Giant Pumpkins and resident engagement.

My prior two weeks of going on tour have been terrible. This last week was great.

Merrill Gardens, Campbell

Cathey Eskandari is the general manager of Merrill Gardens in Campbell (San Jose, CA area) a recently opened (November, 2013) AL, IL, memory care community. Cathey and I have been regularly crossing paths at various senior living conferences and, as she was approaching the opening of her community, she has been urging me to come to the grand opening. I couldn’t make it, but recently I was in the area and was able to stop by.

The community has 126 flex independent/assisted living units plus 20 memory care units. They accepted their first IL/AL residents in November and began accepting memory care residents in February. The IL/AL has just 4 empty units, 2 of which have signed contracts. The memory care is about half full.

The Visit

I crossed paths with Cathey at the state assisted living association meeting early the week of the visit and she asked when I was going to come by. I confessed that her community was my target for that week and extracted a promise that she would not let her staff know I was coming. She agreed and kept the promise. I showed up just before 5 pm. The front desk person was great. She asked me to take a seat and told me she would get someone to help. In less than 2 minutes Suzanne Russo, the Community Relations Director, came out. I explained that I write about the industry and wondered if I could have a tour. She was glad to help.

Giant Pumpkins

We spent 20 minutes talking about the industry, her local marketplace and the fill-up experience.   Then came the tour. After exploring both the AL/IL and memory care building she led me to the garden where Terry Sand, Active Living Director, was down on her hands and knees tending to a couple of very healthy pumpkin plants. They started telling me that these were not ordinary pumpkins but giant pumpkins that would be entered into the famous, annual Half Moon Bay giant pumpkin festival.

The seed for one pumpkin plant came from an award winning 1,700 pound winner. The other came from a pumpkin that was judged to be the most beautiful. This giant pumpkin growing thing is serious business, with seeds from winning pumpkins selling for hundreds of dollars. As these pumpkins mature, they are tented, rubbed with olive oil, wrapped in cotton and watered several times each day. When the day of the contest arrives, Terry will call the Campbell fire department and ask them to bring over a ladder truck to gently lift the pumpkin onto a flatbed truck where the pumpkin will be gently placed in a special cradle to protect it on the drive to the contest.

The Possibilities

This pumpkin project already has great resident and family interest. As the pumpkins grow Terry and residents will carefully nurture (and weigh and measure) the pumpkins. These residents and family members will tell everyone about the project. They are likely to have newspaper and even television coverage of the effort. On the day of the judging there will be a bus full of residents on hand to watch the judging and weighing of their two pumpkins.

Making a Difference

The way I was greeted and treated, the exploration of the garden, is what prospects can expect. They are powerful parts of the sales processes.   It is curious, but not surprising, to me that every single time I have had a not so good experience the buildings have had significant numbers of vacant units. In every case where I have had a great experience the community has been full or nearly full.   They have had a culture of caring everywhere, every time. It always pays huge dividends.

Steve Moran


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