By Susan Saldibar
Casey Byrnes is the EVP of Strategic Growth for Wickshire Senior Living, a cluster of communities located in the southeastern and midwestern United States. Hers is a story with all the twists and turns of a journey that starts in one direction and ends up in another one altogether.
For years Casey had little doubt about her career path. She was studying law and on track to become an attorney. But, like everyone on their way to fulfill their dreams, she needed income. It came in the form of a job as a night-shift receptionist for a senior living community in Athens, Georgia. And it literally changed the trajectory of her career.
“The ED there took an interest in me,” Casey tells me. And as a result, Casey developed a solid marketing/sales skillset, spending the next eight years growing her professional portfolio, first as a CCRC intern, then taking on more and more responsibilities. Fast forward another 8 years and Casey can now say that she’s made a career in senior living.
An Origin Story to Inspire
When Casey first heard Wickshire Senior Living’s vision and mission, she knew it was something she wanted to be a part of. The company’s founder shared a story with Casey about his own journey, a few years earlier, to find value-oriented assisted living for his grandmother in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. When his family couldn’t find it, they took on the role themselves, caring for her in their home on Wickshire Street. That changed his life and his own career. Wickshire Senior Living was born.
Wickshire currently operates 16 communities with plans to grow. The company is flat and nimble by design with associates that are “all in” as Casey says. She believes that’s what enables them to meet challenges, like COVID, head-on as larger, more established operators struggled. Wickshire Senior Living acquired its first 6 communities just 4 weeks prior to forming its COVID-19 task force. “As a new company, we were thrown immediately into something we certainly didn’t have a playbook for — a global pandemic,” Casey tells me.
But, like so many other senior living communities, a year filled with challenges was also filled with moments of compassion, understanding, and grace. “Our smaller size and ‘all in’ approach allowed us to flex with the needs of those we serve,” Casey says. Whether it was getting more granular with programming, implementing new technology, or celebrating positive moments, Casey believes the company has a mission that has become stronger than ever.
As head of sales and marketing, Casey feels her career experience has given her a deeper, more organic sense of what it takes to run a successful team. And she is well aware of the power of her decisions and how they impact Wickshire its staff. “Community sales is, in my opinion, the greatest of all challenges,” she tells me. “You are always aware of the pressure and the hustle needed to succeed. Yet, when that pressure mounted, the hustle of our team increased and I am grateful to be surrounded by such a dedicated team — a team who views every empty apartment as an opportunity to help someone.”
Easiest Decision Ever Made
Of course, no one knows better than Casey that to run a great community you need great tools. And central to that is a strong CRM, especially for a start-up operator like Wickshire. But a start-up CRM? Does that make sense?
“We looked at a few other solutions initially,” Casey says. “Then my colleague, Andrew Smith (Executive Director of Special Projects at HumanGood), called and told me about WelcomeHome.” (WelcomeHome is a Foresight partner.)
“They showed me a demo and it was just a no-brainer,” Casey said. Right off the bat, she was impressed with features that made real-world sense, such as their call recording feature, which Casey knew would save money on hiring mystery shoppers. Having one system track projections, automate internal and external messaging, manage documents and training, and improve the customer experience is invaluable. Her experience with other CRMs told her this was a perfect fit.
Banking on WelcomeHome has paid off. “Our speed to lead is down to 11 minutes now. And our survey results imply that our customers are happier throughout their process,” Casey says. “WelcomeHome has been the easiest decision I have ever made.”
Long-Term Consistency Is Better Than Short-Term Intensity
I asked Casey what changes she has seen in senior living since those early days working the night shift. And while she acknowledges that the greatest change has been the technology (no more working off of index cards), she is more impressed with what hasn’t changed, namely the relationship side of the business. “I remember telling the very first salesperson I hired years ago that they will be the first person who has the opportunity to create a relationship with the prospective resident,” she says. “I just told a new salesperson that same thing recently. Building trust is the first step to winning the race for personal connection. It always will be.”
Casey’s advice to other leaders is to be a voice of vision for your community. “Long-term consistency is better than short-term intensity,” she says. “Outside forces may try to make you change course. Stay true to your mission, vision, and those you serve,” she adds.
For Wickshire, staying the course means growing, but in a healthy way. They are on track, over the next several years, to add over fifty communities throughout the midwest and southeast regions.
It’s been fulfilling for Casey to see Wickshire’s mission come to life. “So many older adults, especially now, are home by themselves. We want to help them and make sure they can live a purposeful life. That’s an exciting mission to be a part of.”
This is the second of a series of interviews with innovators in the senior living space, sponsored by WelcomeHome Software. Stay tuned for more in the coming months.
For more information about WelcomeHome, please visit their website.