Launching a new community

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Lori Alford
Lori Alford

Opening a new senior living community can present many unique challenges, but in my 25-plus years of experience, I have found that selecting the right team as the face and spirit of the community is always the most critical — and sometimes hardest — part. In addition, you always have to make sure that you're entering the right market.

Having a unique model and philosophy can be difficult to convey when people are used to thinking of senior living in a certain way. You have to know the market and its culture, desires and values, and make sure you're in line with them. You cannot expect the market to become you. Determining these factors will help you determine whether the market is a good fit for your product. There have been times when we thought a market was an excellent fit, but later we had to pull the plans when further research dictated otherwise.

You can offer a striking new community with amenities that are trending and unique, and you can furnish your model suites with the chicest furniture, but if your product is not a good fit — or if you do not have a team that sets the right tone for your community — you could be setting yourself up for failure.

Unfolding the vision, bringing it to life

The company's vision must be communicated to every person responsible for helping you build and launch your community, from the architect to the developer to the interior design firm. Many times, companies have a vision, and when it unfolds, it is somewhat close to the initial vision that was cast. In a situation such as this, the trick is to keep communicating the original vision to all parties involved, and in time your team will successfully bring it to life.

It also is important to hire people whose goals for themselves in their roles at your company align with the overall mission and vision. We believe Avanti is an innovative company offering a truly differentiated lifestyle. It's easy for people to say they want to be change-agents and an integral part of the the experience we offer, but in reality, many people do not accept change easily and cannot fully embrace a new way of doing things. When we ask candidates what change looks like, we want to make sure the people we bring on board like true, genuine change and are willing to step outside of their comfort zones.

Since co-founding Avanti, I have been asking myself, “Why not? Why don't we do it this way? Why don't we try it that way?” This mentality is what we hope to instill in our team members. Just because we've done it this way for a couple of decades in the industry doesn't mean we have to keep doing it that way. We look for people who are OK with stepping outside of the box and challenging themselves each and every day.

People complete the puzzle

Anytime you open a new business or place of service or offer a new product, it's nerve-racking wondering whether the nuts and bolts of everything you worked diligently to piece together will flow the way you imagined in your mind. Opening a new community is like adjusting to a new house. There are tweaks that need to be made once everything is in place and up and running. The biggest challenge in all of this is finding the right people. They are the most important part of the puzzle, because the right people set the correct expectations and help you deliver the very best version of what you have in mind.

I'd like to reiterate that leading up to the launch of a new community, it is imperative to communicate the company's vision and philosophy to the new team members. Many times when you bring people into a company that has an innovative and different culture, you have to work really hard to “de-slime” them of their previous habits and way of doing things. We see potential in those we select to become a part of our team, but many come with old habits from their previous experiences. Although they may seem to learn our way of doing things, they sometimes revert to the way they've always done certain tasks. It's vital to assist them in shaping and building new habits to uphold the community's vision and culture.

Passion doesn't stop with the launch

You know the launch of your new community is a success when you look around and see happy team members with smiles on their faces, touching the lives of residents and showing them that senior living is a better lifestyle than they could have imagined. It's a rewarding feeling when you know you have shown someone something different — team members and residents alike. For me, it's fulfilling to see that I've touched all their lives in a meaningful way.

Launching a new community doesn't stop once you open your doors, however. It's imperative to have a marketing plan in place to bring people into your community to experience what you've created. At first, this part is easy, as you are the shiny new penny in town. Everyone wants to see whether you really differentiate yourself and live up to your claims.

Incorporating public relations and community relations into your marketing plan will help you build a solid reputation past the grand opening and will further communicate the culture to keep you top-of-mind in the market. The biggest compliment is when these efforts pay off and new residents come from other communities. That speaks volumes about the services, lifestyle and culture that attracted them to your community.

We are passionate about raising the bar of what seniors expect from our communities. Don't let your passion escape you after you're open.

Learn the market. Feel the market. Be the market.

Lori Alford is chief operating officer of Avanti Senior Living, launched in 2013 and based in The Woodlands, TX. The company owns and operates senior living communities in Arizona, Louisiana and Texas and plans to expand to additional states.

McKnight's Senior Living welcomes guest columns on subjects of value to the industry. Please see our submission guidelines for more information.

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