Apartment marketing

Show Up. Or, Why Omelets Don’t Matter.

Note: this is a classic post from July 2012, hope you enjoy.

We’re all presented with a thousand decisions in a day – even the ones we don’t make are technically decisions – and I observed a few today and I thought I would share as I feel they are:

1. Completely random – so a good example of our lives.

2. Indicative of a theme I’d like to touch on – but let’s not spoil the fun just yet.

First, we have a Bistro at work which serves between 4 and 12 thousand meals a week. No biggie there, we’re getting quite good at it. One of our front line people is the best – totally awesome. She makes remarkable omelets with the deft precision of a Samurai, that happens to hold a personal grudge against unborn chickens.

Mmmmmm Omelet

 

 

 

 

On this particular morning we’re hosting a large sports camp which features 120 kids and assorted coaches. Towards the end of breakfast this omelet samurai asks me if she can make one of her famous omelets for the Head Coach (it’s his camp) as she wasn’t sure if he paid or not. This concern was voiced directly in front of said Coach whose business we’re eager to retain – omelets are never extra with breakfast.

Second: I’m told that we reportedly rebuffed a new Resident who relayed that their AC was not in working order on Saturday. As it didn’t constitute an “extreme emergency” we told them to wait for Monday. For those not familiar with Florida in late July, allow me to put down rumors about the unending cold front we experience during this time of year. In fact, we have Emergency Maintenance defined as “No AC when the temp outside is over 85 degrees.” I believe it was 99 on this particular day, though it could have been 93.

Third: A Senior Associate informs me that a parent is on the phone and wishes to renew their kid’s lease under an old offer letter we sent out weeks ago. The current offer is a much better deal for the Resident/Parent and we always offer unsigned leases the current deal.

It's that easy

So, what do all these have in common? This question haunted my entire day.

 

 

At my old place of work, we had these portraits of all the employees on the wall and each had a quote that supposedly the person lived by. The majority said some fluff like “Seize the day” though one stood out to me for its simplicity and eloquence. It read simply “SHOW UP.”

I thought “Is this good?” and let it marinate. Then, after a half hour, I grilled it up with some delicious business acumen and served it with a glass of “OH YEAH.” The words were from a new friend named Dan O’Connor and I couldn’t help but roll around in their brilliance. SHOW UP! How deep did those words go?

The decisions I cited all shared a lack of “showing up” – not in the physical sense, but in the other, deeper sense. Of being mentally “there” where things really happen. I’ve come to appreciate that the big difference between getting it done and saying we gave it our best, is the belief that by simply standing our post, that we’ve managed to “show up.”

Not by a long shot.

It’s not stupidity or ignorance of lack of experience – these three individuals are all some of our best. Seriously, I tout their drive and desire constantly. This was a case of not being there mentally, in a moment, and that’s all there is.

Make the omelet! Paid or not, who cares!? I’ve never beaten or punished someone for giving away three eggs and some veggies! Take a chance! On the guy you KNOW is the “The GUY” we’re trying to impress. Don’t call him a cheapskate in front of his face!

What, exactly is “an extreme emergency” pray tell? As opposed to a regular emergency? Which we don’t care about? If Weather.com tells you it’s 83.5 degrees outside and they’re not happy, call it in!

They want to renew and you want to pick a fight? Over someone giving you their hard-earned money? TAKE IT! By any means! Make it EASY for them! Fall all over yourself to accommodate them and make them happy! That’s what we do!

I felt failure today. Failure in transmitting the message. I often state that “It’s the spirit of the law that matters, not the letter” though I recognize not everyone hears this message. That is my fault and it’s my charge to make sure it’s known, and known well. Not with bigger bull horns, but with a better plan – not more regulation, but with more discussion. Conversations build empires and right now? I have a fiefdom.

“The single biggest misconception about communication is the belief that it has occurred.”

You deserve to be recruited

 

You’re talented, you’re just not industry-famous. Yet.

You’re probably not even looking for your next opportunity. But wouldn’t it be nice if your next opportunity was looking for you?

That’s why we exist.

We’re student housing veterans, curating talented candidates for industry leaders. By pre-qualifying candidates and presenting only those we feel would be a great fit for the culture and location of the job at hand, we save time and effort for employers seeking to find their next rock star.

We’re confidential, free to talented candidates, and focused solely on the student housing industry.

Hiring Managers: You have incredible turnover, and the process of finding talent is tedious, and often unfruitful. We seek to help you quickly identify talent where you are, that’s pre-qualified, and a great fit for the culture you’re trying to build.

tphiring

We know all of this because we have around 40 plus years of experience at all levels of the industry. Creating a space for top talent to congregate just sounded like an amazing opportunity, so that’s what we did. We’re continuously refining our searchable criteria, and working on ways to best help your new career move find you.

Not a rock star yet? Are you a Leasing Agent, or CA, and thinking you want to make student housing a career?  We want you too! Among the toughest gigs to fill are Leasing Manager and Marketing Manager positions. We’ll be looking at you if you’re interested in making that step up.

Because privacy is essential, we let you make the decisions. Don’t want to put it on blast that you’re open to a promotion to the next level? Great. Sign up with us and let us know to contact you first to gauge your interest. It’s that simple. Or, if you’re wide open to having us share you with the world, we’ll do so when we find a job that sounds perfect for you. The point is, we’ll only share what you want us to.

It’s a new age, with new rules. You deserve to be recruited.

Let us know about you in as little as sixty seconds and we’ll be in touch for more info. Know someone in student housing? Send this to them to share the love. TalentPath.com

 

All your room are belong to us

Another year and another order of “Renew your lease now” banners and bandit signs. Ah, student housing – you have few predictable moments, but this is certainly one of them. Last year we wanted to mix it up and do something that would catch an eye because face it, no one is reading your plain text “Renew and save!” signs. They’re not, so stop lying to yourself.

So, we came up with these. I really enjoy them and was proud of the fact they had no contact info on them -they weren’t supposed to. You know where you live and you know where to go if you want to renew. The signs beg you to read them all as you’re not exactly sure what’s going on. Plus, everyone loves memes – that’s why they’re memes.

Aaannndd

This one still sits in my office.

This one still sits in my office.

IMG_2824 IMG_2826 IMG_2821 IMG_2823

I love it. Still cracks me up a little every time.

I love it. Still cracks me up a little every time.

Deadlines are deadlines! Yeah....

Deadlines are deadlines! Yeah….

You know that feeling.

You know that feeling.

Personality trumps Plain, Every Time

Our new in-house, Marketing-Strike-Force-of-Awesomeness have been laying siege to the plain vanilla world of the tired & trite student housing adverts of old. Ben & Jerry themselves have trembled under the audacious show of flavor perpetrated by these skilled ninja-confectioners-of-imagination.

Calling themselves the Triple Threat, these three complimentary legs of the tripod are the razor’s edge of our marketing outreach to our; 2500+ Residents, future clients, and the rest of the Orlando market.

So, seeing as how they go into the field plain-clothes style for the bulk of their media making, we decided they’d benefit from press passes – as that’s what they are in so many ways. Lanyards made sense since they could be easily slipped on, so I told them to go ahead and whip up something for themselves.

I wasn’t disappointed…

Fabreesh

Fabricio Torres makes some of the most amazingly shot and edited videos you’ve seen, and he does it with blazing speed. We can conceive, shoot, edit and upload timely content in a matter of a couple of days where before it would have taken weeks.

Chanty

Chantell Cruz took these photos and a ton of amazing shots for our Resident events and advertisements. She’s a true artist behind the lens and we couldn’t be more impressed with her ability to capture it all, from the sublime to the stolen moment.

Danaenae

Danae McDermott designed these passes and all of our graphics for flyers, ads, Resident announcements, and anything else we may put out. She’s insanely talented with Adobe Suites and can crank out a professional design in no time.

I was beyond blown away by the quality and the personal expression they put into these passes. They’re conversation starters for sure and show that we don’t take ourselves too seriously. The rest of the team liked them so much they’ve been spoiling for their own. Ultimately, I can’t say no.

Special thanks to our very own Gregory Eisenberg for finding such a remarkable team, bringing them together, and letting them do what they do best. I couldn’t be prouder or more excited to work with such a stellar cast.

You can market anything… even cats.

I loathe cats and I had to think twice about maybe taking Colonel Snazzypants home.

I loathe cats and I had to think twice about maybe taking Colonel Snazzypants home.

You don’t need a marketing degree and you don’t need permission from the marketing gods. Whatever you’re doing, look for opportunities for art.

I saw this on the Chive and couldn’t help but fall in love. “The Good King Snugglewumps” may be the best pet name I’ve ever heard – and I’m a dog person.

The Connection Economy in Action: Rand Fishkin Gets It

I’m a fan of Rand Fishkin. Mostly because I glommed on to his company’s social media work a few years back when I was really learning the game myself. When you don’t know much about a thing and you’re casting your intellectual line into the waters of the interwebs, sometimes you catch whales, sometimes old boots. Moz was a whale.

Rand does a great job here summing up the beauty of the connection-economy: that people you connect with are better than people that you buy, or beat over the head with ads.

There’s a fun thought experiment I’d heard years ago: Imagine if you could, growing up without any sense of religion in any capacity, and then when you turned 25 you were suddenly exposed to all the major organized religions of the world. Like a job fair, but for your soul.

Now imagine that you’re walking through this expo-hall and talking to the reps from all of the majors about their beliefs and weighing them against each other equally. Would you wind up choosing the religion that you currently belong to? Or, without prejudice of social pressure and indoctrination, would you choose another faith? I know, it’s a tough question, but that’s what makes it interesting.

I bring it up because the same thing essentially happened to me, but with marketing. I’d had no prior indoctrination before 2011, at least in regards to the social media space. I was searching through the different schools of thought that were emerging and I had choices to make. Was it best to focus on pure SEO, or Adwords ads, or Content Marketing? Was simply being on Facebook, Twitter, etc… enough to turn into dollars? What exactly was “Content Marketing” and what was the point?

And of course, the holy grail question: “What’s the ROI of social media?”

After months of TED talks, blog posts, youtube videos, white papers, forums, etc… it became clear to me that Seth Godin’s “The Connection Economy” was probably the closest match to my conclusions as to the best approach.

connection

Rand and Moz belong to the same overall school as Godin, Sinek, Vaynerchuck, et al. I count myself as a firm believer in this school. I’m constantly looking at what marketing moves me, and those around me, and the answers are the same: Social connection.

When I believe what a company believes I want to see them win. A few great examples that I’m nuts about: Alamo DraftHouse, Purple, Rock, Scissors, PackageLog, and  Radiolab. Each of these groups are doing amazing things to connect with people and I feel a part of what they’re doing.

Trust is rare, so it matters. “Real” is rare, so it has value. Because we’re bombarded with a constant cacophony of ads our defenses are up and we trust no one. As marketers (and if you work for a company that sells anything, you’re a marketer) it’s our job to connect people and create value. Ads for the sake of ads are a black hole and a waste of opportunity and treasure.

Let’s be people. Let’s do what people do best and connect with one another. The rest will take care of itself.

We’re all Liars?

Seth Godin’s book, “All Marketers Are Liars” is available in audio format for free on Youtube.

It’s a great synthesis of a lot of his recent ideas from TED talks and various interviews. I’m in love with his message of authenticity, honesty, and story telling. These really are my favorite things and my sticking points constantly in our dealings with Team Members and Customers alike.

Do yourself a favor and give it a listen while you’re working today, or on your next decent car ride and then talk about the ideas with a co-worker or your significant other.

Enjoy!

Don’t Mess With Texas, or The Power of Stories…

I had five meetings today. That’s a lot for me in my current position as I don’t typically have five in a week. I’d heard a maxim “The only people who enjoy meetings are the ones doing the talking” and it’s served me well. These meetings were different though – I had stories to tell.

More on that in a minute…

You’re no doubt familiar with the slogan “Don’t mess with Texas“, especially if you’ve ever been to the state. What you probably don’t know is that it was/is an advertising campaign to curb littering. Yeah, littering.

I wouldn’t mess with it if I were you.

It was a huge deal for the state that cost around $20 million per year in highway clean up. The problem was massive and so were the proposed solutions: stiff fines, stronger enforcement, pleading messages to “keep Texas beautiful” printed on everything in sight – nothing worked.

The solution came from a pair of creatives at an advertising agency which tapped into the power of stories. They looked at their target market (18-35 year old males – the ones most likely to litter) and found a story that spoke to them. Texas, having been its own country for a time, has a strong independence streak, and possibly more pride than any other state. To be a Texan is a badge of honor and a huge part of one’s identity. It even applies to transplants to the state – it doesn’t take long for converts to adopt the “Don’t mess with Texas” attitude. It’s really quite something to see.

The campaign consisted of State heroes in print and video, conveying that Texas wasn’t to be screwed with, and that if it were, well… not good things would happen. Check out this classic commercial for an example.

The beauty of the campaign is how well it stuck with people. Dan and Chip Heath relay the whole process in their book “Made to Stick” which I can’t recommend enough. By telling these guys a story: “Texans are proud of their state. It’s the best state there is! All other states suck by comparison! You’re a Texan and all Texans (REAL TEXANS, anyway) don’t litter! They don’t degrade the proudest state in the Union. They defend it in with their dying breath. People in Arizona or California may litter, but not us by god.”

That’s a powerful story. It’ s simple and yet still manages to have a massive impact on behavior. I relay this story as I’m trying to do the same thing. In fact, I think the test of a leader is how much they can affect the culture of their team for the better. What kinds of stories do they tell? What effect do those stories have? How did we get better? This is the most significant part of  my job.

texting

“Oh, yeah… what? Water is included. I think…”

So today was about telling stories to my team and what separates us from the rest:  “Other Agents text their BFFs on tours and ignore prospects, we stand and greet people with a warm smile and an eager handshake.

We ask lots of questions because we want to get things just right for our clients, even if that means referring them to the place down the street if it’s a better fit. That’s what we do. We’re great at our jobs and we make a difference in people’s lives. We seek to constantly get better. This is who we are. Other people, they’re not as good, and who cares – we’re not them. We’re us, and we’re elite!”

Motivating, right? The truth is, I LOVE these meetings. I get animated and excited and start wildly gesticulating all over the place. I can’t help it. I swear, I get as much out of these meetings as I give, I think. And that’s why five meetings wasn’t so hard. It was important and it was empowering and thoroughly necessary.

At it’s core, telling stories (the right ones) is what leadership is all about. Fortunately, I really like telling stories.

Yo Universe, I’m real happy for ya, and I’m a let ya finish…

Yo Universe, I'm real happy for ya, and I'm a let ya finish...

Am I telling Einstein to shut up?

Am I listening today? Really listening? To my team? To my managers? To my clients? To the data? To the market?

Am I so eager to make the world fit in to nice neat little boxes that I’m not actually letting it finish its sentence? Am I telling the universe “Immaletyafinish but Rob had one of the greatest ideas about sales ever”…?

I’m pretty sharp, right? I’m rarely surprised and thus I think I’m already “in the know” about most things in my comfort zone. Do I really need to wait to the end of the story before making up my mind or formulating a response?

A thousand times: YES.

What am I missing out on today because I’m not attuned to what’s happening right in front of my face? Is my swag getting so big it’s threatening to block my view of reality?

Are you listening today? Or are you hurrying to tell today what you know?

If You Build It: Leasing Through Better Meals?

One of the most interesting things about CVI-Orlando (Collegiate Village Inn) is that we have a dining hall and meal plans. NO ONE in off-campus student housing markets have these things – and for good reason. The cost to build a commercial kitchen and dining hall are staggering and the space they consume could be used for rentable units. Nowadays if you want a meal plan you outsource the operation to a 3rd party meal plan company of which there are many.

modern on-campus dining options

Our chief competition - on-campus dining halls of the 21st century

Fortunately for us, CVI was built 20 years ago when UCF had virtually no on-campus housing and the surrounding area in general was sparsely populated/built up. Originally, CVI housed mainly football players and other athletes and with food costs being what they were, it obviously made financial sense to serve meals in-house. Does it still make sense? What are the margins? Can a café’/meal plan serving 400+ students daily be profitable?

Apologies, but you’ll need some rough numbers to get this next part of the challenge. I know, stats are a killer for these blogs but they’re absolutely required. I promise to be gentle.

Plans are included with the monthly rental rates. Here are the meals per week we serve with the corresponding percentage of the community that has selected that option. Differences in price between the plans is about $30 per month. Again, these numbers are only an example:

Any 7   MPW                17% of Students

Any 14  MPW                23% of Students

Any 21 MPW                60% of Students

Any idea what the redemption rate is on meals? That’s the number of meals we actually serve each week compared with how many we’re responsible to provide under these terms. Go ahead and guess a percentage. I’ll tell you a little later.

The largest initial challenge regarding the café’ was figuring out what being successful there meant. I mean, serve great food and have an amazing experience and more meals get eaten. More meals consumed means greater cost, means less profit. Also, the number one factor in people choosing us is the meal plan so if you skimp on quality and cut costs you kill your number one area for adding value. You can see the dichotomy rearing it’s 9 hydra-like heads with its hankering for filet mignon and strawberry blintzes, can’t you?

Before we could do much of anything we had to establish how many meals we were responsible for and how many were being consumed. What were our costs per meal? Believe it or not we had only estimates. Sure, people “signed in” to redeem their meals but the numbers were never compiled as there were around 3000 meals served weekly and who had time to count up all those hash marks?

We made a new excel spreadsheet which pulled directly from our day-to-day occupancy report which also reflected the current meal plan option. This gets updated weekly and the host stand uses this to verify the number of meals consumed for each Student. At the end of the week we click the hash marks into the electronic version and it auto tabulates the meals consumed by day/meal/plan type, and gives us our redemption rate. After two months of solid data it turns out it’s about 45%. So if we’re on the hook for, say 5000 meals in a week, we’ll likely only serve 2250. That’s about 321 per day, or closer to 370 M-F and 200 on Sat/Sundays.

It’s my belief that the best way to succeed at anything is to start with a picture of what the best possible way to succeed would look like. If Donald Trump and Bobby Flay teamed up to do a venture that looked like this place, what would they do? What would the food look like? What does the right mix of; delicious, cost effective, fast, nutritious, visually appealing, and convenient dining, look like? How do you brand an in-house cafeteria and make it more than a school lunchroom without dropping a quarter million in the process?

Bobby Flay really likes that chicken, yo!

Would Bobby Flay have the same thoughts about our chicken?

We knew that listening to Resident feedback was a huge part of this endeavor. People (especially our female students) wanted healthier options, and more accurately – more visual appeal from our healthy options. We had to focus on being less utilitarian and more customer-centric. We could do this. We could also do it for less money if we were smart.

Fewer burgers and more to-go mandarin orange-sesame salads. Out with “café” as the generic name – we were now “Bistro 106.” Complete with a new logo. BTW, the “106” comes from CVI being 106 in roman numerals – clever, right? I wish I could take credit but alas I cannot.

We eliminated deserts as we couldn’t do them well and they were going uneaten. In their place was a ton more fresh fruit – strawberries, melons, pineapple. We began Mongolian Grill nights on Wednesdays with presentation tables while we show classic Kung-Fu movies on a big screen. These became a huge hit. We closely paid attention to waste and reduced it through observing eating trends and predicting with great accuracy how many meals we’d go through on a given day.

Not all decisions were popular and we’re always working out the kinks. People miss their deserts so we do them a couple of nights a week now and in exchange for checking in on Foursquare to help promote the “Bistro 106” brand. It may not be every night, but it is of a much higher quality and we’re proud of that fact. One of our team members lamented the loss of pepper-jack cheese. Many still wish we had more vegetarian/vegan options. We’re still figuring out exactly what we are in terms of a fast-casual dining experience and we’re hoping our latest innovation will help.

Eat & Tweet

We want your feedback so badly we'll even embrace Twitter!

Starting this week we’re rolling out “Eat & Tweet” where through table-tents we’re encouraging Residents to give us real-time feedback on the food/experience through sending a message to @bistro106 or #bistro106. Those that do will automatically be entered to win a weekly prize valued at around $25. We’re fanatical about feedback and want to know the whole story so we can be our best.

In future posts I’ll fill you in on some of the specific changes we’re making to food/purchasing/processing, etc… and what mix and metrics we settle on as our ideal benchmarks. If you’re in the neighborhood (University and Alafaya in Orlando) come see us and have a meal at Bistro 106 on me!