With new leadership in place, the Revel Communities brand is still focused on elevating independent living with a boutique hospitality approach centered on highly personalized resident experiences.
And while Covid-19 created unexpected and serious challenges, the pandemic also helped solidify the culture at Revel and accelerate changes that otherwise would have taken longer to execute, according to Danette Opaczewski, the company’s COO and executive vice president, resident experience. Revel is the senior living brand of The Wolff Company, a private equity, development and management firm based in Scottsdale, Arizona. Currently, there are eight Revel communities in operation, four set to open in the next year, and others in development.
Opaczewski joined Revel in January 2020. Like her predecessor, Niki Leondakis, Opaczewski brings a wealth of experience from the hospitality industry. Prior to joining Revel, she spent four years as executive vice president and CFO at Sydell Group, the company behind unique hotels such as NoMad in New York, Los Angeles and Las Vegas; the LINE in Los Angeles, Austin and Washington, D.C.; and the Park MGM Las Vegas. Her resume also includes executive leadership roles with Ian Schrager Company, Denihan Hospitality Group, James Hotels and Morgans Hotel Group.
While many senior living developers and operators draw inspiration from the world of hospitality, Wolff is one of the few to draw its top leadership directly from the world of boutique hotels. However, Opaczewski in June brought on board a senior living industry veteran, Ginni Ryan, as SVP of operations. Ryan most recently spent eight years as SVP for the western division of Milestone Retirement Communities.
Opaczewski and Ryan have made progress on moving Revel forward despite pandemic-related challenges, and are positioning the growing independent living portfolio to be a pacesetter in creating an appealing model for the coming baby boomer generation.
Freedom within a framework
Like many other senior living leaders, Opaczewski came to the space somewhat through happenstance. She had left Sydell Group in 2019 and, after 30 years in hospitality, was contemplating her next move.
“I didn’t know what I wanted to do next, to be honest,” she told Senior Housing News. “I was thinking I wanted to move out west with my family — my daughter goes to school out in Arizona. I was looking for opportunities in hospitality out west, and through Niki Leondakis, came into the senior housing concept.”
Opaczewski was drawn to senior living because she perceived similarities with the hospitality world — specifically, Wolff’s vision reminded her of what boutique hotels were bringing to the market when she started her career in the early 1990s.
At that time, boutique hotels were upending the traditional model of hotels, in which the goal was to create nearly identical products in each market, so that consumers knew what to expect. Instead, boutique offerings were tailored to their locations and target consumer demographics, offering individualized designs and guest experiences.
“I felt like senior housing right now is sort of in the same space,” she said. “How do we help people, as they age, find a place that treats them as independent, and give them choices?”
Creating unique senior living communities that offer highly personalized resident experiences while still being able to leverage efficiencies of scale is a notable challenge in an industry largely dominated by small and regional providers. But Wolff has ambitions to scale up Revel, and Opaczewski believes that she was hired in large part because of her particular expertise in creating operations that prioritize personalization and customization at the local level, but also are efficient.
It’s an approach that she developed during her time at Denihan Hospitality Group. When she joined, the company had about 15 properties in the New York City area and was expanding into new markets down the East Coast.
“They were struggling a little bit with, how do they expand out of the New York market and still keep that cohesive approach to hospitality — they were truly a very hospitality-oriented company, and their service model was very tight,” she said.
Opaczewski began to evaluate each business function and delineate a “freedom within the framework” approach.
“We need to give people freedom to be themselves and do a great job within a framework of tools and processes and touchpoints,” she said. “And so from there, I started to expand on that idea, and everywhere I’ve gone since then, I’ve used it, and it’s honestly created a really powerful work environment.”
Pandemic accelerates changes
Opaczewski drew on other experiences when — just a few months after she joined Revel — the Covid-19 pandemic began sweeping across the United States.
Having been working in New York City during 9/11 and the 2008 financial crisis, Opaczewski had operated in crises before.
“I’m used to adapting to challenges, with my background,” she said. “I kind of jumped in with both feet and said, okay, what do we need to do to keep our residents safe and healthy and feeling good at where they’re living?”
She received assistance in this effort when Ryan joined Revel in June.
“It’s been an interesting few months, joining a new company and getting a new job in the middle of a pandemic,” Ryan told SHN.
Like Opaczewski, Ryan was drawn to the vision of creating a hospitality-forward living option for independent older adults. But, she also brought extensive knowledge of the health and safety protocols used across all levels of care. She and Opaczewski both believe that independent living can keep hospitality at the foreground while taking steps to secure communities and support residents’ health.
Like other senior living companies across the country, Revel implemented an array of protocol and procedures with the aim of keeping the virus at bay. At the same time, the company’s customer service-oriented philosophy served it in good stead. For example, residents appreciated being able to order food for delivery off the communities’ customized menus at any time of the day, Opaczewski said.
Revel communities have experienced only a “low number” of cases, she said.
“I found — and Ginni can attest to this as well — our residents are really resilient,” Opaczewski said. “People, as they age, have been through a lot, and we need to respect that.”
From an operational perspective, Revel has continued to evolve during the pandemic, introducing new approaches meant to further the goal of creating more personalized resident experiences, in keeping with the company motto of “Make It Possible.” For example, the company implemented a new sales process called My Journey.
“It’s really about getting to know the individual,” Opaczewski explained. “ … We believe in diversity and inclusion. We want you here as who you are, and work with you for whatever you want to do for the rest of your life.”
Other initiatives include the introduction of Caspar voice-enabled technology — similar to Amazon Echo — in Revel communities. And, the company began holding “tech cafes” to assist residents in learning and using different types of technology, which has become more crucial than ever due to Covid-19. On the culinary front, Revel is working with its partner, Unidine, to add more customization to dining. Already, Revel communities include full-service restaurant dining and “Social Club” bars.
The pandemic has also led senior living companies to rethink community design. Even before Covid-19, Wolff was innovating in how Revel communities are constructed, and the buildings themselves featured strikingly contemporary designs.
“They were architecturally forward-thinking,” Opaczewski said.
Future communities will introduce cottage living, and likely will include more outdoor space generally, she said.
But while Covid-19 is driving change, many of these new initiatives and protocols were already in the works; from that perspective, the pandemic has had a silver lining, in unifying the company around a common goal while expediting changes that would have taken place eventually, Opaczewski said.
Going forward, she is excited about the prospects for Revel, and she is prepared to learn on the fly as she did when coming to the hospitality industry at the start of her career. To the extent that Revel is bringing something new to market, consumers also might have a learning curve.
“If you were a regular Marriott traveler back in the early ‘90s, you may not have liked a boutique hotel experience,” she said. “But what ended up happening — having worked for Ian Schrager and Morgans — is that people began to realize that that experience was special. It created an energy, and that energy was attractive.”