How National Senior Living Brands Tap Into the ‘Local’ Craze

Senior living providers with communities across the country don’t necessarily have to develop an assembly-line model in order to maintain a national brand. In fact, many are finding that tapping into local trends, cultures and traditions proves a competitive tactic.

“‘Local’ is almost a buzzword today—locally sourced, local small businesses,” Meg Sutton, senior lead interior designer at development services firm Direct Supply Aptura*, told SHN. “People want to have connections with other people nearby, even in this hugely global world. …For an operator entering a new market, understanding the local population and their expectations allows them to compete more quickly with an operator who is, indeed, locally based.”

From regional and nature-oriented design components to increasingly versatile spaces, more and more providers are turning to all things local to distinguish themselves from the competition without compromising their national reputations and overall standard of care. Direct Supply and two providers recently shared insight with SHN on how they maintain a national brand with a local feel.

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Consistency

Direct Supply Aptura, based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is a senior living services development firm that focuses on interior design and food services. When Sutton begins working with providers, she walks them through what their ideal experience for residents would be in key spaces.

“Senior living design should be approached like every other kind of design—listening to the client, understanding their goals and using solid design elements to help them achieve those goals,” Sutton said.

From there, she presents clients with different options, depending on what “local” means to them. There are simpler ways to incorporate location, such as artwork and signage, she said, while larger ways include incorporating architectural elements similar to other buildings in the area or reflecting community staples like botanical gardens.

Despite different local touches or even comparable design patterns, Sutton said one thing is certain: Services provided must remain consistent.

“The physical property might have similarities, but they won’t be identical,” Sutton said. “They will have regional touches and some variation in offering, but I can expect a consistent product. This concept holds true for a senior living national brand—consistency is the thing that ties it all together.”

Individuality

Treating each property as a unique entity is the name of the game for The Goodman Group, a privately held senior living provider with 33 senior living and health care communities in eight states across the country, from the West Coast to Florida and up north from Minnesota to Montana.

“They’re designed by intent for standardized quality of experience, with individuality and autonomy of each property,” Robyn Johnson, director of brand and strategic initiatives, told SHN.

Specifically, The Goodman Group relies on nature as a tool to differentiate each property, Johnson said. The Villa at Terracina Grand, a memory care community in Naples, Florida, for example, includes a multi-sensory nature immersion room, with natural components that would be familiar to someone from the area. On the walls are plants indigenous to the area, she said, and at dawn there’s a video wall with a sunrise at Naples Pier, with the smell of the ocean breeze wafting through the air.

Across the country in Flagstaff, Arizona, The Peaks senior living community has a partnership with the Museum of Northern Arizona, allowing for the presence of Native American pottery and sculpture throughout.

“At the end of the day, we believe there is dignity and respect in celebrating the uniqueness of every individual,” Johnson said.

Flexibility

First and foremost, Senior Lifestyle Corp. establishes the same spaces—a multi-purpose room, a living area, a dining room—in each of its 169 communities in 27 states, whether that is during development or following an acquisition. How the rooms are used and mirroring the aesthetic of a particular landscape, then, are what make each property distinct.

“Very often, we go in and assess how the spaces should be used with our current beliefs on seniors’ behavior,” David LaPlaca, vice president of capital and plant operations, said.

That’s where flexibility comes into play. In one community, art projects might be a fun and accepted activity, said vice president of development Nancy Cutter, meaning a multi-purpose room could be utilized extensively as a creative space. At another location, though, residents might prefer trips to an art museum, so the multi-purpose room there would serve a different purpose.

As for architecture, buildings should be designed to fit in the context of where they’re situated, Cutter and LaPlaca said.

“A building that’s out of place, that doesn’t fit with its environment, is not going to be a place that attracts residents,” LaPlaca said.

When all is said and done, though, all three companies agree: Quality of care should remain the same across the board, but each community deserves its own personality.

“Finding housing is a very personal, individual choice,” LaPlaca said. “It should be the same experience when you walk into our buildings, and that’s hard to do when you have a building that doesn’t relate to its local environment.”

Written by Kourtney Liepelt

*Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story stated that Meg Sutton works for Direct Supply. The article has been corrected to note that she works for Direct Supply Aptura, a business within Direct Supply known for interior and food service design.

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