Canyon Ranch’s Milner: ‘We’re Placing Our Bet on the Consumer of Tomorrow’

Canyon Ranch is entering senior living with a clear, defined vision, Executive Vice President – Development, At Sea and Adult Living Gary Milner said May 8 during Senior Housing News’ BUILD event in Chicago.

“We’re a top of the market product,” he said. “We don’t intend to be for everybody.”

The Fort Worth, Texas-based company is highly regarded for its wellness-focused resorts, as well as its spas and programs on cruise ships, plans to announce a senior living brand later this year with a specific focus on high-end rental models and high-entry fee continuing care retirement communities (CCRC), Milner said.

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As with Canyon Ranch’s other concerns, wellness will take center stage. The company is planning to enter urban, high barrier to entry markets with a well-established hospitality feeling and a very strong emphasis on wellness. Milner believes there is a customer base out there who share Canyon Ranch’s belief in prevention and healthy living.

“We intend to market to like-minded people who are already engaged in the pursuit of a healthier lifestyle,” he said.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

How big of a presence do you envision in terms of the number of communities and markets Canyon Ranch wants to enter?

We will concentrate on gateway cities and other affluent areas. We don’t ever see having a large portfolio. We’ll be an exclusive product.

How will your product be different from the communities that exist in the space today?

From an architectural standpoint, we believe they need to be contemporary communities. Wellness will be front and center. It will permeate throughout the building. It will be prominent and visible. We won’t place our fitness centers in the back of a building. Ideally, they will be on the street front/storefront level.

How do you see your current Canyon Ranch offerings as translating into destinations this population will seek?

For us, it isn’t so much about modifying our programming, it’s [about] editing our programming. Right now, we offer about 700 activities or programs a week. We have about 50 fitness classes a day, graded 1-3 in difficulty. Our outdoor sports are graded 1-6 in difficulty level. We have a bank of 15,000 healthy recipes that have been tested for accurate nutritional value.

It’s simply a matter of editing what will fit the community. The beauty of having so much intellectual property is that we find as a community’s residents become more ambitious, we can keep adding [to the programming].

Do you see other major hospitality brands seeking opportunities in senior living?

The hospitality market is feeling pressure from a couple areas. One is the phenomena of Airbnb and similar services. The other is the power of OTAs [online travel agencies] like Priceline and Expedia. They’re tremendously powerful and have eaten into [profit] margins in a very significant way.

What I think may happen is if the capital decides there is more opportunity in senior living because of these pressures, that will drive the brand interest.

senior living executives James Kruml, @robotoaster
Canyon Ranch Executive Vice President – Development, At Sea and Adult Living Gary Milner (right) with Aging Media Network Director of Content Liz Ecker.

Are there existing Canyon Ranch services that can be extended into other settings?

Our first expansion outside of brick and mortar was to go into the cruise ship business, which is a very difficult business. We manage spas and fitness on 22 cruise ships for four different cruise lines. It’s quite challenging because it’s a 24/7/365 business. We employ people from over 60 countries. It’s quite a challenge, but we do enjoy it and want to expand that end of the business.

We also dabbled a bit with reaching a larger audience through apps and online. We found that technology is moving so fast that anything tech-related is best left to the tech companies. We were trying to create a device a dozen years ago that does many of the things the Apple Watch does today.

For us, the game is to license content to tech providers. We are talking to [companies] about two things we like: telemedicine and remote personal coaching. I think we will get into that business but we’ll do so in conjunction with major medical systems. They have a keen interest in using our content to reach their audiences.

Do you see that happening in the markets where you’re planning your communities?

It would depend on the health care system.

Are there specific dimensions of wellness that are essential to the senior living settings of the future?

You need to have a holistic approach to physical fitness, nutrition and mental health. Intuitively, the two things that consumers want the most are access to healthy food — it polls so high when we conduct surveys — and high quality fitness. It’s very important to people who want to live a healthy lifestyle, but it has to be done right. You need dedicated people who work full-time, who are properly credentialed so they can develop community with the residents to achieve their goals.

We’re a top of the market product. We don’t intend to be for everybody.

Canyon Ranch Executive Vice President – Development, At Sea and Adult Living Gary Milner

What is your vision for creating a space that appeals to multiple generations? Are you necessarily targeting a younger consumer?

It’s my feeling that there’s ample product in the pipeline right now, geared towards today’s consumer. We believe there is a future consumer interested in a different product that is right around the corner. By the time they are ready to enter the market, the product will arrive.

We’re placing our bet on the consumer of tomorrow.

Does this mean Canyon Ranch will have a multigenerational approach, or will this product be for people of a certain age?

Our primary target is going to be baby boomers. We need to create contemporary communities that appeal to them. As nice as many of the senior communities are that I’ve toured, most would not be appealing to boomers.

As for caring for the present consumer at the same time, I like the idea of a dual-branded strategy. I like the idea of having a building that is Canyon Ranch-branded, yet in the same building is another high-quality brand that addresses high-acuity care levels.

Are there parts of the population you might be looking to reach that might not be attracted to the options available?

Those consumers are there. A lot of them are of the age where this would be appealing. They like the idea of Canyon Ranch. They like the lifestyle plus the medical care and all the other benefits. They like the idea that they’re in a multigenerational environment.

One way to solve that need of being multigenerational is to build these communities in denser areas where the multigenerational environment is all around you.

Are there any community features not currently being built that you think the resident of the future will demand?

I think concierge medical practices will be very important. It’s going to be a big selling point to have the house doctor downstairs. The way we want to approach it is we have strong relationships with academic institutions and medical schools. We’ll probably do some kind of partnership where we’ll bring in physicians from local institutions. I feel we can do that in a very serious way since we already have the relationships.