There are many reasons why people choose to stay with you once they’ve rented, but what’s at the top of the list? A sense of community! You cannot package a sense of community, but you can certainly create an environment that exudes that special feeling where, all of the sudden, your residents will feel it and think, “I’ve found a special place to be.” Key ingredients for this recipe? Friends and tradition.
The holiday season is powerful. Some might be quick to point out that there is a lot of depression and loneliness at this time but, in the property management industry, we realize that, when done right, your efforts can lift people up and bring them together, having a somewhat magical effect that is wonderful for your residents and, over the long run, terrific for the property’s bottom line. Communities are living, breathing groups of people with shared history. This might sound hyperbolic, but it’s really not. Anyone who has worked at an apartment community over a number of years knows that residents come to expect certain things from you.
Our society tends toward the cynical and secular these days, but you can serve several purposes and meet varied needs during the holiday season through your retention efforts, and it does not have to be complicated. It just takes a bit of planning.
Start in October by deciding what you want to recognize. Google is your friend, as is this very publication, so you may be pleasantly surprised to find that in November alone, you could celebrate National Family Literacy Day, Cookie Monster Day, World Hello Day, and even that little known holiday Thanksgiving (and if you’re looking for even more inspiration, check the Calendars & Days & Days sections of this issue of Rent & Retain on page 23). The best holidays are the ones with which you can kill two birds with one stone.
Here’s an example of what I mean:
Most people want to meet new friends. Most people want to do something productive. Most people want to party. As property management pro’s, we can fill all these needs by just picking one holiday. For example, your apartment community, in conjunction with the season of gratitude known as November here in the United States, could host a month-long book drive that recognizes Family Literacy. You could do a kick-off book donation party the first weekend of November; then you could waive your application fee for new applicants in November if they donate three books; then you could get a group of volunteer residents to get together and donate those books to Reading Tree, an organization that donates books to underfunded schools and libraries. Do the donation on a Saturday so that you can get a good group of residents, create a fabulous photo opp, then go for a great lunch sponsored by your property. You’ve brought people together, you’ve helped a cause, you’ve done some great marketing after you post all of these terrific items to your blog and social media sites, and you’ve quite possibly started a tradition.
Continue into December to capitalize on the season of giving. Food and toy drives are amazing allies for this goal. Again, get prospects involved! Waive your application fee in exchange for either a new, still-packaged toy or 10 – 20 cans of food picked from a list you’ve prepared in advance for the event. I know from personal experience that a moderate sized apartment community will collect 2 – 3 big garbage cans of food! Make sure that you have big garbage cans to roll all of the donations to a food bank or a Toys for Tots venue (or any other terrific charitable organization you choose to support).
Always involve your residents and make it FUN! Try to have the organization accept the donation on a Saturday, get a group of residents together to deliver it, and make sure you sponsor a lunch or get-together (even if a stop for some great coffee or hot chocolate) to recognize the time they gave. Don’t forget the photos!
If you have a Facebook page or an Instagram account, don’t forget to tag all the photos with a common hashtag that is comprised of your company/property name and the current event. Over the years, with these hashtags, you’ll be able to create an ever growing photo album of your philanthropy.
Ok, let’s take stock. You’ve now promoted your community through a charitable campaign, you’ve taken a number of applications, you’ve involved residents, you’ve created opportunities for those residents to make one new friend at the community (one counts!), and you’ve done a good thing for the neighborhood around you. All in all, that’s a pretty successful marketing and retention play!
This, however, is the most important. All of you “numbers people” out there, like those VP’s and Asset Managers, please listen up. You have to do these things over and over again …..to create tradition.
The REAL key to resident retention is tradition, bonding, and giving people something to look forward to. I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but the rise of social media over the past ten years has actually had a negative impact on real, face to face relationships. Most people say that they now have only one confidant. One. Even if a Manager or other key player leaves the team, and that person was the “one who loved to do this stuff,” supervisors should take note and realize that these types of events and causes create tradition, give people something to look forward to, and they create community. In short, they define the “real” product that apartment community offers.
Take a look at the math of resident retention. We know that not everyone will stay forever. Our entire industry exists to provide temporary (and five years is temporary…) housing. So with 50% of renters moving each year anyway, what is the goal? If you can create events that reduce your annual turnover by just five move-outs, at an average turn cost of approximately $3,000 today that will add $15,000 to your net operating income. At today’s cap rates, that’s a $500,000 increase in value of your community. Now we’ve done it: we’ve created community and created $500,000 in property value, and that’s definitely something to celebrate!
Promotion is so much easier than it used to be. In this era of lead management, you’re no doubt collecting an e-mail address from every leaseholder. If you have a platform that allows you to blast e-mails to the entire community, start blasting away. Generate awareness via e-mail and social media so that participation is high. If your team is not immersed in the portal/social media sphere as of yet, no worries! Flyers still work. I repeat: Flyers still work. Just don’t make the rookie mistake of hanging some flyers in the breezeways and expecting a stampede of people to run towards the doors of your event. You’re doing a good thing, so give it the old college try! Post flyers in the breezeways. Post flyers in the office. Send flyers to EVERY DOOR two or three times. Post on your Facebook wall! Throw it in the newsletter. Remind every resident who comes through the door.
You need visuals. If you’re collecting food, toys, books or what-not, create a cool collection station! In other words, make it a big deal, and it will become a big deal!
Best of luck to you all, and of course, all the best for the rest of 2014! I’m thankful to be a part of a terrific, giving industry!