How One Senior Living Provider Used Consumer Research To Overcome Challenges And Amplify Successes With Its Expansion

by | Apr 30, 2021

By John Cowan, Executive Director, & Jeanne LaRoe, Marketing Director at Givens Estates

Throughout the more than four decades that Givens Estates has served seniors in the Asheville, North Carolina, market, our offerings have evolved markedly. Over time, and as any senior living provider should, we’ve made these evolutionary (and sometimes revolutionary) changes to reposition our buildings and services in response to the expectations of our residents and potential residents as well.

Of course, this requires having a robust senior living master plan in hand, and one that allows your organization the flexibility to adjust it where needed. Our colleague, Karen Adams of Love & Company wrote about this recently, specifically as it relates to using market research to help keep long-term expansion and development plans nimble.

Our plans for adding the Friendship Park expansion have exemplified this senior living development strategy. Thorough market research allowed us to overcome some early challenges associated with Friendship Park, and helped us build on the successes we’ve had with presales and pre-opening reservations.

Read below for all the details, and for a full discussion about this topic, watch the recording of Love & Company’s April 2021 webinar, “Fitting A New Development Into The Fabric Of An Existing Community: Key Tools For A Successful Expansion,” linked here.

Overcoming obstacles using data 

Our location in Asheville, North Carolina, is a blessing as it has blossomed into a leading location for retirees. At the same time, its location within the Blue Ridge Mountains presents challenges for any construction project. The site for Friendship Park is mountainous, with a stream running through it, so it would not be the first place you choose to add apartment buildings.

However, we kept the faith in our plan and let the data drive us in our efforts to keep the project affordable. Friendship Park is aimed toward middle-income seniors, after all. We worked together as a project team alongside our contractor, architect and civil engineer so that we could mitigate overruns and stay within the range of what our market could afford.

In a similar vein, we conducted consumer research events (CREs) with the help of Love & Company and other consultants, and learned that many prospective residents were outspoken in their desire for apartments exceeding 2,000 square feet. However, we knew that we already offered home options that met those prospects’ needs, and we also knew that the market data showed there to be significant market depth at a lower price point, which was our true target market.

Another challenge that we solved using market research was related to one particular amenity of the Friendship Park neighborhood itself: under-building parking. Prospective residents expressed a strong preference for this, which admittedly is a nice feature when dealing with Asheville’s winter weather. But incorporating under-building parking into the construction would have increased the project’s cost considerably, making it no longer affordable to our primary target market.

Fortunately, by conducting surveys and focus groups with current and prospective residents, we reached a much more cost-effective compromise on how to shield Friendship Park members from rain and snow. We settled on building covered walkways into Friendship Park, which consumers also asked for and was much more financially feasible. Similar to prospects’ requests for larger homes, we also kept in mind that Givens Estates does offer under-building parking in some of its eight neighborhoods, so prospects who just can’t live without that amenity can get it here, too, just not at Friendship Park.

In undertaking a major expansion, and while conducting market research like any senior living provider should, you will come to know that people want to have everything, but that’s just not possible. How you address the most important consumer desires—while using market data to inform your decisions—will lead to success. It certainly did for us.

Successful from the start 

When it came time to start the priority deposit phase for Friendship Park, we leaned on what we learned throughout the earlier stages of the development process. First of all, we knew to start early and who to target when we began seeking priority deposits.

We started talking to our existing waitlist and built a sense of urgency for Friendship Park. Thanks to the information and data we had at hand about our waitlist and the greater Asheville area, we knew that we had a deep well of people at our disposal who could afford the Friendship Park product.

To develop a new senior living product that basically includes a waitlist of likely priority depositors from the get-go was a huge source of early momentum for us and for the project as a whole. It also gave the sales team confidence as they worked toward securing deposits, because the market data told us that the prospects would be comfortable with the price.

Another element of the expansion that gave our team confidence in the early sales stages was that we designed it with the desires of our target prospects in mind. It had the things they said they wanted like new dining and the covered walkways mentioned above, and it also brought an entirely fresh look to the middle of Givens Estates’ campus.

Friendship Park really lifts up the whole community with its location adjacent to our Oxford and Asbury Commons, and does so even without being high-end. In our case, the data told us that going upmarket would have shrunken our prospect base anyway.

Finally, tapping into the minds of our prospects helped us stay successful even amid the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, which occurred during the second sales phase.

We conducted surveys of our 10% depositors, waitlist depositors and lead base and were encouraged to learn that 97 percent of 10% depositors who responded said they were still planning to move to the expansion. We also learned that several priority depositors wanted to move to Givens Estates’ existing residences while Friendship Park was constructed, due to the security of the community during the pandemic.

We took the knowledge of prospects’ desire for security and safety and shifted our marketing efforts during the pandemic to focus on safety, transparency and leadership. This was key in developing trust and confidence among our depositors.

We also leaned heavily on technology and internet-based resources to share information, knowing that seniors were becoming rapidly more technologically literate in lockdown. We invested in 3D renderings of the expansion, drone photography of the site, virtual tours, webinars and more. Having these resources not only made selling the expansion possible during the pandemic but it also broadened our geographic reach for the project.

“Virtual sales, drawing people from a wider range; those will be permanent tools in our field,” Karen noted. “We’re already seeing communities commit to keeping webinars and virtual tour options available post-COVID. And in this case of marketing during COVID-19, necessity truly was the mother of invention.”

We started incorporating Friendship Park into our master plan in 2017, and it’s amazing to see how much has changed since then and how many adjustments we’ve had to make. Along the way, remaining flexible to change and relying on trusted market data has helped ensure that the project is successful and an enjoyable place for seniors to call home. Today, Friendship Park is more than 90 percent sold and we expect it to open this fall.

To watch Love & Company’s April 2021 webinar featuring the Givens Estates and Givens Communities projects, Fitting A New Development Into The Fabric Of An Existing Community: Key Tools For A Successful Expansion,” click here.

For more articles and resources focused on senior living expansions and developing new or existing communities, click here.

To schedule a consultation with a Love & Company specialist to discuss the future of your Life Plan Community, click here.

Latest Insights
Webinar: Social Connection and Engagement

Webinar: Social Connection and Engagement

Presenters: John Franklin, Founder and Principal, Pearl Creek Advisors Kyle Robinson, Partner, Wellzesta Gwen Hardy, Chief Operating Officer, Presbyterian Homes of Georgia Cameron Honeycutt, Executive Director, Presbyterian Village Athens Rob Love, President &...