5 Questions for Margaret Wylde

Margaret Wylde, CEO of seniors housing consulting firm ProMatura Group, will be keynote speaker at the InterFace Seniors Housing Southeast conference in Atlanta on Aug. 27. Seniors Housing Business sat down with Wylde to ask some questions about the state of the senior living sector of commercial real estate.

Seniors Housing Business: In an interview with our reporter Jane Adler near the beginning of the year, you predicted a rise in the popularity of niche communities that allow residents to live somewhere with people of similar interests. Are you seeing this prediction coming true? Why or why not?

Margaret Wylde: We are seeing more communities being tied with university programs (on, close to, or several minutes’ drive from campus). Their niche, so to speak, is the university affiliation.

There are a few companies that have strong music-oriented programs or relationships with schools of music, one or two with art, a handful now that are LGBT, and — although not part of any database — there are cooperatives or variations thereof.

The 55+ community typically creates the residential concept that fits with the location, culture and traditions of the area. Some are focusing on ranch life, some focusing on being walkable throughout the community, some focus on healthy living, some hiking and small town orientation, another blending to be close to a quaint community and a sense of the extension of that small quaint community and agrarian lifestyle.


SHB: You were the keynote speaker at the InterFace Seniors Housing West conference in February. During your address, you suggested amenities and the quality of the real estate are great, but that operators should focus more on service as a selling point. Do you think this continues to be a common misstep among operators?

Wylde: When I am using the term “service” I am referring to “customer service.” Putting the customer first and helping the customer build their life in this new residence. People may need some help, but that is not the life they are seeking. They are not looking for service, they are looking for their normal lifestyle, their normal routine, and a few good friends to spend a little time with.

If they need service they want it when they need it, and then they want to get on with their day — the type of day that they like to have. For some, it will be participating in group-oriented programs and events. For others, it is tidying their residence, watching a favorite program on TV, reading a book, talking on the phone with family and just doing their thing.

SHB: What are some other common mistakes you see seniors housing operators make?

Wylde: The first mistake is always using what’s being done elsewhere as the template for what you should build. By doing this we continue to commoditize the industry and continue to compete on features and price.

The same type of community does not appeal to everyone. One-upping another community with another amenity does not mean that this amenity is going to attract any more customers. Being new might, but having more amenities may just drive up the price.

Another mistake is that we are not employing individuals who are good at sales. I’m not talking about hustlers, but people who really understand that you have to know the person before you can find the benefits for her or him and that you have to be ready to build a lifelong friendship with someone in order to achieve a sale.

Not that I’m finished with my list, but the last area I’ll mention where we have opportunity for improvement is in helping new customers become part of the community. Our once-a-month newcomer’s lunches just don’t make it. One of the new practices is when a new resident moves in, a small group of employees visit him/her in the apartment and deliver a welcoming present, a lap quilt. This gesture sets the tone and says “welcome to the family.”


SHB: Your company, ProMatura Group, did a study for ASHA (American Seniors Housing Association) that showed feeling at home was the most important factor for a resident choosing a seniors housing community. What do you hope is the long-term impact of that discovery?

Wylde: My hope is that our communities and the great variety of our products will be looked at as new homes for your advanced years where you have opportunities for living the life you want to live. I want people to look at our communities as a new beginning, where you have a better, brighter future than you would if you continued to stay in your home.


SHB: ProMatura has worked with clients all over the world, including China, Japan, Mexico, Canada, Central America and Europe. What are some interesting differences you see between the U.S. and other countries when it comes to seniors housing?

Wylde: Many of the countries we have worked in have product that is different than the U.S., particularly in relationship to the architectural style. Many seem much more institutional, and individual residences are smaller.

Most residences in Canada and other countries only have kitchenettes or small kitchens on a single wall of the living area — even in communities where they do not have meal services. In the U.K. and Spain, the layouts of many of the apartments are divided into smaller rooms, many with a singular long hallway with rooms branching off of them. Again, kitchens are not like those in the U.S.

Visit http://www.seniorshousingbusiness.com/industry-voices for the complete interview, or http://interfaceconferencegroup.com/sr2015 to register for the InterFace Seniors Housing Southeast Conference.