Early in January I had the unique privilege of travelling to Columbus Ohio to visit a dear friend of mine Kim Cory at University Village. I received a warm welcome from the whole staff and it provided a wonderful opportunity to be onsite in a student housing environment which I had never experienced before.
From the moment I walked in the door it felt happy. Sometimes I have visited properties and the tension is so bad you can cut it with a knife or it just felt kind of too “business” minded. Kind of cold and clammy. It was the exact opposite for University Village. From the office to the models adjacent to the office it all had the look and feel of happiness and excitement. The first day I was there I was happy to be part of “Family Lunch” which is when the whole team stops and has lunch together. Of course when the phone rings or someone came into the office, one of the team would get up and care for it. Kim mentioned to me how much this has become a tradition for them and it really has helped them draw closer as a team. All in all the overall atmosphere and direction that Kim takes her team has had a great impact on the success of the community.
Kim was kind enough to allow me to interview her and answer some questions I had about student housing.
J-What are a couple of points that make student housing unique from conventional communities?
K-First thing that I can think of is the circle of connections. Student housing starts with the student, the family and the university. The unique challenge is that each individual has their own wants, needs, and desires so it can be challenging to learn how to appease all of that. If you don’t focus on all of those you lose out on the opportunity to make your brand stronger so it’s important to have a connection with all three. The second thing is that we have an amazing ability to be creative in many ways such as in marketing, resident events, presentation in our office and our models and the ability to change things up every year. You can reflect on what worked and what didn’t. You can have effective campaigns since students are always the same age group but it’s a continual new flux of students from year to year. Another part that is unique is that you need to be more of a personal trainer than a manager. This is probably their first experience on their own so they need “extra” education on how to live and at the same time be fair firm and consistent without taking away their fun. The last item is that you are pre-leasing as opposed to leasing. For 6-8 months you are pre-leasing for what is up and coming and then you have less than a month to turn a large chunk of your community.
J-What do you do to keep your team motivated and engaged?
K-It helps to be in tune with today’s trends. Whether its reality shows or anything else I try to be in tune with what my team is interested in. I make it a point to get into conversation with my team about what goes on in these shows and have a big gossip fest about it. I also try and get the residents involved in the conversation as well. I don’t want them walking into a DMV type atmosphere so I embrace and allow my team to have freedom of expression and to be unique. I don’t manage by creating fear. I like to give my team challenges and allow them to be creative. We have monthly sales meetings where we discuss a variety of topics and I get them involved in the process and especially involved in the success. It’s important for them to be allowed to show their creativity and that I am confident in them and that everyone is involved in the success. We set realistic goals based on how we lease. There are lease up goals of course but we have other goals as well that are set out each month to keep the team motivated.
J-How do you educate your students on “how to rent”?
K-We have an amazing partnership with off campus student services. They offer resources to students such as mediation, reviewing landlord leases and so we partner up to help them become aware of what and where these resources are outside of us. We also lead by that personal trainer approach. We conduct routine unit inspections to make sure they are not destroying the apartment and to make sure it is safe. We also have a management team that is designated to handle rent questions, roommate disputes, service requests and other items so that they have one individual they can work with and gain trust with and learn how and where to go to handle their concerns
J-Do you think that using sports themes in your models, only applies to student housing?
K-Absolutely not! My feeling is that if you speak to a group of people and ask them if they follow a sports team, 90 percent will say yes. Ask them how many actually go to those events and it will probably be 50% or less. So why not bring that tailgate experience to your residents since there is such a passion for local teams? Bring the game to your community and don’t be overly concerned about prospects visiting but encourage them to join in the fun and see what life is all about at your community. You have to go all out and make a memorable experience and use the passion of sports teams to connect with potential residents.
J-What keeps you enthusiastic and passionate about the multifamily industry?
K-I love being part of something bigger. Every day I am scrapbooking the memories for the students future. I find it great when I have past residents attend my events and they talk about the memories they had here or they interact on the University Village Facebook page. I also love the constant change. There are new trends and ideas and it’s a challenge to embrace these changes but that is part of my personality which wants to take it all on. There is certainly never a dull moment in student housing, nothing stays the same and so it inspires me to be creative and unique. What it boils down to is that is about the people, never mind the shiny tools out there, but we are touching peoples lives and that is what is most important.
Needless to say it was a thoroughly educational and enjoyable trip. Student housing is a unique part of the apartment world. If you have any questions for Kim at all, please feel free to comment in the section provided below.
Kim Cory is the Director of Marketing for University Village. She is a national speaker and has helped scores of individuals and property management companies learn and apply best practices for student housing. Check out her other passion which is aspiring others to a more fit way of life via her personal blog.
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