Marketing the Right Products – David Twiggs

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I was speaking recently at the American Association of Retirement Communities national conference in Memphis about “Repositioning the Large Scale Community to be Relevant in Today’s Market” and was asked about effective marketing campaigns. Once you understand your market and have positioned your community to authentically serve relevant lifestyle options, there are some excellent media resources out there for marketing your community.    Ideal Living magazine as a great national example and Center for Carolina Living is a regional platform. However, I quickly turned our discussion to the much-overlooked fact that these media outlets can only convey the story you supply. Marketing can never make up for a product problem and many of our communities have a product problem.

 

If we continue to advertise a 25-year-old story, we will not be attractive to the coming markets. If we cannot actually deliver authentic and fulfilling lifestyle options relevant to today’s market, we will simply fall into irrelevance. The things that drew the people who moved to your community in the past do not motivate today’s market. Not only are we experiencing the change from silent generation to boomers, we are dealing with post recession value shifts and fragmented media.

 

Fixing a product problem is about finding the unique lifestyle options you can provide and creating those opportunities. I work in rural destination and resort style communities so I look at what markets I can develop in addition to the country club sports model that the original developer banked on. Notice, I said lifestyles in addition to, not replacing what we have. Nothing wrong with an element of the country club model but it better not be the only product you offer. The golf centric community market is saturated on all levels and price points but it can still be a strong part of your holistic lifestyle options. If a program you offer is no longer relevant, it will die a natural death. Who is building a new shuffleboard stadium? No one, they are  irrelevant. You had better have lifestyle options relevant to the coming market to attract new growth. We should protect the elements of our lifestyle we love and add complimentary lifestyle options that we can authentically provide. Be Unique. Generic and boring are well represented in the market. You are not trying to attract everyone only those who want your unique lifestyle.

 

For Hot Springs Village, I have developed a Master Plan Workbook in which we explore possible new lifestyle possibilities, housing typology, engagement brands and community branding. Notice this is titled a workbook not an engraved in stone plan. This is an ever changing document. We explore many ideas for lifestyle and community improvements. We don’t implement them all. Some fit some do not, but we are not afraid to explore all options and are daily improving our formally dated products. If you have a unique product, marketing is much easier. Getting picked out of a mass of similar communities is difficult and often leads to wasting our limited marketing dollars.

 

You are welcome to look at the current version of my Master Plan Work Book for HSV. Please remember it is an ongoing presentation piece so some details and all proprietary information such as market studies for housing, hotel, commercial and retail have been omitted. Each community is unique. You can’t simply copy someone else’s model. Look at your products, understand your market, and make sure your story is relevant before you invest your marketing dollars.

CLICK HERE FOR A PDF Masterplan Workbook 1221.2014 UPDATE

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7tjFZlnYuFQ

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Where Have the Real Estate Investors Gone? David Twiggs, AICP

Placemaking Planning: Grove Park Market Drawing by Dr. Yang Luo, Director of Placemaking Hot Springs Village, AR

Placemaking Planning: Grove Park Market
Drawing by Dr. Yang Luo, Director of Placemaking Hot Springs Village, AR

I was recently in two meetings that seemed to be lamenting the same condition. All of the real estate investors have disappeared. The consensus seemed to be, the recession killed the real estate investor. One of these meetings was a discussion by several community professionals trying to revitalize their respective master planned communities. The other was a grassroots organization to revitalize a historic but challenged section of a tourism driven city. This got me thinking about the role of private investment in existing community development and redevelopment.

In my present project, I find that the investor has not disappeared at all. The unsophisticated real estate investor is gone. The easy money for any project is gone.

The amateur buying twenty overpriced lots in pre-sale based on a rendering of what might be built is not a reliable entity as it was in the past. We must now supply sound business plans with specific value enhancing strategies; in other words, we must work hard to have projects worth investing in. The recession has killed the lazy uninformed investor that perpetuated mediocre projects. And that’s a good thing.

So how do we find investors in revitalizing our communities? The recession has brought on so many opportunities for assembling property that had previously been sold. Property may have been abandoned and fell into the ownership of an association. It may have reverted back to a town, county, or state for failure to pay the taxes. There is also the shadow inventory of people who pay taxes and assessments but would gladly rid themselves of an unimproved property if there were a market or an entity that would take it. My point, there is now property available at a low cost basis that was not available pre-recession. What are our plans for that property?

Today’s investor wants to see a clear plan for a property to become marketable and relevant to the present and coming marketplace. There needs to be specific strategies for adding value to specific property. Personal real estate is the ultimate lifestyle product. It fundamentally must have real community and ultra-local value. Community value is the lifestyle improvements you receive by living first in the chosen region and then the specific community. There must be true quality of place. There must be relevant lifestyle options.

Ultra-local value opportunities come from fulfilling the original lifestyle promises for all the properties inside a community. Many developers in the past 30 years focused on the premium lot sales. Waterfront, golf courses, view and open space lots were the cash cows and the remaining interior lots were simply not considered as to the livability. This worked in the sales process because the lifestyle of the premium lots was being promised to all; but  it was  never delivered to all in a livable fashion. The buyer of an interior lot finds that they do not have the access and lifestyle of the lake house across the street. They must get in their car and drive to access the lake or any other lifestyle amenity for that matter. It has no ultra-local value. I define ultra-local value as what I can leave my home and do without getting in an automobile. Can I walk the dog down to the lake, can I access a trail system, walk to the art studio, or bike over to a social area, have coffee and people watch? This is ultra-local value.

Value can be a point source. There is not much value to “your neighbor has great lakefront but you can drive to the access just 3 miles away,” or “you can’t see it or access it from here but there is a great open space just over there that you can drive to.” Property was sold as if the prime amenity had ultra-local value rather than simply community value. Look at where your homes developed. What was the source of that value? How much “gravity” does that point of value have? In other words how large a radius of lots does that value impact. A single private home with a great view radiates no gravity to the neighboring lot with no view. A coffee shop that is walkable from 300 homes radiates a lot of ultra-local value while still supplying community value. While we do want to have premium properties available, the premium price garnered by the view, lake or open space lot could be leveraged much better by allowing common access to that point source value gravity in the form of a neighborhood gathering area. This allows the property value and marketability to be raised over all property in a radius rather than at a single point.

The amount of value gravity will always vary by location within the community. From a technical point of view, the investor is looking for investment areas where the existing socio/spacial value gravity can be influenced. Specific improvements are wanted. Defined, understandable, and doable. In more general terms, we must get to work planning our futures. If we have feasible strategies to improve the livability and relevance of specific areas and market those correctly; the savvy investor will find you.

 

 

Leading the Sporting Communities of the Future – David Twiggs

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Community turning walking the puppies into a celebration.

In order to be successful in the future sporting community market you must be good at what you do; authentic, relevant and specific. You don’t need to try and attract hundreds of thousands of people in hopes someone may like your community.  You need only find the people that believe in the vision of your community.  Your tribe. This is easy to do in today interconnected world.  Being a one size fits all will not attract your tribe.  It lacks vision and specificity.  True believers are not generic; they are individuals that have chosen to excel in a chosen passion.  They don’t believe in half measures when it comes to their passion.

 

The wonderful thing about our creating communities is that having a successful product means giving our residents a better quality of life than they would have without us.  Quality of life is the core product. Destination communities, like people, develop a character. To be successful in today’s market you cannot be generic. You must fall within the vernacular of the lifestyle vision.  To attract your tribe; be it equestrian, golf, hunting, fishing or any nature based activity you must have the knowledge and be a serious believer in the lifestyle you advocate. In large communities, you often need a mixture of complementary subcultures to build a healthy diverse community.

 

Many start up communities have been developed over the last 40 years. Part of our leadership responsibility is to help shape their character into a positive and vibrant places. What a potential resident is looking for in a community varies more today than at any time in the past.  Sporting communities have become a authentic options in a world where the transient nature of our careers have moved us many times from the connection to the land we knew and understood in childhood.

 

The lifestyles wanted are varied. The new urbanism, new ruralism, small town life, the mountain, beach or lake lifestyles, tennis, golf, sporting, boat in, fly in, and equestrian are just a few of the amenity rich lifestyles vying for attention in the national market.   While quality of life is impacted by the quality of amenities and maintenance, these things are minimum standards that are easy to benchmark.  Belonging, the key to quality of life, is more intangible but can be equally impacted by our leadership.  Building a sense of community, opportunities for individual growth and support of chosen lifestyles are essential to building quality of life for the residents.  Too often the leadership stops at providing facilities and take little responsibility for belonging and celebrating the differences of our residents.  Building a sense of community is about creating opportunities for individual growth and social interaction.  People want to feel their lives are being well spent not that they are simply being entertained. 

Destination Community Diversity: Sharing Quality of Place

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Do you remember the kid who blew the grading curve in class by not making the same mediocre grades as the rest of us?  Now days everyone is blowing the curve.  No one is doing what everyone else is.  I think I would be about the average person based on my demographics.  48 year old white male coming of age in a southern college town in the mid 1980’s.   One generation off the cattle farm, I grew up watching the Beverly Hillbillies, football, and bluegrass music.  You would think I would be right in the middle of the class.

I think I am typical yet why don’t I fit into that old mass marketing mold.  Hardly anyone does anymore.  Twenty years ago you could rely on my cohort to be watching one of 2 things on TV on a Thursday night. There was just not much choice. We listening to the same 2 radio stations and read the same magazines.  You could make a couple of easy advertising investments and put your message in front of most of us.

Today I get the news I am interested in tweeted to me directly from a myriad of online print and video sources.  I don’t watch television in the traditional sense. I buy only the television shows I want and have not seen a traditional commercial since the Superbowl.  There is no channel guide or schedule in my life. I don’t have cable and gladly pay to stream my favorite radio station which is from several states away over my truck stereo. The print material I do faithfully follow; Garden and Gun, Covertside, Urban Land, and Fast Company are so niche specific only those that have an insider position dare to advertise.  There is no middle of the class. No way to get in front of the majority.

We can find our interests so specifically; we have no need to be a generalist.  Seth Godin said there is no longer an American canon of materials that we can reliably expect to be common knowledge.  We have an unlimited supply of media but can laser focus on our interests only and tune out the noise of the advertising machine.

This specificity along with the mobility of Americans means we do not have to live in a generic place and take our chances that we will find our “people.”  Today we can just go on Meet Up and find a group that shares our affinity for eclectic banjo covers of baroque composers or whatever your weird interest may be.  Generic is dead. Average is dead.  Compromising to the least offensive denominator is dead.

In creating a community, you must build the environment for the specific to thrive.  In my experience developing outdoor sporting venues, I have always found that if you create the conditions for the expert, the fanatic, the gear head to flourish, the interested amateurs will flock there.  These are the people that buy the homes, fill the restaurants and create the demand for services.  These folks build community.

It is so easy to find the real.  We can find our authentic people living our favored experiences.  Building a community for the generic average is a failing proposition.  We cannot continue creating simple monocultures but must embrace inter-related layers of complementary subcultures sharing the same natural resource.  It could be a tremendous surf break, a beautiful mountain region, or lake system.  Many subcultures can love a region for many different reasons.  If no one loves a thing, no one will care about it.  Diverse communities are resilient, listen to the investment gurus: diversify.  Embrace individuality and the diverse subcultures that share the same love for quality of place.

If you listen to the investment gurus all we hear is diversification.  Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.  Yet many communities for the last 30 years have basically put all their eggs in their golf basket.  Nothing is wrong with the golf basket unless it is your only investment.  Today people want a more holistic experience yet still based on their values of place.

What will attract people to band together in communities in the future, it could any of thousands of  interests that will tie these places together.

It starts with:

Quality of Place:  Is this place beautiful to me?  Does it have the natural resources that support my interests?  Does it have the provisions and third places I need?

Complimentary Sub-Cultures:  What different groups can share the same resources compatibly.   Is it attractive to more than a single monoculture?

Authenticity:  Is the lifestyle real or a construct.  Does it really deliver the potential for personal growth and challenge.

We will explore recreation and sporting subcultures as we continue the conversation.

Community Builder or Consumer – David Twiggs

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To build an extraordinary destination community, we must realize our residents and visitors want to belong to a community rather than simply be a consumer.  We must create the seeds for citizenship.  We are often faced with a culture of community consumers not a group of contributing citizen community builders.

I spent 18 years living and working in the North Carolina High Country in the Blowing Rock, Beech Mountain and Linville triangle.  In this area, there was a proliferation of communities being built to meet the in migration, second home and rental housing demand.  Many of these were very well done creating a community personality that added to the cultural richness of the community.  While these were clearly defined areas they were relatively porous allowing exchange of communication, ideas, and commonality.   These communities were generally considered to be good engaged neighbors.

Other communities developed into isolationist monocultures that were generally considered unwelcome even after many years of existence.  These fostered the” Us vs. Them” mentality.  While they were successful real estate development projects in that they sold through and made the developer a lot of money.  They were not necessarily successful in adding to the long-term health of the larger community.

Consumers are like investors in a stock.  As long as the community is thriving, they receive their dividends in the form of quantity of amenity per dollar paid in taxes, dues, or fees and in increased property values when they decide to sell their investment.  Just like in stocks, owners change on a daily basis. If their dividends are not what they expect, they sell the investment. Since a community’s major dividend has been the lifestyle and perceived quality of life, the same dividend may leave one investor unimpressed while going beyond another’s expectations. A community cannot be all things to all people. It must enhance its unique qualities and values and seek those to whom the lifestyle resonates.  The one constant is that the people will eventually change.  With this come two schools of thought.

The American zeitgeist on what is considered of value is now shifting towards a citizenship point if view.  In response, we had better set up policies, governance and traditions that foster the unique authentic value in our community.  While enhancing and preserving, we also must celebrate individualism within that framework.

From a consumer point of view, there had better be something to attract the next purchaser for their business, home or property; the next “investor.”  While recent years has seen a decline in the investor mentality as a primary motivator for choosing real estate purchases, the change model holds true.  It is the value proposition that has changed.  People are looking for authentic lifestyle and an atmosphere that helps them become a contributing part of the community.

The mindset of a destination community being simply a marketable amenity delivery system has to change if a community is to thrive. In funding new development, the purchase and flip investor mentality made pre-construction sales to investors a reliable funding option until about 2008.  This has changed particularly if a destination wants to attract in migration in the second home and retirement markets.  We are now focused on an end user, a citizen, which is much more concerned with the authentic community values than the marketability of the real estate in the future.

Community must be defined as collection of human relationships rather than as a defined real estate space.  Many of the early pioneer destination communities were built with these more humanistic goals in mind.  In the 90’s and 00’s, many designs strayed for these values.  Creating fortified islands of monoculture did much harm to the traditional meaning of community.  The truly extraordinary places designed the governance structure to add value and enhance the region’s authentic nature.  This goes beyond the physical design of the neighborhoods.  There are many extraordinary places that have technical design issues that they continue to deal with as knowledge on neighborhood and civic space design evolves.  These places are extraordinary because the citizens are part of the positive regional dynamic rather than a separate protectionist subculture.

Now that some of our early pioneer associations are reaching 30 to 40 years old, we are starting to see some multigenerational ownership beginning.  Up until recently no current owners where born and raised in their community.  It was a created environment based on a theme that was quickly put in place rather than slowly evolving with the nature of the area.  There were no roots to speak of that would build a sense of citizenship as opposed to walking into a readymade ala carte consumer environment.  Mixed generation communities have faired much better over recent years than age restricted or retirement type communities.  Mutigenerational populations tend to vest much more quickly into the total community environment, both within and outside the association scope.  This is beginning to alleviate some of the challenges faced due to a transient consumer mindset that has been prevalent in community associations.

Boomers are not necessarily joiners.  The value of being a “member” is not nearly as prevalent as with prior generations.  There is much more value placed on being an individual engaged citizen.  This does not mean that the Boomer will not use the amenities of a community.  They may very well be more active than prior generations but the do not want any part of their “parents retirement community.”  They want to live in a community that engages their children and grandchildren as a family unit and individuals.  They want a “cool” factor.  There must be a new mental narrative about the community. They envision their grandchildren saying “let’s visit grandpa, he lives in the coolest place”. This is what the successful community of the future will be conjure in the mind.

A primary challenge is developing a real sense of citizenship.  Consumers look at the cost/benefit now and seek to extract as much product as possible for the least cost.  Citizen community builders have a longer look as they take responsibility in growing their community.  The sense of being a builder not simply a consumer is what builds community within our members.