Experience CEO Barklow: Vertical Integration, Multi-Brand Strategy Keys to Growth

Senior living company Experience Senior Living has laid out plans to grow into a multi-brand company with vertical scale.

Although Experience Senior Living is not currently managing any properties, the Denver-based senior living operator and developer is currently building out a platform for growth in terms of staff and in projects underway.

At the heart of the company’s growth plan is a belief that residents in the future will desire more choices as they age. It is also predicated on the idea that the older adults of the future will desire a more organic, holistic kind of connection with their neighbors.


That philosophy is reflected in the company’s four senior living brands, which span unique middle-market to luxury-focused properties.

“We actually design our communities to be very integrated into the greater community — and if that’s not the case, we’re not doing it,” Experience Senior Living President Phill Barklow told Senior Housing News. “We want to design buildings that anyone would want to live in.”

The new company is affiliated with NexCore Group, one of the largest U.S. health care real estate investors and developers. NexCore currently has 15 senior living assets under management with Cappella Living Solutions, Civitas and Stellar Senior Living.


But looking forward, all of NexCore’s new developments will be managed by Experience Senior Living under one of its four brands.

Multi-brand strategy

The company has so far announced plans for four projects, with more on the way in the coming weeks and months, Barklow said.

Experience Senior Living’s growth strategy hinges on building out a number of brands that can serve different price points and resident desires as well as build scale in any given market. For now, the company is growing four main brand verticals: The Reserve, The Gallery, Sancerre and Activ55, though it will likely add more to that list in the future.

Barklow said the Experience Senior Living growth strategy resembles that of hotel chain Marriott, but with fewer brand verticals.

“We don’t want to become Marriott in the sense that we want to have 30 different brands,” he said. “But we also don’t want to be a one-brand-pony.”

Experience Senior Living’s ultimate goal is to build scale and brand awareness in the markets where it operates.

“Our idea is that we’re going to get all four brands in target markets that we like, so we can have operating efficiencies,” Barklow added.

In its early stages, the company is particularly focused on The Gallery, which offers a full continuum of care from independent living through memory care with art- and music-focused amenities; and The Reserve, a luxury brand centered on resort-style amenities and other experiences for a more affluent resident base.

All of the company’s brands are focused on resident choice and purpose. Recently announced projects show the direction the company is heading in for both brands.

Experience Senior Living is later this year due to break ground on The Gallery at Naples, a four-story, 158-home community in Naples, Florida. The project will include works from local artists, who are commissioned to produce pieces reflecting the area where the community is located.

The Gallery at Naples / Rendering courtesy Experience Senior Living

In the Washington, D.C. suburb of Bethesda, Maryland, Experience Senior Living is working on The Reserve at Strathmore Square, a 26-story, 240-unit community that is part of a larger mixed-use development from Fivesquares Development.

The project is particularly unique in that it has connections to the Strathmore Music Center, a local music arts center and concert venue that regularly hosts big-name touring musicians. It is also noteworthy for its architect of record, Handel Architects, which also designed Maplewood’s Inspir community in New York City as well as Atria Senior Living and Related Companies’ first Coterie communities.

The Strathmore community also exemplifies the operator’s thinking regarding building communities where people of all walks of life can mingle. The community is slated to be surrounded by an “arts-focused, healthy-living-centric residential community,” and Experience Senior Living plans to integrate a Strathmore artist in residence at the community.

The future Experience Senior Living community in Maryland also will have a 5,000-square-foot restaurant and a block box theater that are public-facing, Barklow added. Additionally, all Experience Senior Living communities come with maker spaces.

“Our residents are going to be active participants in life, and that’s important to us,” he said. “There is so much value and wealth and knowledge in our residents that we’re excited to have them share that with the world, and if we can be the facilitator, that’s really exciting to me.”

Down the road, Barklow foresees a day when The Gallery and The Reserve communities become harder to execute on, given the rising cost of development. ESG initiatives are also becoming more important to future projects.

So in the future, Barklow anticipates the company will shift to developing its Activ55 and the middle-market Sancerre brands as its other verticals become more cost-prohibitive to grow.

“Inflation is everywhere, land values are skyrocketing in some of the areas,” he said. “Unless [development costs] can become more affordable, it’s hard to be able to design in the way that we want to.”

Building a platform for growth

Since coming aboard last year, Barklow has quietly built out a team of industry veterans that will serve as the company’s platform for growth in the years to come.

Recent hires include COO Jeff Slichta, Vice President of Finance and Asset Management Andrew Brainard and Vice President of Sales and Marketing Brandi Williamson, all of whom joined in May.

Though it isn’t currently managing any communities, Experience Senior Living is currently staffed to handle about 25 to 30.

“We’re kind of building the team before the growth, which might look backward,” Barklow said. “But for us, we think it’s the right way to do it.”

Barklow himself is no stranger to senior living operations. Before joining Experience Senior Living, he was COO at Balfour Senior Living. He also spent time as senior executive director and regional vice president at Atria.

“I started in the dish pit and at the front desk, so to be able to see it from the perspective of a frontline employee, which I always will feel I am or at least a representative of, is unique,” he said.

Efficiency is a larger goal for the company. Experience Senior Living’s parent company NexCore has eight offices across the country, and Barklow said that “wherever we can get efficiencies — not just in senior housing, but in all of our real estate — we want to do that.”

“We were looking at a project … where we would actually have active adult, independent living, assisted living, memory care, workforce housing — all in one building, with a medical office component,” he added. “So there are some thoughts of how we can not only get our brands, but our entire company, to work together on projects.”

With a foundation for future growth and an operational strategy in hand, Experience Senior Living’s path forward and next steps are quickly materializing. As for what might come next, Barklow said to expect more growth.

“Our goal is to have about 50 to 100 communities in 10 years, but never more than that,” Barklow said.

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