As they seek to build back occupancy lost during the pandemic, senior living providers across the United States will have to work closely with all their potential referral sources. And with Covid-19 still limiting in-person interactions, Thrive Senior Living took a risk on a creative way to connect: a coffee truck.
“Our teams locally have significantly reduced opportunity to build relationships with the people who refer us residents,” Thrive President Les Stretch told Senior Housing News. “If you think about it, the sales folks that we usually go see — your surgeons and your estate planning attorneys and your caseworkers and hospitals, skilled nursing facilities — we can’t get in to see them because of Covid protocols.”
Atlanta-based Thrive’s portfolio includes 13 senior living communities across six states, including a community under development in Montvale, New Jersey.
Establishing connections with local referral sources is especially critical to leasing up a new building. The sales leader in Montvale asked potential referral partners how Thrive could make a meaningful contribution to the important work they are doing in the pandemic, and discovered that something as simple as a cup of coffee might go a long way.
“Folks are working long hours and having to do a lot more than they did in their roles [before Covid-19] — these frontline health care workers,” Stretch observed. “It allows people to get warm, have a boost in energy, and allows us to build a relationship.”
Coffee is set to be a cornerstone of the new Montvale community, which is slated to include a premium, craft coffee shop open to the public. But the Thrive team did not want to wait a year until the coffee shop is open, to offer complimentary cups of joe to health care workers.
So, the Thrive team hit on the idea of creating a coffee truck. The investors involved in the Montvale project were enthusiastic about the idea, and so Thrive put it into motion.
Getting the truck on the road
Recognizing that coffee trucks can “get really expensive, really fast,” the Thrive team located a business owner who had started a coffee truck at the outset of the pandemic but now was looking to divest.
Stretch, Thrive Founder Jeramy Ragsdale and Dominic Fabrizio, the Montvale sales leader, went to Oregon to purchase the truck and learn how to operate it.
The truck was rewrapped with the branding for Convivium Coffee Company, which is the coffee shop that will be operating out of the Thrive community in Montvale.
The previous owner served as their trainer, and the team drove the truck to health care clinics and a skilled nursing facility to practice slinging mud.
“When those 40 orders came out, all at the same time, and you saw our trainer’s eyes get this big, we know we were in for it,” Stretch said, in a video that Thrive made documenting the coffee truck process.
The team endured challenges, including espresso machine malfunctions, but learned the ropes.
The Montvale teams have been going through training on how to make coffee in the truck. The hardest operational aspect of the truck is making sure that there’s sufficient power, and that it’s engineered to last for several years and be able to function through inclement weather, Stretch said. The company also has to obtain food permits.
But, the truck should be operational shortly, and Thrive is setting up times to visit sites throughout the Montvale area. There are systems in place to take orders in advance, to allow for social distancing and be sure that the health care workers feel safe and comfortable, Stretch emphasized.
All told, he estimates that the cost for the truck ran to a little less than $40,000.
Flipping the paradigm
Creating a coffee truck in the run-up to opening is not the only innovative aspect of the Montvale community.
For this project, Thrive and the company’s investor partners are seeking to flip the usual senior living paradigm, Stretch explained.
For instance, other senior living communities have coffee shops, but they generally are designed primarily as an amenity for residents and might incidentally be open to the public.
“The industry has been making these amenities ‘accessible to’ the public — Thrive at Montvale has three or four key pieces that were created for, not ‘accessible to,’ the public,” Stretch explained.
Convivium Coffee is one of those pieces. Recognizing that there was not a “great craft coffee experience” within five miles of the site, the development team decided that a coffee shop would be enthusiastically welcomed.
Thrive will operate the coffee shop, and the project budget includes costs for barista staffing and other expenses. The company has been working with a coffee consultant out of Dallas who is a paid advisor on operating Convivium.
“From its inception two years ago, the idea was to create the pinnacle coffee experience in the city,” Stretch said.
The goal is to create a space that will draw people of all ages and foster a sense of community, so that customers may not even realize the coffee shop is co-located with a senior living residence, or that fact becomes incidental.
Other aspects of the project are also meant to create this organic, intergenerational interaction.
The building will also be home to a salon called Beauty and the Barber, which will be operated by a third party and, like the coffee shop, is intended to be a commercial enterprise with clientele from outside the senior living community.
And, the project will feature a “rock ‘n roll playground” as part of its expansive outdoor space. The playground is being created by a landscape architect crew out of Austin, Texas, which is using boulders excavated from the site to create what Stretch calls an “earthen play space.”
Stretch believes that senior living residents of the future will want and expect these types of amenities, because they want to be proud of where they live and to welcome guests of all ages.
With this in mind, branding the coffee truck with the Convivium name is in keeping with the project’s overall goals. For the health care workers receiving coffee from the truck, the branding opens up conversations about what the new senior living community aims to bring to Montvale, which is more than housing for older adults.
“If we would have wrapped it with Thrive Senior Living, people would have thought, ‘Oh, that’s the local senior living community delivering coffee to people, trying to stir up business,’” Stretch said. “Our heart was, we want you to fall in love with the coffee experience.”