11 September 2014
In 1975, state-owned car maker British Leyland took out a full-page ad in the Daily Mirror detailing the full extent of its exotic range.
An extraordinary list detailed each marque and model. Bored with the Mini? Trade up to an Austin Allegro. Austin Maxi too dull? Consider the Morris Marina. Moving up to executive saloon? Try a Jaguar XJ6.
Triumph Toledo not racy enough? Consider the Dolomite. Austin Princess too ridiculously wedge-shaped? The blancmange-mould Rover 3500 could be just the ticket! A two-seater coupé more your thing? Try the MG Midget. Or MGB GT. Or Triumph Stag. Or Jaguar XJS. Or Triumph TR7. Or there's always the Vanden Plas. Or a Wolseley. Or
So it continued, this cacophonous clash of contrasting brands and body shapes. Yet just eight years later, Triumph, Morris, Vanden Plas and Wolseley were no more with Austin, Rover, MG and Jaguar mortally wounded. The latter marque was the only one to make it into the 21st century, its survival a function of foreign ownership.
There is, of course, no parallel to be drawn between the troubles experienced by the government-controlled automotive giant of the 1970s and today's vibrant market for FM service providers - except, perhaps, in one sense: the complexities and bewildering choice of Leyland's range came to mind when I was completing the FM brands survey conducted by I-FM.net. Its intention is to establish which FM service providers are best by various different criteria - we'll be reporting on it next month.
The survey asks you to decide on the top three service providers across a range of areas - for example, best value for money, highest profile in catering, most innovatiion. I found myself continually compiling and then recompiling my lists. As soon as I'd settled on a top three in one category, I realised I'd forgotten provider X. Incorporating them meant no berth for provider Y, who was then accommodated in the next section of the survey. And then another came to mind
Certain providers stand out in particular areas because that's where they made their names, and indeed for many their specialism remains a virtue. But most providers are seeking to portray themselves as best across multiple service lines, however delivered. As with the Leyland range, does today's market for FM service providers have too many marques and not enough clear distinctions between them? Is there too much choice but not enough difference? If I'm finding it difficult to evaluate based on reputation, what's it like for actual clients?
No matter how theoretically different your chosen marque and model, experience tells us that familiar issues of workmanship and reliability are likely to surface as the contract continues; despite considerable corporate rhetoric, successful client / supplier relationships are still typically a function of the people involved - on both sides.
We've seen plenty of brand refreshment over the past few years. Some providers have introduced bold new brands for individual service lines while others have rebranded their entire operations. Establishing a point of difference in these ways is nothing new, but I wonder what clients in general think about all the brand developments that have happened over such a short period of time?
Martin Read is managing editor at FM World