ATLANTA — As the seniors housing sector continues its long, slow recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, it can help to look at what the fastest operators to recover are doing right now.
That said, as occupancy stays well below historical averages and expenses stay high, especially for labor, there is no quick-fix solution.
“These changes don’t take place overnight,” said Jennifer Dixon, CEO of JD Solutions Group. “It takes planning and preparation to see the fruits of that labor.”
Dixon made her comments during a panel she moderated at France Media’s InterFace Seniors Housing Southeast conference, held Aug. 16 in Atlanta. The panel, titled “Best in Class Operators’ Blueprint for Success in a Challenging Market,” featured Don Bishop, founder and CEO, SRI Management; Lou Maranto, senior vice president of sales, Discovery Senior Living; Tim Dunne, CEO and president, Claiborne Senior Living; Pilar Carvajal, founder and CEO, Innovation Senior Living; and Janine Witte, senior vice president of sales and marketing, Senior Lifestyle.
Dixon noted that the panelists were all chosen because they had “made significant changes to how you’re approaching revenue, operations, sales and marketing.”
As an example, Claiborne Senior Living has relaunched its website to better serve potential residents and their families. The new site also integrates more easily with third-party vendors that the company works with.
“In 2021 we started looking at our three- to five-year plan and where we wanted to be with lead flow,” said Dunne. “We became transparent with our pricing. We’ve seen significant improvements in lead conversions, strong leads compared to industry averages. We cut the cord with lead aggregators and we’ve seen really strong lead flow.
“All those things took time. It’s been a two-year project, and we’re not done. There’s still a lot left in our strategic plan.”
In recent years, Senior Lifestyle has focused on bringing back old initiatives that were sidelined in 2020 by the urgency of the pandemic, says Witte. This included a website relaunch as well.
“The last pre-COVID piece we brought forth was making video a big part of our marketing,” said Witte. “We just wrapped up our video production and now we’re into editing. It will take almost a year before those videos are released. That was the biggest labor of love.”
On the digital front, SRI has looked at new customer relationship management (CRM) options and has spent a good deal of time “understanding the sales funnel, understanding the customer, and targeting that,” said Bishop. “It’s an ongoing change and you’re never satisfied.”
Additionally, the company hired a new vice president of sales and marketing, intentionally choosing someone with no experience in senior living.
“He has a background in software sales, medical sales, even did some marketing for a church,” said Bishop, adding that the fit works because “our business is very relational.”
As a counterpoint to the focus on digital marketing, though, Maranto said that Discovery is looking to increase its leads from all sources.
“The consumer is going through different paths now to get to us. They can’t all come from digital. The conversion ratio is very small.”
Instead of over-emphasizing digital leads, Discovery has elected to “really spend time and have a deliberate focus on reviews,” Maranto added. This has the wider impact of affecting all kinds of leads, even those that research online but choose to call directly instead of submitting an online form.
“Everybody knows consumers are spending more time online, doing more research, reading the reviews. We’re really spending time asking for resident testimonials and family testimonials, especially after tours. That’s a great time.”
Similar to Claiborne, Discovery has also put its pricing on its websites, after “a lot of wrestling in the boardroom,” according to Maranto.
At Innovation, which targets middle-income seniors, Carvajal said that sales team members “have to almost be financial consultants” because the biggest question that customers have is: “How do I afford this?”
“You have to absolutely know who you are and who you’re not going to be,” said Carvajal. “For example, we decided we’re not doing memory care. We cannot afford to service that clientele.”
And tackling the middle market is no small task. But Carvajal said Innovation’s mission is to “make middle-market seniors housing commonplace.”
“I see it as a societal issue, something we need to resolve. We need to test different things and then expand on that.”
— Jeff Shaw