judge a book by its cover, and your facility is no different.
Last weekend my girlfriend and I decided to try out a new Thai place we'd been hearing about. I'm a big fan of Thai, but my girlfriend could take it or leave it. We've been hearing great things about the food at this place, but everyone says it's a little rough looking on the outside.
I (un)fortunately get to travel a lot for work, so I'm always up for something that's a little rough looking as long as the food is worth the hassle. So we drive a few towns over to where the Thai place is, and pull into the restaurant parking lot. To call the place a dump gives landfills a bad name.
The parking lot was a mess. There was trash everywhere. The stormwater drain at the far end of the lot was clogged with garbage. There was a shady convenience store next to it with a couple of weirdos standing outside chain smoking cigarettes and carelessly flicking them onto the ground when they were done.
The lights in the lot were flickering. Half the stores in the strip mall were vacant. The place looked like a hell-hole.
I looked at my her, she looked at me, I said I don't care how good the food is, we're not eating here, forget it!
Has that ever happened to you? Maybe you're out on a date and you're not thrilled with the appearance of the person you're out with that night? Maybe you went to dinner at a friend's house and their place is a disaster? Have you ever made your judgement based solely on a first impression?
I bet you have, and guess what, you're not alone.
We find that a lot of environmental regulators, third parties, and other enforcement officials will treat you differently based on their initial & immediate observations of your site.
Take a look at these two houses. Suppose you were going to a party at one of them. How inviting do they both look? Now guess what - the same thing can, and is, said about your facility.
How to make a good first impression at your facility.
The first impression at your facility is at your gate. It's where people see your sign, see the entrance to your site, and it's the first place opinions are formed. So the first thing you should focus on is your front gate or entrance area.
Some common issues to address are trash buildup, unruly weeds and vegetation, broken signs or fences, and any track-out into the road (such as concrete dust from a concrete plant).
Any of these issues can (and normally do) lead to unhappy inspectors, neighbors, and a community in general. Your front entrance is the window to your facility. From our experience, facilities with messy front entrances are usually even worse once you get inside.
Having a messy entrance sets the stage and expectations for any visitor on how you run your company.
How do you fix it? Simple!
Fix your sign.
This is so simple it's stupid. If I had a dollar for every site I visited that had old, decrepit signs, or didn't even have a sign, I'd be retired by now.
Get a sign. Get a decent looking one. Have Staples or someone make you a sign that looks halfway decent, with your company name, address, and phone number on it. Make it obvious who you are and what you do.
Now a lot of folks I mention that to respond with 'no way, what if someone who doesn't like our operation wants to complain about us??'
Guess what, if they're that adamant about telling on you, they'll find your information regardless.
Having a good sign easily identifies who you are, where you're located, and that you have pride in your company and facility.
It also helps inspectors find you, and those are the guys you want to keep happy!
Spruce it up with some landscaping.
I'm not talking about hiring a 'landscape architect' and building a Zen garden.
Start off by pulling the weeds, cutting the grass, and seeing what you have to work with. Maybe that's all you needed to do! If not, plant a tree, or a bush, or something that gives the area a little life.
Try something different that stands out! One client of ours had a stockpile of old, unused tires of all shapes and sizes from a fleet of various vehicles and machines. They stacked and layered them a few high, filled them with dirt and some native, low maintenance vegetation, and now they have an interesting looking entranceway. I'll be honest, it's not the prettiest thing in the world, but it was a great way to cut back on waste, and spruce up the entrance way in a very cost-effective manner.
And then pick up the trash.
That's it. Just pick up the trash. Clean up your front entrance area.
I find that a lot of industrial facilities have areas near the entrance where drivers will wait either before entering or before leaving the site. Usually, that means cigarette butts on the ground, old coffee cups, napkins, wrappers, etc.
Put up a garbage can, put up a cigarette butt thing (I don't smoke so I don't know what to call them!), and make it obvious that you are not to litter on-site.
Fix your gate or fencing.
Again, like a sign, fix your gate or fence!
Get some fencing from Home Depot or wherever, put it up, and call it a day. If your fence is old and rusty, fix it. If you have a wooden fence that is falling apart, replace it.
If you have a gate that drags on the ground or doesn't open quite right, then get it repaired.
The entrance to your site should look and work the way it's supposed to.
Another little story, I have a client that's adamant about security. Their facility is located out in the woods near an area where people like to go off-roading, so he's scared of people trespassing, getting injured, and suing him. Makes sense, right?
Well, he locks his gate up tight every night, but I always give him some grief about his fence. It has to be 50+ years old, and there are sections wider than a car that are missing. So if anyone really wants to get in there they just have to take their off-road vehicle…off-road for about 20 feet, drive around the locked gate, and they're free to trespass.
I still don't get why he won't fix his fence…
For industrial facilities, keep an eye on track-out!
If you make something that can drip, leak, or escape a truck once it leaves your site, address the problem right from the get-go.
For instance, I had a concrete producer give me a call recently because they got in trouble by an inspector because someone called and complained about them.
I show up, and before I even see the facility I see evidence of cement dust all up and down the road.
I get to the site, and it's covered in dust. The trucks, the equipment, everything! The place was a disaster!
I told the guy to sweep the site and install a truck wash / wheel wash that trucks can use when they leave the site so you cut down on any track-out.
The guy was appalled I made the suggestion because he thought he ran a 'clean operation', he wasn't changing, and he fully planned on fighting the violation.
Let's just say we're not working together.
Apply this concept to your whole site.
Once you get things squared away at your entrance, take a step back and look at the rest of your facility, and apply the same principles as above.
I'm constantly amazed at sites that have ample amount of 'crap' on-site. There's always the one old-timer in the maintenance shop, or in the office, who insists on saving everything because 'we might need it one day'!
Are you running a landfill or a business? Are you turning your garage into a storage area or using it to maintain your fleet?
Get rid of old drums, get rid of scrap metal, get rid of parts or equipment that isn't needed, and do whatever is necessary to improve the appearance of the facility.
Clean up your act.
Improve the fencing around the facility, put up new signs for the office, maintenance garage, fueling area, etc., pick up trash, paint a building, do some easy landscaping, whatever!
The visual impression you make will linger far longer than anything you say or do.
The first impression at your facility does make a difference.
Make inspecting your operation part of your normal routine. Start thinking about what it looks like when you drive in, when you leave, and factors that impact its appearance. I usually recommend rating what it looks like. Develop a system to 'Rate Your Gate' and determine if it's up to snuff with what you'd like.
The first impression you make sets the stage for future relations for years to come, and you won’t get a second chance at it. Utilize that opportunity to make a good first impression and the first place to do that is the first place anyone sees when they enter your site. To learn more about improving the image of your facility, click here to contact us or give us a call at 609-693-8301 to learn more.