A senior living management company with a regional footprint in the Southeast has set its sights on becoming a national presence centered on hospitality.
Jackson, Mississippi-based Blake Management Group (BMG) has quickly grown in recent years by forging joint ventures with development partners, and has made several executive hires in recent months, including adding a new president, COO and chief strategy officer.
BMG’s development partners include Cardinal Ventures; Quality Senior Living; and LifeCare Properties, which last October announced a plan to build up to 10 Blake-branded senior living communities nationwide over the next five years. The company is also working with Legendary Living, the new senior living arm of Legendary LLC, a Destin, Florida-based real estate development and management firm that has specialized in luxury hotel, multifamily and resort properties since its founding in 1991.
BMG currently acts as a third-party manager for 22 senior living communities in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas. The company plans to grow at a pace of about four to five new community openings annually over the next three to four years, according to BMG’s CEO, Jeremy Cole.
“Conservatively, with our development partners’ pace for designing and building Blake communities, we’ll likely be a 40-plus community company in our future,” Cole told Senior Housing News. “BMG has always been comfortable flying under the radar, and we will continue to operate this way; however, [while] growing and becoming more relevant.”
While The Blake is BMG’s flagship brand, it also operates communities under other brand names, such as The Claiborne at Adelaide in Starkville, Mississippi.
“We know how to build other brands and enable asset partners to grow without the Blake flag, and then manage under our single operating platform much like a Marriott does,” Cole said.
Focus on hospitality
While all of BMG’s communities are designed with local markets in mind, they do share many of the same design elements, amenities and services.
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Most of the company’s communities have between 100 and 110 units. While some have a mix of independent living units as well as those designed for higher-acuity residents, BMG’s operational “sweet spot” lies in properties with 65% assisted living and 35% memory care units, Cole said.
They also come with a dedicated space for a cafe, a functioning coffeeshop and ice cream bar, chapels, a business center that doubles as a library and plenty of common spaces for residents to gather. BMG places a special emphasis on fine dining and wellness, with multiple dining venues headed up by executive chefs and staffed with dedicated servers. The company’s dining program is run by Vice President of Dining Darin Leonardson, a former executive chef with Google who joined the company last September.
“We have always wanted to celebrate food and our dining process,” Cole said. “We invest in this experience during the design of our communities and our staffing model, both at HQ and onsite.”
As a result of BMG’s resort-style mix of services and amenities, the company’s communities are competitively priced around the top tier of local markets.
“We work very hard to be an affordable luxury option,” Cole said. “We work very hard to be the nicest offering, the most valuable offering, both from a real estate and a customer service perspective.”
The company has found success in its hospitality-forward model, aided in part by its ambitious early push for deposits. Sales start early, with deposits coming in as early as a year before the community gets its certificate of occupancy.
“One leading metric we’re proud of is how fast we stabilize within 16 to 18 months, which begins with a successful pre-opening and deposit,” Cole said. “We have been stable in certain communities within six to 12 months.”
Hiring for growth
As a fast-growing senior living operator, BMG is only as strong as the employees it can hire.
“The race in senior living will be about transforming how we perform leadership development, which will result in high-performing teams and making good on the promises we make to seniors and loved ones,” Cole told SHN. “New designs and fresh paint are an edge, the marathon will be innovation in recruitment, training and retention.”
BMG named a new president last September, and this week announced the appointment of COO Katie Kleinsmith and Chief Strategy Officer Jessica Heck. Kleinsmith will oversee the company’s core operational functions, help create programs and support onsite community teams, while Heck is tasked with overseeing new developments, sales, strategic growth and project development in addition to being BMG’s new spokesperson.
Kleinsmith is a seasoned industry veteran with 28 years of experience at companies such as Manor Health Care, Brookdale Senior Living (NYSE: BKD) and Marriott Senior Living, while Heck has spent time at companies including Elmcroft and Atria Senior Living.
Any time BMG enters into a new market, it has a methodology for recruitment. The company finds new workers through job fairs and social media, and opens a central office for each community early on during the construction phase.
“In new development we promote our community both from a sales and recruiting process pretty heavily,” Cole explained. “We get a lot of qualified leaders and applicants there.”
The company also looks to universities as a source of new workers, particularly in college towns with Blake communities. But there’s more work to be done to attract a new generation of employees to the senior living industry, Cole said.
“No one goes to universities and certainly not to Ivy League programs to work in senior living. We need to change that,” he explained. “Terms like ‘conscious capitalism’ get thrown around recruiting circles these days, [and] you can’t find more fertile ground on having a meaningful career than senior living.”