The Future Leaders Awards program is brought to you in partnership with PointClickCare. The program is designed to recognize up-and-coming industry members who are shaping the next decade of senior housing, skilled nursing, home health and hospice care. To see this year’s future leaders, visit Future Leaders online.
Kristopher Yetman, senior development director at Benchmark Senior Living, has been named a 2020 Future Leader by Senior Housing News.
To become a Future Leader, an individual is nominated by their peers. The candidate must be a high-performing employee who is 40-years-old or younger, a passionate worker who knows how to put vision into action, and an advocate for seniors, and the committed professionals who ensure their well-being.
SHN spoke with Yetman to learn what has kept him engaged in senior living, how Benchmark has innovated in its communities branded as The Branches, and how he would like to see senior living change in the coming years.
How did you get your start in senior living?
I joined Benchmark in June 2013, right out of business school. I knew that real estate development was going to be my path. I found senior housing, and I thought this was going to be the next megatrend, as you look at the population, et cetera. But, seven years later, I’d say the opportunity I see today is not just that huge wave of approaching seniors, but the opportunity to create these different living experiences and an opportunity to keep people connected to the passions they find meaningful. I don’t think you’d get that in other sectors of real estate.
My first interview at Benchmark was with my future manager, John Dragat. He and I really connected. As I was looking at working for some more high-profile development firms, he made a promise to me that I wouldn’t just be a number. I wouldn’t be pigeonholed into one aspect of real estate development. He explained the three pillars of development: entitlement, capital and construction. He told me that I would be involved in all three aspects, and I would get a lot of experience on the deal side. All of that came to fruition. CEO Tom Grape and the entire senior leadership team at Benchmark has truly allowed me to grow and continuously challenged me with new and exciting opportunities.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned during your career in senior living?
There are a lot of standard hurdles that everyone looks at in sizing up a site. The initial site vetting process, the number of qualified seniors, qualified caregivers. I’ve learned that the story needs to be a lot deeper than those hurdles. Many of those sites, you have to peel back the onion a bit further to realize the opportunity in these markets. There’s not a one-size-fits-all program you can apply to each site. At Benchmark, I think we’ve been successful in crafting a mid-market program as well as across the whole spectrum all the way to luxury products.
When you speak of a middle-market program, that refers to the operating model created at communities like The Branches? Can you explain how that project came together?
Approximately five years ago, there were established senior housing operators, developers in and around Boston, and there were new entrants coming in as well. It felt like we were all fighting over the A-plus markets.
At Benchmark, we took a step back and really wanted to look at how to make that second-tier opportunity pencil for ourselves and our investors.
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We came to the realization that we needed to be below a specific price, that we would have to make concessions with some of the construction costs, and that we were going to have to look at the operating model, how we staffed the building, slightly differently. Today, there are now three open and operating Branches communities.
The two main aspects I’d point out would be location and efficiency. I’m not going to tell you Branches are located in true middle-market communities; they’re a tick below the top-tier communities. We took a small step outside of Boston and that allowed us to reduce rates slightly. That certainly helps in underwriting the middle-market product. For efficiency, for the first wave of Branches communities, they all are double-occupied units, often called “shared” in the industry. Units per square feet, the community might not look that attractive, but if you look at it as beds per square foot, it becomes attractive. The way we looked at it was, let’s provide more opportunities for common areas, for amenities, increase targeted programming and perhaps less square footage in the unit.
What’s something you’d like to see changed in senior housing in the next several years?
I think the traditional nomenclature of the business, independent living, assisted living memory care, I think that needs to go away and we just need great living spaces which are senior targeted.
The two main things I’d like to see for the 2021 time period, coming out of this Covid-19 time period, I would say everyone — development teams included — are going to be looking at the existing portfolio, where renovations are at and what’s required, leaning on the lessons learned in the past few months. Also for 2021, I’m seeing a lot of opportunities for hotel conversions. I would say the opportunities appear to be urban focused, any hotel that was struggling before Covid, or perhaps was located in a market that was oversaturated. We’re receiving calls weekly to look at these urban hotel opportunities and many of them at first glance appear to be a good fit for conversion. I think that is telling, of the future opportunities that are going to be coming out of this Covid time period.
Describe what you think the future of senior housing is, in one word.
To learn more about the Future Leaders program, visit the Future Leaders homepage.