Westmont Living set an ambitious course for growth at the beginning of the year — and Covid-19 hasn’t halted those plans.
While the company’s leaders didn’t anticipate having to deal with a pandemic in 2020, Westmont is mitigating those challenges in the short-term while planning a “big year” in 2021, with further growth then and beyond, according to Rob Henderson, senior vice president of operations for the La Jolla, California-based provider. Westmont was founded in 2008 by its CEO Michael O’Rourke and President Andy Plant, who are alumni of real estate services firm Marcus & Millichap.
“Like most everyone, dealing with everything related to Covid has been front and center for us,” Henderson told Senior Housing News. “But that has not stopped our trajectory.”
Westmont currently has 14 senior living communities in California and Oregon, with another four slated to open next year and more groundbreakings in the Golden State to follow after that.
Part of the thinking behind that rate of growth is that, even in the current challenging times, Westmont has continued to maintain its level of operations. The company has grown its average occupancy rate even throughout the pandemic, with current occupancy clocking in at about 87%, according to Henderson. At the same time, Westmont has succeeded in keeping its expenses from blowing up even as it stocks up on supplies to deal with the pandemic, such as personal protective equipment (PPE).
“From a revenue standpoint, we’ve actually continued to grow throughout the pandemic,” Henderson said. “And it’s kind of overshot where we thought we would be if we were still in this mess [by now], which we are.”
Westmont has relied on virtual tours and personalized videos to attract potential residents amid the pandemic. The company in January partnered with HeartLegacy, a company that offers video apps for senior living sales and marketing. HeartLegacy aided Westmont when outbreaks began to spike across the U.S. in the months that followed. Westmont also began exploring more telemedicine options for residents, and beefed up its sales process with a new sales specialist role.
All the while, the company has continued to grow its leadership pool, including by hiring a new senior director of culinary services and regional director of operations in November — without using recruiters.
“We don’t do third party management, and I think a lot of folks that have been in the regional or corporate level that deal with that … know what that grind is like and how frustrating that can be,” Henderson said. “We’re pretty nimble and we’re pretty flat — we have two owners and myself — and I think we’ve been able to attract those types of people because of that.”
That’s not to say things have only been rosy on the hiring front. Like many of its peers in the industry, Westmont has found it challenging to find new frontline workers for its communities.
“We’re working twice as hard and we’re still in the same place that we were pre-pandemic,” Henderson said. “So, staffing has still been very challenging, despite the fact we’re approaching it two or three different ways that we didn’t before.”
Covid-19 has helped inform how the company will grow in the future. For instance, in its future developments, Westmont is discussing adding a dedicated room for telemedicine visits. The company is also looking to help meet residents’ newfound desire for communities that offer safety and security.
Looking ahead, Westmont will continue to focus on its soon-to-open communities by bulking up its sales teams in order to “aggressively pre-lease,” Henderson said. The company is also working to keep its staff ready and primed for more expansion in the future.
“A lot of people would say that we have too many people on the regional team,” Henderson said. “But I would say that we are just preparing for our growth, and that we’re in a position to have these people focus on that rather than hiring.”