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Belmont Village, Sodalis, Trustwell Evolve Sales Tactics to Improve Lease-Up

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In 2024, the senior living industry is on track to finally regain pre-pandemic occupancy levels after years of pandemic hardship. But getting there will require a year of focusing on lease-up for many operators. 

Operators including Belmont Village, Sodalis Senior Living and Trustwell Living have overhauled sales and marketing to prioritize getting residents through the door, with virtual tours, webinars and connecting with prospects sooner than they have in the past.

“When we look at our lease-up numbers now, we’re seeing unbelievable results because of all the things that we’re able to do earlier in the process even before your team arrives on the ground,” said Belmont Village Executive President and Chief Marketing Officer Carlene Motto during a SHN Sales and Marketing summit in Tampa, Florida.

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From acquiring communities with low census and succeeding in a fast turnaround, Belmont Village Senior Living, Sodalis Senior Living and Trustwell Living have seen recent success in driving lease-up across portfolios by changing digital marketing habits and renewing branding.

‘Back to basics’

Among the company’s at the forefront of lease-up in 2024 is Trustwell Living. The New York-based operator specializes in acquiring, renovating and then turning around struggling properties, some which enter the company’s portfolio

at an average occupancy rate of 30% to 50%. Today, those struggling properties have become some of the company’s “original core assets,” having reached 80% average census, according to Trustwell Living Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer Gary Fernandez.

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The company views stabilization at a community at occupancy levels between 90% and 94%, and Fernandez said getting there is a climb requiring examining all possible angles for new opportunities. For example, Trustwell is soon to launch memory care services to extend length and “get to that stabilization level much faster.”

“Not only were we trying to turn the communities around but we had a whole new branding perspective and needed to put some strategies around that,” Fernandez said. “We have to go back to basics because I think the digital stuff is great but we’re still a relationship business and can’t lose sight of that.”

Sodalis enters each new community it has acquired with the perspective of “starting from the ground up,” said Shelby Anderson, who serves as the company’s corporate director of sales and marketing.

“It’s a lot of rebranding and utilizing and leveraging the technologies that we have in place but also the people in place to make [our brand] to stand out,” Anderson said during the panel. “It’s a strategic effort of getting all of those programs that we use in place and getting those core competencies ready.”

Sodalis is aiming for 93% occupancy as the stabilized threshold, she added.

Meanwhile, Belmont Village developed its communities from the ground-up but still experienced the pandemic’s census drop before building back to 90% average occupancy, Motto said. What drove the recovery was the company’s brand recognition, Motto added, but Belmont considers 94% occupancy as stabilized.

Belmont Village’s typical community on average has higher unit counts and a full continuum of care between 200 and 260 units.

Building – and rebuilding – credibility

Belmont Village saw a loss of potential residents due to losing contact with families during the pandemic, along with local health care partners withdrawing from communities due to needs of the pandemic.

“We found they got burned out and so we’re reestablishing those relationships, that credibility and that value proposition all over again,” Motto said.

Anderson added that Sodalis communities experienced a similar withdrawal of local partners, noting that it “takes a little bit more strategy” in lining up third-party relationships that can help increase a community’s value proposition with health care partnerships.

To start a successful turnaround or lease-up at a new community, operators must create a digital presence with landing pages and web design to educate consumers on a company’s brand, Motto said. With national scale,Belmont Village is able to extend its brand across the country to “build credibility” and brand awareness, Motto added.

Anderson said having a well-trained marketing team capable of developing social media channels quickly can be a preamble to rolling out a broader public relations campaign.

“Rebranding is huge immediately,” she added.

Motto and the Belmont Village team partnered with HubSpot to reach qualified leads sooner and stay in contact longer.

For Sodalis, nurturing leads is done through the company’s in-house call center that will assist with “cold leads” to get them back towards being ready to take a community tour.

“They’ll help in a community that is getting overwhelmed with too many leads or without a sales director for a while and so they’ve been pretty vital,” Anderson said. “Each call center person usually averages 10 move-ins per month just from people they contact cold.”

Facing rising expenses, from operations to staffing, cutting marketing budgets can seem like a short-term fix for a provider’s bottom line. But by reducing spends on advertising campaigns can impact brand awareness in a local market and lead to a slower pace of the recovery, the operators said during the panel.

With budget in mind while not compromising a marketing plan Fernandez said Trustwell has relied on data analysis to drive strategy.

“We used some tools through NIC MAP Vision to put together strategic marketing plans that don’t cost a lot of money but have turned into very effective triggers [of lease-up] for us,” he said.

For Sodalis, that’s meant marketing staff have relied on getting “very creative,” Anderson said, while relying on real-time data on move-outs and move-ins to determine strategy going forward.

“It’s a real balancing act,” Motto added. “To decrease that during a time when you’re trying to lease back up is counterproductive.”

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