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7 Things You Missed from Day 2 at CampusConnex


The marketing power of bananas was one event highlight.

On Day 2 of CampusConnex, attendees learned about mental health, recruiting and interviewing potential employees and the marketing power of a banana.

1. A Banana can draw a lot of attention

Who knew a simple banana could change the trajectory of the company. Brent Gutwein, CEO, Granite Student Living, shared a story about how his firm began using a banana as a logo? Soon after, it was putting bananas on its buildings, trucks, t-shirts and even 10,000 umbrellas. “We saturated the market with bananas,” Gutwein says. With the bananas, came attention. Some of it wasn’t good, such as when municipal officials forced the company to take down a 14-foot banana statue (it soon found a home on a company truck). If the goal was to get attention, Gutwein succeeded. “When they see the banana, people are interested in who you are, what you do and how you do it,” he says.

2. Don’t forget about mental health

At far too many institutions, mental health is “the elephant in the room,” according to Amanda Livesay, Portfolio Supervisor, The Quarters on Campus. In 2015, there was a 30 percent increase in students seeking mental health services. While it is difficult for student housing providers to identify every at-risk resident, there are steps they can take to help. “We work on training [with onsite teams],” Livesay says. “We teach them if they see something to say something.”

3. Refilling the talent pool

There is a lot of employee movement in the student housing industry and Megan Orser, Director of Professional Development, Smart Apartment Solutions, says operators can more effectively bring new employees into the industry. Orser urges companies to help solve the issues – such as housing, child care and transportation -- that prevent them from entering the workforce. “If we get creative and solve these problems, we will uncover some pretty great staffers,” she says. Orser also urges creativity through Snapchat, video and social media in seeking employees. “We need to start hiring people that are passionate,” she says.

4. The animal conundrum

While animals challenge rental housing operators of all types, KC Theisen, Principal, Opening Doors, says figuring out animal accommodations for students is “easy.” First it is necessary to understand the differences between service animals (which must be with the resident 24/7) and support animals (which help residents manage daily life). “During the day [support animals] stay home in the dwelling,” she says. Theisen urges student housing operators to develop an animal policy and communicate it quickly and easily.

5. Improve the interview process

Ivana Christman, COO, Quest Management Group, says the interview process is similar to dating. But unlike the dating process, which can take years, Christman thinks interviews shouldn’t last more than 30 minutes. “If you don’t think it is the right candidate, you don’t want to waste their time with a long, daunting interview,” Christman says. Christman asks interviewees a series of questions, focusing on their ethics and technical knowledge among other things. “I want the interview to be meaningful, asking questions that really explain what they’ve done,” she says. “I want to know if they can solve problems and best understand if they are the right fit for the role.”

6. Amenities matter to students

The days of just throwing a bunch of fitness equipment in a room and calling it a gym or putting computers in a room and calling it a study room are over. “Residents expect technology and they expect a space where they can spend time,” says Alex Eyssen, Vice President, Student Housing, The Bainbridge Companies. “The student needs the same quality [of housing] as the market-rate residents.” The challenges for developers, such as Eyssen, is developing these amenities without having direct interaction with students. That is where the onsite teams come in. Developers should not choose the amenities. “Developers are furthest from the students,” Eyssen says. “Property managers need to describe to developers the student-resident [onsite] experience.”

7. Find influencers 

If you want to get the word out about your events, property tours and lease specials, find social media influencers. “Eight-two percent of social media users are likely to follow the recommendations of influencers,” says Matt Pavlick, President, GRO Marketing. You don’t need Beyoncé tweeting about your community to be successful. Pavlick urges student housing operators to look to residents with 2,000 to 10,000 followers. “A lot of influencers live in your community and are easy to negotiate with,” Pavlick says. These residents usually don’t charge exorbitant fees. Instead, they’ll usually accept cash, gift cards or a break on rent to promote that community’s benefits.

If you missed a session or two at CampusConnex, NAAEI's REWIND program offers 13 PowerPoint-synced audio sessions, plus all four of the TED-style talks by industry experts during the CampusConnex Lab!