“When things went wrong we tried to never let it impact our operations. The show must go on. It gives people confidence in the team when they see that no matter what happens, we will keep things running,” he said. Fischer took a similar approach. “You

take something that could be dismal and make it a treat: ‘Hey, they are going to be tearing down the pool, come and see the destruction!’” she said. The team would give folks advanced notice when the fire alarms were being tested, “but when things were really noisy, for those who could go out we took them out for a scenic drive.” In fact, getting people out of the building

was a major component of Fischer’s strat- egy. With 70 percent of the building slated to be under construction at one point, she worked to relocate residents to appropriate communities, eventually whittling down her occupancy to 35 percent in order to make room for the construction.

Contractor contacts For many senior living companies, architects and contractors are chosen by executives in the corporate office. Corporate strategists decide when and how a community will be rehabbed and they set up the working terms with the construction company. Cor- porate leaders order the furniture and set the timetables. For an executive director, this makes the

renovation something akin to an arranged marriage: an executive director and the contractor may not have chosen each oth- er, but they need to find a way to make it work—together. The ability of the executive director to communicate and cooperate ef- fectively with the foreman and the crew is key the success of any renovation. As director of development for Bench-

mark Senior Living, Bill Cook gave careful thought to this before engaging a contractor to work on Barstein’s project. “We needed

them to know that this was more than just a commercial project. This is effectively a res- idential project of the highest order: People live here, this is their house, and it’s up to you to be respectful,” he said. Setting the expectation helps, but the con-

versation needs to continue once the wheels are in motion. In Kenah’s case, this meant having her own project manager in an of- fice practically adjacent to the construction zone. He and a facilities director kept up a running dialog with the construction crews, so that when the contractor needed to tem- porarily block a main thoroughfare, they could remediate without any substantial impact on residents. “We put up signs everywhere and had

physical staff blocking the area so residents didn’t simply ignore a sign by accident,” Ke- nah said. “It required really good commu- nication for that to work. We had to know what was happening and when.”


The point of renovating a senior living community, ultimately, is to develop a more desirable property. The changes being made today will be reflected in tomorrow’s prospectus. Communicating early and often about the process is key to achieving desired sales and marketing results.

At Commonwealth Senior Living at Front Royal, leadership started promoting a major expansion almost as soon as the project broke ground. “We wanted to get the word out early because we are located in a subdivision and the wing under construction points to a main street,” said Amber Foster, executive director.

Foster started offering hard hat tours to referral sources a couple of months in, followed by “sneak peek” walkthroughs, and finally a big open house. The marketing push continued through the entire duration of the renovation.

“We wanted to constantly involve our referral sources, to show them the progress,” she said. “We felt it was important for them to see what we were doing, to understand how big the suites were, to see the kitchenette. It was a way of getting them excited.” As a result, the expansion was fully sold before it even opened.

The Oaks at Denville recently completed a dining room renovation, the first of four planned revitalization efforts in the community. Parent company Springpoint Senior Living

began discussing these renovations almost as soon as it acquired the property in 2016.

“We made this part of the messaging right away, to show that these improvements were coming,” said Pam Smith, senior vice president of strategy and marketing at Springpoint.

Drawings help her to tell the story, along with photographs of finished work, all of which are shared with potential stakeholders and some of which will find their way onto the company website and into future sales materials. Getting an early start has helped the corporate team to control the message.

“People want to know how long it will go on and what it will look like, and so those visuals really help,” Smith said. “By communicating about all the new spaces and programming, we are able to focus on the active lifestyle, to show that we are enhancing what is already a very active community.”

At Edgehill, a Benchmark Senior Living community, executive director Christopher Barstein likewise opted to forego the traditional grand opening for a major addition and renovation project, choosing instead to host a series of visits during the course of the work. Having frequent, smaller events “gave us a chance to have far more intimate and detailed contacts,” he said.


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