Hi, it’s Traci Bild, CEO of Bild and Co., excited to be presenting on behalf of Bridge the Gap. At the time of this recording, i’s fourth quarter, 2020, and wow, what a wild ride this year has been. As we close out the year, we have a lot to think about. And as we enter our 2021, no one knows what’s going to happen. We don’t have a crystal ball. We’re not certain if we’re going to continue to see a resurgence of COVID-19, if they’re going to be rampant in nursing homes again, or if the steps put in place will ensure that the infections are under control. In the senior housing space to include independent and assisted living, we can’t help but wonder is the press finally differentiating between our communities and those skilled nursing facilities? Do they understand the differences and what we do and what they do?
More importantly, do those baby boomers get the difference. Do they understand who we are and the impact we’re making on the world around us? Today, I’m going to focus on seniors housing and challenge you as an executive or a regional and executive director, a sales person a CFO, I’m going to challenge you to step into your seniors housing zone of genius, and to stop looking at the hotel industry and trying to mimic hospitality and the things that we’ve done over the last 10 years to kind of present ourselves as a resort, or hotel. We’re not what we’re good at and we’ve proven to flourish in is protecting and caring for vulnerable seniors. It’s time we own it.
And the reality is: this is our space. This is our time. No one can take this from us. And it’s up to us as the thought leaders in the industry to define and describe and communicate how we want to be perceived as we go into 2021.
So if you’ve been in senior housing for any length of time, you know that there’s a lot of lingo and jargon around hospitality, but we’re not a bedroom. We’re not a hotel room. People don’t come to stay for a day or a week. People come to live in our communities who are typically over the age of 75, to live there for the rest of their lives, and to receive the healthcare solutions they need when they need them. And that can be adapted as they naturally progress in age.
Even more interesting, the pandemic has pushed us further along this conversation, faster than maybe we had planned to have it because of the spotlight we’ve held over the last six to eight months. Much of that spotlight, not being good because we’ve been clumped into the skilled nursing category. And if you’re truly an independent living or assisted living, memory care, continuum of care, operator and investor, owner, you know, these are two very different things.
So what we need to do is show up. We need to shine a big spotlight on the great work we’ve done, the speed at which we’ve pivoted during an unprecedented pandemic to protect seniors and transform their lives. So today my goal is to challenge you. To really just stretch your mind. I don’t have all the answers. I’ll tell you that for sure. But what I like to do is foster the discussion in your mind, among your team to get you thinking out of the box so you can start to create new ideas. So you can innovate and understand how important it is that you set the tone. You create the dialogue, you spin the story and you tell who you are, what you’re doing and how you’re doing it.
One of the first places we need to start is really reflecting on our vast differences from hotels, from skilled nursing, from hospitals and other healthcare sectors, such as hospice or home health, we need to cover own niche. We need to pave that with the story of are incredibly well thought out and designed seniors housing communities. With state of the art healthcare, training and education designed to improve the lives of seniors in particular, and even better, much of this healthcare in our independent living environments feels invisible. It’s there when you need it out of sight when you don’t, yet people don’t always see it this way. We need to focus on peace of mind for seniors and their families. We also need to be very aware of the importance of creating a raving fan customer experience to where we recast the negative story that’s been told about our industry. Truly guys, this is our moment! Never has there been, or will there probably be an opportunity to show who we are, what we do and to demonstrate how we show up. We have the eyes of the media, healthcare governmental officials, seniors, pretty much everyone, including pop culture is looking at our industry.
So how are you showing up? What have you done differently over the last six months to tell your story? To communicate what you do and how it’s different than skilled nursing or home health or hospice or an individual’s own home, which is probably your greatest competitor. How are you communicating your brand? The people you hire and what’s unique and different about them, the mission-driven sense of community and culture that permeates our industry. It’s time to break away and create our own path. So let’s look at a few topics. So if you don’t have a notepad and a pen or some markers and pencils, sticky notes, it’s time to get creative.
First of all, think about your various living options. Most hotels in the hospitality sector are in high rise buildings with 90% of the hotel rooms, similar in size, layout, you might have a penthouse, a few suites, but in general, most are either a King size bed or two doubles, right? Very, very similar. In senior housing, what is it that is unique about your apartment options? Why are your apartments designed the way they are? And what types of options do you provide to consumers as far as the sizes, the pricing and location? And by the way, as you’re thinking about an experiential buying process, updating your website, your collaterals, your blogs and your content. Why do these things matter? Why is a senior’s housing apartment for an independent living resident just 500 square feet? If I’m a senior and I’m downsizing from a 2000 square foot condo with three bedrooms and a full kitchen and two baths, how am I supposed to adapt to a 500 square foot apartment? It’s time we begin to educate. People don’t know that the philosophy, our communities is that the entire footprint of the community at large, both inside and outside is the senior’s home.
So whether it’s the beautiful dining room or bistro, or perhaps it’s the pub or the outdoor seating area by the fire pit, these are all aspects of that individual’s home that they can access as if it were their own. It’s theirs to use as they wish we need to communicate this because in the sales process and in the marketing process, we are making the mistake of assuming that people understand we’re pointing out things like the pullstring and the bathroom should someone fall right? The size of the closet, but we need to go more into depth as to the thought that’s been put into the design of our very unique communities and their individual rooms. For example, why is apartment location so important? Why would someone rather be by the elevator as compared to far away from it? Right. Someone who might have a difficult time with mobility would find being close to the elevator, much more comforting, right?
Because they don’t have to walk as far as someone who might be in more vibrant health, who actually wants to get in those extra steps from the end of the hall, to get to the elevator, to go down to the dining room. When we’re educating and the sales process, we need to always begin by asking lots and lots of open ended questions so that then we can tailor our presentations and effectively communicate why the community is an ideal fit. Pricing, for example, why do some operators have pricing on the website and others? Don’t why are some people all inclusive, others, a la cart, and what in the world is an entry fee? And life plan? What is that? Are you going to plan my life for me? I know, I know we’re all laughing, but it’s time to get serious. We need to step into the buyer’s shoes and start with the process of educating adult children and seniors themselves, as well as our referral community, those local providers who can send us those qualified referrals as to what it is we do and in particular, as it relates to in a COVID world, where people are afraid about moving in and never seeing their loved ones again, or getting stuck in an environment where they can’t leave the community and could ultimately end up with COVID.
So we’ve talked about the apartment. I want you to consider having a task force, engaging a few employees, sitting down and thinking through every aspect of your apartment options. Now, if you’re a large CCRC campus, oh my goodness, those options can vary from cottages and newly built expansions to high rises. It’s just incredible. Just stop and think for a moment how complex this space is. As communities, we offer residential experiences. Both inside and outside the community. We also need to begin thinking about how to invite people in before they really need to make that move. How might they experience your community in a way that’s nonthreatening? And that grows on them and actually calls to them to one day move because they realize this is where I belong. We need to look at our offerings, how unique they are and begin to offer those to those seniors within a 10 or 5-mile radius of your community. We need to understand that while they might not become a resident today, these individuals that take advantage of your experiences that are offered in common, start to visit your community on a regular basis, those are your future residents. That becomes your feeder. And imagine if you could do that instead of utilizing hefty third party paid referral sources who are grabbing those leads first and taking your first month’s rent. If we want to get those leads, we’ve got to do the work. That’s what they’re doing.
So consider: what do you have to offer that you could invite seniors who live outside of your walls to experience on a consistent basis? What kind of program can you put together? Whether it’s a membership of VIP, something that will make them feel important and cared for by the members of your community, to where they can meet and engage with residents and staff, it could be pay as you go dining. All you have to do is make a reservation, 24 hours in advance so we can prepare use of residential gyms and swimming pools. Of course, some of this will have to be post pandemic, but now is the time we’re in fourth quarter to be planning and implementing strategy for 2021 and beyond. What about your hair salon? Many seniors are no longer driving. Not only would they love to get out to get their hair done, but what about their fingernails and toenails? What about the ability to have a facial or an eyebrow trim? We might not think this matters, but it does, but when you’re trapped in your home and you no longer drive and suddenly someone gives you a lifeline and an ability to come have lunch and spend an hour or two in the salon for a nominal fee. Think about how enticing and irresistible.
What about rehab? So many of you have incredible rehabs onsite that those residents could be utilizing within that five to 10 mile radius. With the resident experience in mind, think how do we, wow people? How do we get them in? And what kind of program do we create to stimulate the flow of consistent visitors to our community that are our ideal demographic and future residents. Think about your own events and programming. What could you do to build a more vibrant programming with focus on preventative health, nutrition, not just our standard things, but bringing in local experts and speakers, partnering with businesses who want the exposure and will provide you their knowledge and expertise in exchange to present in front of your residents and the community at large.
Think about resources you already have from housekeeping to your kitchen, your culinary, could you offer scheduled housekeeping services, meal delivery, and maintenance option plan? I’m not saying you have to do this stuff for free. You could put together a three tier program where you deliver three meals a week. It includes monthly maintenance day where a maintenance person comes onsite for an hour and housekeeping every other week. Now, you could add a lot to that package and that could become a better package. And then you could have a best package. And this creates ancillary income for your community while feeding you what should be raving fans and future residents. So consider what’s possible versus what is in 2021. Create an option on your website, or maybe think about an app. They’re so affordable today, where those seniors could actually access these services, sign up for your plans and pay for them right there on the app, scheduling and making everything easy for planning of staff. Ideally, there should be a feeder plan to where these individuals ultimately move within your community.
So whether that’s a year or two years, ultimately when you set a plan in motion and execute it and deliver in a cellular way, those plans pay off. Again, I understand that you might not be able to do this today. In fact, you probably can’t because of COVID, but COVID will one day be in the rear view mirror and our industry is changing. If you want to be the operator or owner who thrives and is still viable a year from now, you must think differently. You must begin planning now for that post pandemic offering.
Here’s the honest truth about our industry: healthcare is where the gold is. Meaning that is our zone of genius. Yes, we have incredible communities and fantastic staff, owners and operators who are passionate and deeply care for the residents. But healthcare is what is unique to us along with housing. So when I was interviewing my mother for a recent industry awareness video, she said something very profound to me and the others in the room, we all just looked at each other because while we know this, hearing her say it really made us take pause. You see, my mom was a nurse in a nursing home when I was about eight years old and I was a candy striper and my grandpa was a patient. And when I was talking to her in this video series, that you’ll soon see, she got very emotional and she said, you have to understand why I don’t want to ever go to a senior living community. Yup. That’s what she said. There was no independent living. She looked around the room, waved her hands in the air and said none of this because we’re filming in a community. There was no assisted living. The only thing we had was skilled nursing and it was terrifying. And quite honestly, when she said that, I remember. I remember the scar and the fear of being a young child, watching my grandfather strapped to that chair, confused, agitated day after day after day. I remember going with my mom into the nursing home at night and hearing residents screaming into the night. Not because they were being hurt, because that’s just what happens. There’s a lot of noise at night in a nursing home. And to a young girl was terrifying, but it was interesting to see that to my mom. It was to as an adult and she worked there and what she helped us to understand and that we will be using to further educate consumers. And this industry awareness series is that there’s not been a concentrated effort to demystify the fears that boomers have around skilled nursing. There’s not been educational awareness and the effort, the time, the energy and the funds put in to really differentiate and allow people to experience on a mass scale what’s different about seniors housing to include independent, assisted living, even memory care, CCRC, active adult. For her and her peers and many others outside of their generation, it’s all the same. It’s a nursing home.
So we need to go on an internal journey. We need to be so proud of what we do, that we stop hiding it. I always say to my friends, when they ask me what I do for a living, I’ll say, well, it’s kind of like one of the best kept secrets ever. In fact, there’s an independent living or assisted living community on every other city block. You just don’t see them because until you need it, you don’t even know what exists.
Guys, it’s time to move past that. We are in the eyes of the public and we have a choice to make. And it’s up to us to message this story. And we have a lot of work to do, and it starts with each and every one of you. So as we continue thinking about how to bring the outside community in to include those seniors within that market service area, to include those referral partners and providers, consider building out programming, offering weekly or monthly wellness checks for nominal fee of maybe $10 or whatever you need to charge in order to break even, or even make a profit to cover the staffing, whatever you need to do. Educational classes on fall prevention, rehab clinics on do it yourself at home. So they come in for the day, they learn five different techniques they can utilize in the comfort of their own home, but you know what? They got it from you. It gets them in your walls. They will be able to taste your food, meet your staff, engage with other residents who are in that therapy session and start to realize, wow, this isn’t what I thought it was.
What can you do in conjunction with the community at large? Rather than you trying to take on this by yourself, I would make a master list of the greatest and most innovative partners and providers in your market service area. Is there a university an incredible healthcare network and educational arm, a study department on Alzheimer’s and dementia. What do you have? Every community has its own unique offerings. What I’m challenging you to do is tap in and create collaborative partnerships. I have an amazing friend who owns a coffee shop called Two Crow that opened in Florida, right near where I live. And one of the neatest things that I’ve witnessed them do then allowed their business to explode. And the first six months upon opening in a COVID world, by the way, is that they partnered with most, if not all of their Duneaton counterparts and business. So last weekend, we went to the House of Brew, where they partnered with a food truck and they had coffee grounds that come from North Carolina built into the brisket, right? So the brisket was marinated in their coffee grounds, and that was used on the pizza and it was phenomenal. So it was a joint collaborative project that they posted as a Facebook event. And there were so many people there now, socially distanced, but they were there and the community was gathered, enjoying this food that was provided by Two Crow and the pizza truck. And I gotta tell ya, their social feed was on fire with how amazing that collaboration was.
It was a win, win. They both brought something to the table that they could offer to the community that will ultimately bring business back to both the coffee shop and the pizza truck, as well as the House of Brew. So those are the kinds of things you need to think about. And just because you’ve never done, it doesn’t mean you can’t going forward. So who on your team is a great networker, a people person that would love to go out and create this bench of amazing life changers who would love to utilize your community and get in front of your residents and bring their zone of genius to add that extra value to the people living in your community and those coming on site to experience it as a result of these programs firsthand.
Perhaps you have bacon space, you can clean out the storage spaces you have, or there’s wasted space, somewhere open, vacant apartments that you could convert into rental space for physicians or medical professionals who can focus on that preventative health, as well as treatment of illness. You could have acupuncture, massage. You could have so many different services that these individuals would be more than happy to pay for the space. And the residents would benefit by having these services in house.
Where’s a great place to start, look at your resident population. What are the most diagnosed illnesses in your community? What are the most common injuries that you can address preventatively and bring in a partner to help with? So this will help you know where to start as well as asking your residents, because they’re your customer. If you don’t have space, you can always rotate with these visitors and these groups by having specialists in each key area. Now here’s the sidebar to this: not only are you providing a great service to your residents and those seniors in your market service area, but these individuals that are collaborating with you will also become raving fans because they ultimately are going to be doing business of some sort with your residents and their families and that will make them loyal to you. And the better experience they have, the more likely they will be to go out of their way, to tell others about your amazing community.
Now, as you start thinking about all of this, what that means we need to do as we go on this quest to rebrand seniors housing? We need to decide who we are, who we still want to be and how we’re going to get there. We might not always know the how, we just need to know what it is we aspire to be. One of the first things we’ll need to do on this journey is educate your staff. They need to be in the know, not on the sidelines. They need to be the greatest advocates and champions of your transformation. Then we need to educate our residents and allow them to experience these offerings firsthand. The families of your residents and of course your very valuable referral partners. We need to then move on to your website, making sure that we’re updating it with very specific calls to action, where people can join your programs, download an app, read your content. That’s educational. See who your partners are. I would have event invites on social media to where people can RSVP so you can properly plan and create social awareness as soon as you can, considering where you are in the state. And COVID adding pricing and content around the different fees and the way people price. So there’s transparency, financial calculators, financial aid advisors. And even with these things, you could find a partner in the local market who would be more than happy to talk about your community as compared to others in the market. And what’s best for that individual because they now are getting exposure to a senior or their adult children. It’s a win, win.
We need a strategy to plug into our local health care networks. Where do you fit in specifically? Why did you decide to do what you did? How do people access you? What type of residents can you take? And what type can you not take? We need to be very clear and we need to embed into our local hospitals. We need to be very in tune and communicating with the C suite and we need to unite and figure out together how we collaborate for the best interest of our most vulnerable population. While you may know what that is, if they don’t, if you’re not communicating, what’s unique and different about you, no one will know, consider adding respite rooms, adult daycare, recovery rooms that people can stay in for maybe a month after surgery or a cancer recovery so that your partners can leverage those rooms and discharge people to a place they know they’re going to recover properly and not come back.
Re-imagine programming and activities that focus not on bingo and cards. Yes, your residents may love that. So you don’t have to remove it, but very specifically on cutting edge research on longevity, preventative health, mental stimulation from listening to classical music, to learning how to play a piece of classical music, whether on a piano or a French horn, partner with that local community and those business owners who can bring the instruments in for residents to try, who would show people one day a month, how to play these instruments and experiment, leveraging a different aspect of their mind. Invite your healthcare providers and these seniors in your market service area, in for these events so they too can try these new things.
We’re evolving. Our industry has never been in the spotlight like it is today. And it’s time that you evolve too. I hope that I was able to get your creative juices flowing. I hope you have lots of great ideas. Now, even if you just take one of those and you bring it to execution, you will be better off than if you had not listened to this Bridge the Gap podcast at all. My goal is that you have at least one takeaway that you can use that will be transforming for you and your seniors housing community. If you need help, whether it’s consulting or advisory, you’d like to think about maybe having an executive retreat with your C suite, or maybe just a day for you to get away to the beautiful Florida where I live to work on the business versus in the business. Shoot us an email at email@example.com. Or you can text (813) 390-3349 or call and ask for me at +1 800-640-0688. I hope you’ve enjoyed today’s Bridge the Gap podcast. Thanks and be safe.