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Voices: How to Market Repositioned Senior Living Assets | #seniorliving | #elderly | #seniors


Voices: How to Market Repositioned Senior Living Assets

In this Voices interview, Senior Housing News sits down with Living Forward Partner Dana Wollschlager to learn sales and marketing techniques for repositioning senior living assets, why market studies are critical for success and how one operator in Michigan used free meals as a touchpoint with prospects for a repositioned community.

Senior Housing News: How do you know when it’s
time to reposition? Is there a list of factors you use to compare when it’s
time versus when it isn’t?

Dana Wollschlager: Yes. I think the most
obvious one is your building is empty. If you have assets where you’re
struggling to maintain census or occupancy, that’s probably the first tip-off.
Or you may be seeing a slow decline in your census. Part of it might be driven
by new assets coming into the marketplace. People are often attracted to the
shiny penny. That can have an impact on your assets.

majority of the clients that we work with that are reconsidering any sort of
repositioning options are really looking at their long-term-care product, as
well as maybe some of their assisted living product. Clearly, from a long-term
care perspective, people are not interested in shared rooms. If you’re a
provider that still has three- or four-bed wards or have rooms that do not even
have a bathroom, shared or not, that’s even worse. That’s for sure a sign you
need to reposition.

area to consider is if you’re struggling to see move-ins, you do a market study
and it shows that the market is overbedded for a specific product type — that
should tell you right there that you need to reposition. And if the market
study shows there is plenty of market demand, but prospects aren’t moving in,
then the issue could be your position and perception among consumers in the

What is the biggest mistake that communities
make when planning a repositioning?

one, your decision to make those types of capital investments needs to be based
on facts. The market study uses data to tell us that there is demand for the
type of product that you want to reposition it into. Just because we know the
consumer isn’t super interested in long-term care doesn’t necessarily mean that
equates to, “I should convert that area over to assisted living.” You
could be overbedded for long-term care and overbedded for assisted living, or just
not have enough demand. The last thing you would want to do is spend a lot of
money and not be able to generate revenue from that decision.

two, your decision needs to make financial sense. You need the data from a pro
forma that tells you that you can make that work. It is hard. Providers get
really fixated on the revenue that long-term-care beds generate. What they
don’t fixate on enough are the margins and how narrow those are. If they’ve got
a lot of overhead that they’ve allocated to the long-term care side, taking 60
beds offline is going to have a significant impact on the bottom line, and many
times makes paying off debt difficult. Understanding the market dynamics, as
well as the financial dynamics, is really what should guide decisions.

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How does a market study help marketing and
sales? You touched on this, but let’s go further

First of
all, the basics are going to tell you what there’s demand for. As you dig
deeper into the market study, it’s rich with data. It will tell you how your
competitors in your market area are positioning their products and services. It
will tell you what they’re charging for rent and what’s included in that rent.
It’ll tell you how they’re pricing any additional services like levels of care,
or any ancillary fees that they have for maybe additional meals, housekeeping
or a second person occupancy.

It is
going to give you a whole host of information that helps you better understand
your position in the marketplace compared to your competitors. It will also
show you penetration rates. It should look at gross market penetration rates
and project penetration rates. That will tell you what percent of the market
you need to capture in order to maintain a 95% occupancy.

One of
the things that we always include in our market studies is a construction
versus inventory calculation. We will look at all the new products coming into
the marketplace as a percent of the existing product. The lower that percent,
the better off you are. The higher the percent, that would suggest that it’s
going to take quite a while for you to fill those units that you’re bringing
online. That’s not a bad thing. You could have a very high construction versus
inventory calculation but still have demand in the market area. It just means
you’re going to take longer to fill. That’s important to understand so you’ve
got enough working capital to cover it. This can also tell you to what level of
repositioning you need to do; is your main competition for residents going to
be brand new communities or older properties? This is important to understand
and can have a big impact on the costs of the reposition.

How is marketing a repositioned or repositioning
campus different from marketing an existing campus?

If you
are repositioning any long-term-care or skilled nursing environment to a
housing-with-services environment, you want to be really thoughtful about
rebranding and creating a new image for this campus. You don’t want people to
say, “That was the old nursing home and it still feels like the old
nursing home.”

We worked
with a client in western Michigan that took 72 beds of long-term care and
converted it to 22 high-end, entrance-fee independent living units. They really
had an entirely different demographic that they wanted to attract. Not only did
they want individuals who could afford the entrance fee, but they wanted a
younger older adult.

They had
to reshape their message and brand to attract people to that unit. And because
they did a great job of rebranding it, they had no trouble filling that
building. People didn’t look at it like it was the old nursing home. People
looked at it like it was a brand-new independent living building, and were very
attracted to it.

How should the marketing and sales teams adapt
their communications for a repositioning?

They have
to get creative, they have to be thoughtful and they have to make that human
connection. If you’re not making that human connection, your prospects are not
coming. I remember in my former life when I first started out in senior living,
I might tour a family three or four times before they could make that decision
and that choice. That has not changed. The reason it takes that long is because
they need to develop a relationship with you; ultimately they have to trust
what you and others are telling them and what they are seeing.

You have
the same thing that the community down the street has. You both have an
apartment, and you’re both trying to create community. You offer dining, they
offer dining. You have activities, they have activities. So what you’re selling
is, in large part, a trusting relationship, and that’s what they’re hoping to
feel that connection with.

real advantage of marketing a repositioning effort is you have a story to tell
about the longevity of your organization. When you reposition your campus, you
are reinventing the organization to serve future residents. In this day and
time, we don’t know if the new shiny penny down the street will be here or will
be sold in 18 months. You also have an advantage of existing resident
ambassadors being able to tell their stories and how excited they are for the
positive changes to the campus. Referrals are still the best indicator of
success in filling up a campus. If residents love where they live, they will
want their friends and family to join them.

What steps should you take to successfully
market a newly positioned campus?

This this
is going to sound incredibly obvious, but you first need a marketing strategy.
You would be surprised at the number of organizations that are still taking a
“If you build it, they will come” approach. You need a comprehensive
marketing strategy that includes a vision, a digital media platform, and models
that people can see what your product is going to look like. Even just having a
strategy puts you ahead of most competitors.

especially important during COVID to have an online presence and virtual tours,
so people can get the sense of the environment and culture. Equally important
is making sure that there’s accountability on your sales staff. For example, we
want 50 new leads that we are going to convert into four different move-ins. If
you’re not getting those 50 leads, why is that? Go back and figure it out.
Oftentimes, organizations wait way too long and then they end up doing a lot of

Do you have any favorite examples of communities
in the past few months that have taken a really innovative approach to
marketing a repositioning?

Yes. The
organization I mentioned that was repositioning from a skilled nursing
environment to an independent living environment really wanted to attract that
younger older adult. They already had independent living on their campus, but
it was a little bit different because it was a cottage environment, and they
converted this existing building into apartments. It was more like a hybrid of
24 units.

continued to leverage the relationship with their existing independent living
residents and they said, “Look, do you have any friends who are out in the
community who you really believe would benefit and enjoy living on this campus
and living in this community? If you do, would you be willing to share their
name with us? We’d like to reach out to them through our volunteers and touch
base once a week to make sure that they’re doing OK and to help alleviate some
of the social isolation. Then number two, if they’re amenable to it, we’d love
to deliver them a fresh, healthy meal once a week just to check in on them and
see how they’re doing.”

Not only
did they deliver one fresh meal, but they delivered one fresh frozen meal that
they could eat later on in the week, too. They saw more than a 30% uptick in
lead generation to their campus.

Lastly, how has COVID affected marketing and
sales for senior living communities?
And what
do you anticipate seeing in 2021?

I would
highly encourage every provider to go read our new COVID-19 sentiment report, because what that
report demonstrates is that residents were very happy to be living in a senior
living community during COVID. It gave great feedback on where operators could
make improvements, but one of the things that we discovered, hands down, was
that residents felt safe and they felt that the providers did everything they
could do to keep them safe. That’s a great message.

The data
came directly from residents and staff members, with more than 100 pages of
information that you can start leveraging in your marketing materials. There’s
something in there for everybody, at every level of care.

Editor’s note: This interview
has been edited for length and clarity.

Plante Moran Living Forward provides development advisory and owner’s
representation services
that address the evolving real estate,
development, and construction needs of senior living communities. To learn more
about how Plante Moran Living Forward can help your business,

The Voices Series is a
sponsored content program featuring leading executives discussing trends,
topics and more shaping their industry in a question-and-answer format. For
more information on Voices, please contact


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