After a year of occupancy revenue growth in 2022, American House Senior Living is poised to further grow this year thanks to an aggressive acquisition strategy, revamped sales and marketing efforts and a new way of doing things.
In 2022, American House took on the management of 13 former Eclipse Senior Living properties in Tennessee and opened two newly-developed communities. To capitalize on the new growth, American House revamped its marketing and sales strategies and implemented what COO Brianne Zitko called a new operating playbook.
“Our teams said that throughout 2020 and 2021 there was not enough consistency,” Zitko told Senior Housing News. “So that’s when we looked at our systems and processes and we’re really getting towards a mastery of operations excellence.”
In 2022, occupancy increased five percentage points to 87% across the American House stabilized portfolio, with margins across its standalone IL communities back in the 30th percentile and nearing pre-pandemic levels. Resident rental rates also increased 8% to 15% on a market-specific basis.
Southfield, Michigan-based American House has over 70 communities throughout the U.S.
Building a leadership team, priming growth engine
American House realized an approximate 30% net operating income (NOI) increase in 2022 for its stabilized senior housing portfolio, something Zitko attributes to American House’s efforts to rebuild senior leadership and bolstering clinical and dining leadership teams with operations in mind.
“We’ve doubled down on having the best services and having that leadership core, and in 2022 we were refining regional-level leadership,” Zitko said. “I think a lot of that has helped drive results.”
American House hired a head of clinical for independent living — a move aimed at eschewing the need for third-party care providers — and a new vice president of culinary services. The hiring effort was undertaken in part to keep up with industry trends such as rising resident acuity and a changing demographic of residents.
The focus on leadership at the corporate and regional levels helped stabilize operations, according to Zitko. Specifically, it gave the company’s community-level teams more structure and clearer expectations of what to do and who to report to.
American House also in 2022 launched an in-house marketing agency to handle functions including copywriting, digital outreach, social media and public relations. That eliminated reliance on outside firms to help get the word out and generate interest among prospects.
And because the company handled marketing on the corporate level, it gave the company’s associates more time to spend on the leads coming into their communities.
Overall, doing so has led to a 50% increase in overall lead generation after the strategy shift, according to Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing Dina Kelly. The quality of those leads are also now better, she said.
“We’re living and breathing in our markets, and we can move quickly from idea to concept to implementation,” Kelly told SHN. ”It’s been a huge game-changer for our field teams.”
By focusing on the “digital front door,” and revamping the company’s web presence, American House’s leaders have seen positive results come in “fast and furious,” Zitko said..
American House leaders also rebranded the company’s memory care program after working with a gerontologist over the course of the last 18 months. The effort also resulted in a new mission statement: “Living Well is Being Well.”
From the effort came Living Well Memory Care, the company’s rebranded memory care program that focuses on evidenced-based care practices of residents.
Along with the new memory care rebrand comes new ways of tracking the resident experience and employee performance metrics. For example, the company clusters residents in smaller groups for memory care programming, something that Zitko said will help improve resident care.
The company also created new memory care director positions to better allocate staff resources.The move also meant that the company’s life enrichment directors, who handled various responsibilities including memory care, could focus on other areas.
‘All about training and culture’
The remainder of 2023 will be “all about training and culture,” Zitko noted, highlighting American House’s effort to hire a leadership coach to manage the process and champion culture and retention. The position is slated to focus on underperforming properties and provide coaching and training to help build back results.
American House also developed a new leadership academy to boost retention and foster internal leadership growth through career ladders.
“We see a lot of the focus this year being on employee retention,” Zitko said. “We set up the corporate level and then the regional level, and now we need to get to the base level and we’re working on investing in talent wherever possible.”
The company also implemented wage increases in certain markets, which has had a positive impact on recruitment.
But getting employees to stay in their positions is a challenge all operators face in 2023, American House included.
That led American House’s leaders to look into flexible scheduling for employees; and in some instances, four-day work weeks with incentives for employees reaching the 90-day of employment threshold. At that point, new hires are paired with mentors to continue personal growth.
Zitko said American House was also ready to make “drastic changes” to the company’s compensation plan, with quarterly incentives for employees based on NOI and resident retention.
“If we don’t get employee retention we’re never going to be able to satisfy these goals we have of achieving excellence within our operations,” Zitko said.
To coincide with the push on staffing, American House is in the process of right-pricing its communities in terms of rental rates after seeing an increase across its market presence between 4% and 15%, with each community to have its own, specific plan for sales strategy rather than a companywide, standardized sales process.
From stabilizing employee turnover, updating sales to meet the changing consumer profile and renewed community-level strategy will help American House succeed in 2023 and beyond, Zitko said.
“The only way we can continue the growth is to have marketing and sales working closely together in coordination with our care teams,” Zitko said. “We have great synergy right now and I am super proud of the people we have.”