For a senior living organization, a satellite campus may be the best way to grow. So, how do you make that a reality?

By Tom Mann, Chief Marketing Innovation Officer, Love & Company

Your Life Plan Community has controlled your market for decades and you’ve maximized your campus’ building potential. Now what?

The answer might be a satellite campus. The term widely used when a successful, fully developed community develops an additional nearby campus is a “satellite community.” The advantages of a satellite community are many. By expanding your mission to serve seniors, you’ll have an opportunity to strengthen your brand while at the same time expanding your reach and revenue.

Very often, satellite campuses are smaller than the mothership, allowing for the unique opportunities provided by smaller, more urban infill lots. And because the satellite campus often has the opportunity to share some of the original community’s amenities and services, development costs can often be much, much lower. Less investment in non-revenue construction, means a greater ROI on sellable inventory that doesn’t have to support the development of full-blown amenities and/or healthcare facilities.

Then, layer on top of that, operational efficiencies such as shared accounting, housekeeping, healthcare, human resources, maintenance, security, dining and transportation and the savings really start to add up.

The nice thing about expanding in your market area is that the new campus benefits from your existing brand equity, not to mention the development and operational efficiencies you gain. And because you know your market intimately, there’s a lower risk to the community sponsor.

Research, research, research

So how do you know if a satellite campus is right for your organization? The old adage, “Measure twice, cut once” can easily be applied to the development of senior living communities. With research being your executive team’s best friend.

The first step is a thorough examination of your market and your marketing efforts. Just like you would if you were building a new “blue sky” community, you’ll want to make sure that your market supports both projects (the existing community and the new satellite) with the appropriate number of age and income qualified residents. Obviously, you’ll want to look at your existing community’s occupancy and strength of waiting list. You’ll want to compare where your residents moved from, along with the location of your prospects’ from your lead base. Then, you’ll map resident and prospect origin relative to your satellite campus’s location. These steps should give you a high degree of understanding but we would also recommend some consumer research to confirm your findings.

Consumer Research Events

Consumer research is invaluable determining whether or not a market would consider a satellite campus, along with identifying the most desirable mix of residence types, residence sizes, services, amenities, design elements, and the likelihood a prospect will consider moving to a given location. It also provides an opportunity to establish an early interest list for that project.

The traditional senior living consumer research process—a mailed survey followed by focus groups—struggles with several inherent challenges.

  • The two-step (survey followed by focus groups) approach is expensive, as the survey’s mailing or calling costs are high. It also is time consuming, as the two parts of the process are done sequentially, not concurrently.
  • As only a small proportion of survey respondents are interested in senior living (typically from 12% to 20%), most of the money invested in a survey goes to confirming that most of the market is not interested.
  • Focus group findings cannot be generalized to the market due to the limited number of participants.
  • It is impractical (or impossible) to collect meaningful data on pricing and floor plans in surveys.

Love & Company’s consumer research event (CRE) approach mitigates these challenges. These large-group (up to 50 households per event), informational research sessions involve a larger audience than typical focus groups and provide a combination of qualitative and quantitative feedback on the issues that matter most for a project. Ideally, two to four research events would be held for a client, to gather up to 200 responses.

To recruit participants for the events, we send short surveys to the community’s wait list, lead base and purchased list of age- and income- qualified respondents. The survey is designed to directly identify and recruit those prospects that are most interested in considering a senior living community, as well as collect important data on their preferences.

The meetings are designed to meet the specific objectives of each client/project. During the research sessions, which typically last about two hours, our research team frequently addresses many of the following:

  • Walking the audience through an overview of what a Life Plan Community is, ensuring they have a basic understanding of the concept, and also asking what participants’ living plans are for their retirement years
  • Providing background information on the sponsoring organization, building credibility for the community, and presenting an overview of the community’s vision for the future
  • Presenting illustrations of potential residence types and sizes, then determining what each participants’ ideal residence type and size would be, independent of pricing
  • Providing an overview of community services and amenities, including both existing and potential amenities, to determine the relative interest in selected services and amenities
  • Presenting a range of design options and considerations, ranging from finishes to smart home technology, to determine prospects’ specific interests and willingness to pay for certain options
  • Describing contract options and potential pricing, ensuring that participants are able to equate a particular type or size of residence with a specific price point
  • Asking participants to select the residence that they would be most likely to purchase, given the pricing
  • Asking participants to share their reaction to the potential pricing, and to indicate their likelihood of moving to the community

During the research events, we gather feedback from participants, both anecdotally through discussions, and quantitatively through responses to specific questions gathered using transponders. The use of this tool is fundamental to the dynamic of these sessions. The groups see their aggregate responses in real time as questions are being asked, which allows the moderator to delve into the questions that take on the greatest relevance for the group.

At the end of this process, we are able to tablulate the participants’ quantitative responses, blend them with the qualitative responses, and provide the development team with a detailed picture of the market’s interests and desires. The planning team can then create a detailed program for the community that best meets the needs of the market.

We welcome the opportunity to talk through our community research event process with you in more detail.

  • Mailed surveys
  • Focus groups
  • Expressions of interest, willingness to join project mailing list and eagerness to join a “Resident of the Future Club”.

If you think that a satellite community may be the direction your senior living organization should go, feel free to get in touch so we can discuss all of the options. You can reach Tim Bracken at 410-207-0013.

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