Over on Apartment Academy, host Daniel Cunningham sat down with Carroll VanHook-Weaver from Akara Partners. Carroll provided insight into the emergence of the digital nomad lifestyle, and how operators can cater to those residents who are looking for on-demand short-term housing.
The Connect brand within Akara is an interesting evolution of the idea of what the resident experience can be. What is the thesis behind what you guys are doing? (7:27)
- Back in the early 2000s college kids would live off-campus in apartment housing that didn’t really have any programming, or they didn’t really like students living there because of the timeframe.
- When student housing came about, we had this niche product, “purpose-built” for students – fully furnished, everybody had their own bathroom, there was a pool washer and dryer in your apartment and you were around other collegiate students. Fast forward, now all these people are in the workforce. They want their freedom, they want to be in the heart of the city, and around other people who are building their careers but also want to have their private space.
- Connect is micro living. Most of them are studios. We have developed an electronic Murphy bed that comes down with a remote or a button, a hideaway desk that is built into the wall – everything is built without having to hide your furniture. Since our footprint is much smaller, our prices are probably around 25-30% less than our competitors simply because of our size.
Is creating a sense of community part of this thesis to get people to interact with each other? Or is it just to give them options outside of their unit for things to do? (14:50)
- Both. We conducted interviews. Before we developed the brand, we kind of knew who are people were, but now that we have our personas, we find that we are right there with the traveling professional, but we also found that people like to have their own space, and also co-work with people.
- With our social club, we have extensive weekly social programming – four fitnesses classes a week, and two networking events a week, so there is something going on for the residents at all times.
- We use a technology platform, Modern Message, to get our events out there, to get RSVPs
You have really embraced this idea of short-term rentals, or allowing the residents to engage in short-term rentals and derive revenue from hoteling their own space, which is also pretty avant-garde (16:10).
- This is a big part of our business model. We’re catering to that 25-45 age range. Those people are the most in debt generation. Imagine if you didn’t have to pay your rent and that cost was alleviated because you’re traveling for work anyways. Then you can put that back into your business, pay off your debt, whatever it is, and then be able to live the lifestyle you want.
- On the business side, it’s very advantageous to owner investors because we’re monetizing not only on our co-working with our memberships but with these short-term stays that do offer a high premium.
What have you learned from launching the Connect brand? (20:00)
- Start by collecting some data. Do surveys. Do polls.
- If you want to attract those on-the-go professionals, try having fitness, yoga, and meditation classes that can really bring these people together. They can come home after work and just go to the gym.
- Member appreciation. We do this about twice a year in the fall and in the spring during our moving season.
- Get involved with the community. Our residents love getting involved and feeling a part of something and that they’re helping people.
How do you activate your resident base to get them to attend these things? (27:08)
- My secret sauce is obviously you want to plan ahead. Nobody likes last-minute activations. About a month ahead, having a calendar in those really high-traffic areas. I also like to use QR codes for people to get more information or RSVP. We push that urgency that class sizes are small so pushing that exclusivity is really important.
If somebody implements some of these great ideas, what would you expect would change about the way that property operates in a year? (30:00)
- Our end game is renewals. I think the endgame is retention, brand loyalty, and keeping your property full.
Host: Daniel Cunningham
Guest: Carroll VanHook-Weaver