A Hit on the Head with the Heel of Your Palm
You’ve probably had one of those experiences where you’re thinking about something, trying to make sense of it and suddenly the puzzle pieces fall in place. You hit your head with the heel of your hand and exclaim, “Of course, now I get it!”
Recently I’ve had the opportunity to be involved with the evaluation of a number of non-profit retirement communities. Typically, if I’m involved there’s a challenge with residential living occupancy. A pattern has emerged: the more a community serially hires marketing and sales agencies, the lower their occupancy. Fascinating, isn’t it? If you’ve been relying on agencies and it isn’t working there could be a reason why.

The Scenario
Occupancy slips one or two percent. Leadership reacts, fearful the marketing and sales team doesn’t know what to do. An agency is hired. The agency comes in gung-ho to save the day. They shake things up and give advice: do these three initiatives, all will be well. The community spends a lot of money. They host expensive events. A boat load of people visit the community. Very few move in. Twelve months later occupancy slips another percent or two. Agency 1’s contract expires and agency 2 comes on board ready to save the day. More shake ups, more events and more money spent. Occupancy slips another percent or two. Agency 2’s contract expires and agency 3 comes on board. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. During interviews, with much frustration the CEO will say: “We’ve done everything the agencies told us to do and none of it works.”

The Real Problem(s)
It’s a pretty good bet that if two agencies have not reversed slipping occupancy the problem isn’t marketing and sales.
The retirement industry has changed. A campus that offers the experience of the local contemporary housing market with vibrant amenities and placemaking is pretty much table stakes. Healthcare is very necessary and important, but often a secondary factor and it too must appeal to a contemporary market. Your product has to be relevant, engaging and inviting.

In 2011, Joseph Pine II and James Gilmore identified The Experience Economy as an emerging trend. Since then, this trend has transitioned to mainstream consumer demand. Thank you, Baby Boomers. However, the demand for experiences only starts with Boomers. GenX and Millennials are highly experience driven as well.

In addition, in the early 1990s Toyota, with the introduction of Lean Manufacturing, was a catalyst for what became known as a “culture” of quality. It wasn’t long thereafter that discussions about “corporate culture” took shape. Interestingly, culture is far more important than may seem obvious. The reason: culture drives experience and, as mentioned previously, the current market is very keen on experiences.

Independent living occupancy is proving to be proportional to the extent which product is relevant, culture is healthy and experiences are engaging. When those three elements are aligned, marketing has compelling stories to tell. Those stories bring people to campus and sales tours ultimately result in agreements.

Something has been working at Garden Spot and we’ve been thinking a lot about why it’s working. It’s the basis for our unrelenting focus on culture and experiences. We’re happy to share the things we’ve discovered and help you create something unique and compelling, not because we think we know it all, but because we believe working together is good for all of us.