LCS, Juniper Sales Leaders See Firm Demand, Staffing Challenges in 2022

Despite challenges posed by the omicron coronavirus variant, senior living sales and marketing executives see signs that consumer demand is holding firm.

Giving them confidence is the fact that inquiries from prospective residents are rising after a slowdown in the fourth quarter of 2021 and early into 2022. The Des Moines, Iowa-based company is on track this month to surpass the number of inquiries the company had in January 2020, which was its “biggest inquiry month ever,” according to LCS VP and Senior Director of Marketing and Sales Rick Westermann.

“[Prospects] are knocking on the door and wanting more information about our product, which is a fantastic change from what we’ve seen previously,” Westermann said during a panel discussion at the 2022 SHN Sales Summit.


Tours have accelerated in mid-January after slowing in conjunction with the rise of omicron, Westermann added.

Bloomfield, New Jersey-based Juniper Communities is seeing similar trends at its 28 communities in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Colorado, and Texas, according to SVP of Business Development, Sales, and Marketing Cindy Longfellow.

“Just in the last week, we’ve started to see those tour numbers begin to trend back up,” Longfellow said during the Sales Summit panel on Jan. 19. “Looking at pending move-ins between now and the end of the month, I’m very optimistic that we may, in fact, be in a very different place than I thought, even a week or 10 days ago.”


All of this occurred during the spread of the omicron coronavirus variant, which has pushed infections, hospitalizations and deaths to record highs across the U.S. in late 2021 and early 2022. But as signs emerge that the U.S. may have hit the peak of its latest Covid wave, senior living sales leaders like Longfellow and Westermann are more optimistic about the road ahead than they were at the start of the month.

“We’re starting to trend back up to where we saw our tour and move-in numbers in October, November and December,” Longfellow said. “I’m very hopeful that January will end much better than we thought at the start of the month, and that by February, maybe the omicron effect will have sort of washed out.”

Both companies are also wielding new tools to track leads and keep track of the sales process, including some that they didn’t have just before the pandemic started.

Occupancy rebound

Occupancy for Juniper’s “core portfolio” — referred to internally as the “Juniper 20” –bottomed out on Feb. 5, 2021

At the start of 2021 Longfellow and her colleagues set a goal to return to the company’s pre-pandemic occupancy high, which for Juniper occurred in March 2020.

Making meeting that goal more challenging was the fact that Juniper was seeing turnover for its sales director positions at a rate greater than Longfellow had ever seen.

But the company “did an amazing job in 10 months,” Longfellow said. And by the end of 2021, its sales teams had recovered just over 75% of the deficit from its pandemic low in 2020.

Looking ahead to 2022, she projects that Juniper will return to its pre-Covid occupancy levels in the second quarter of this year.

LCS, which operates a portfolio of 135 communities across the U.S., has seen similar Covid occupancy trends. For LCS, their rental portfolio occupancy bottomed out in January 2021, before returning to pre-pandemic levels last November.

By November and December of 2021, the company’s rental division had returned to and surpassed its pre-pandemic highs, thanks in large part to the strength of its independent living units.

“Independent Living has been the outperformer for us,” said Westermann, adding that the company has seen a lot of occupancy growth in that segment, both in new and older products.

For Juniper, independent living has generally been the slowest product type to recover, while memory care recovered the fastest, followed by assisted living.

Although independent living units rebounded at a rapid clip, LCS’ communities that opened in 2017 or earlier have had more of a challenge regaining lost occupancy.

“When you’re an older community in the market, you’re selling the tenure of your staff, and a lot of times you’re selling that team,” Westermann said. “Some of those communities have different teams now, or different players on those teams, and so that value proposition is slightly diminished.”

Juniper in 2021 added two “buckets” of buildings to its portfolio. The first, based mostly in Texas, included five assisted living communities and two skilled nursing communities. The second, located near Pittsburgh, included two assisted living communities.

The first bucket, added in Feb. 2021, grew census 21% since then; while the second, added in July, experienced grew occupancy nearly 19% in the time since.

Juniper took over the communities when they were ripe for changes and new messaging, something Longfellow notes was partially responsible for the growth.

“So we’ve done well,” said Longfellow. “But, was that inevitable? Because we all had census growth in 2021 if you were doing something right.”

LCS also added communities that saw occupancy growth in 2021. The company took on six communities with Detroit-based owner Edward Rose & Sons and one non-profit community in the New York City borough of Staten Island.

In total, Westermann reports that LCS is up 1,600 basis points — or 16% in occupancy — across the seven-property cluster since folding them into the company’s portfolio..

“We had a tailwind that definitely helped us,” said Westermann. “But [I’m] proud of the performance and [it’s a] good new partnership out of the gate.”

‘Burnout and fatigue’

Though both LCS and Juniper are bullish on occupancy growth, staffing is the big challenge going forward, both at the caregiver level and among sales teams. Both could limit how quickly the senior living industry rebounds in 2022.

At Juniper, Longfellow noted there has been an “inordinate” number of turnovers in its sales and marketing teams.

“We turned over … some 50% of our sales team,” said Longfellow. “Some were due to burnout, as in ‘I can’t do this anymore,’ and all the morale-boosting in the world was not going to change their mind.”

In other cases, Juniper determined that some members of the sales team were not able to rise to the increased challenges set forth in the 2021 marketplace.

Similar to Juniper, LCS had just under a 50% turnover rate among sales staff in its rental portfolio, with “much lower attrition” in the company’s life plan communities.

“It’s burnout and fatigue,” said Westermann. “That burnout and fatigue factor we [have to] overcome and balance in 2022.”

Covid also played a role in LCS’ staffing shortages, and Westermann said in one region alone at least a dozen of the company’s sales leaders have come down with Covid in the last month and a half. 

“Think about what that does to selling efforts,” he said.

One concern is that communities with staffing pressures might not appear as well-run to prospects, and Westermann added that this can be a challenge for senior living sales teams.

Residents and their families are also arriving at senior living communities more educated and armed with more information than in the past, meaning they are perhaps more likely to ask tough questions and spot areas needing improvement. But, they also recognize the challenges that all businesses face in the current environment.

“Nobody has enough staff — it takes an hour to sit down at a restaurant — so, I think our consumers understand [the challenges out there],” he added, noting that caring for someone’s parents is more serious than waiting too long for your food.

Overall, having more educated consumers is a good trend, he added.

Longfellow takes a similar view, and Juniper makes education a point of emphasis in the sales process. The company also trains salespeople on how to handle the inevitable questions of how staffing has impacted the community.

“We have some markets where those staffing problems are much more acute than others,” she said. “And so, the answers to those questions are a little bit different.”

Shift to digital

When the Covid-19 pandemic hit in early 2020, it forced senior living sales teams to get more creative, and in most cases that meant a shift to digital-focused sales and marketing strategies. Fast forward to 2022, and those trends are here to stay, according to Longfellow.

“I definitely think the shift to digital has stuck,” she said.

Juniper in 2021 saw its highest number of online leads ever. While online leads historically didn’t lead to a high conversion rate to qualified leads, tours, or move-ins for Juniper, Longfellow said that changed in 2021.

In the last year or so, LCS emphasized improving its digital footprint to compete with platforms such as A Place For Mom. In particular, the company has made online content a focus.

LCS is going to budget for a photoshoot and video shoot every year to maintain fresh content on community sites, to improve each prospect’s experience, Westermann said.

LCS is not alone in that regard. In the latest annual outlook survey conducted by Senior Housing News and sponsored by Lument, 26% of respondents said that sales and marketing would have the biggest impact on their expenses in 2022.

While the shift to digital in senior living marketing is here to stay, some old-school tactics are still paying off for LCS, such as direct mail. In fact, Westermann said that some of the company’s direct-mail campaigns have had their “best conversion rate that I’ve seen.”

Juniper implemented a new CRM this year as part of its strategy to improve and expedite converting online inquiries into leads. Staff at Juniper also developed speed-to-lead teams aimed at making quality contact with inquiries and improving conversion.

“They’re kind of excited about it,” said Longfellow. “I believe that those pieces have made a significant difference.”

LCS similarly leveraged its digital tools to aid the company’s sales process. The company uses Pardot for marketing automation and emails, and Salesforce as a CRM.

“Across our [45 rental communities] we were able to see that we sent over 1 million automated emails last year, and another 100,000 emails directly between a salesperson and a prospect,” Westermann said. “If you look at that against 2019, it’s night and day.”

Juniper uses Hubspot to track a lead score based on how many times a user visits the company’s sites, and like LCS, that has given the company’s sales teams much greater visibility on prospects in recent years.

“We can see how they’ve been on and off our website [say] 10 times in the last six weeks,” said Longfellow. “That’s data that none of us had two years ago.”

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