Strong Teams Create Strong Programs
How to develop an award-winning team that can execute quality programs to help satisfy and retain apartment-community residents.
Great programs can help retain great residents and create the community environment many apartment managers and owners seek to achieve at their properties. John Boriack, the 2015 NAA PARAGON Award Independent Owner of The Year (101-500 units), not only implemented a successful children’s program at his Houston-based apartment community, Windfern Pointe Apartments, to help foster children’s growth and spirituality, but he has also invested in the growth and development of his team by paying for five of his employees to receive National Apartment Association Education Institute (NAAEI) designations.
Boriack shares his insights on how the program came to be and how the owners of other apartment communities can achieve similar successes at their own properties, both from a programming and team-building standpoint.
Q: What prompted you to start the after-school kids’ club and summer camps?
A: We bought that property in 2012. They had a room that was a fitness center that, before we bought it, they had converted and started a small kids’ club program. So that’s what we’re doing now, but on a smaller basis. And when we took over, we saw what they were doing and really liked it.
They were partnering with an organization in Houston called Urban Outreach. When we bought the property, we sat down with Urban Outreach, talked about what they were doing, talked about their goals, found out more about their ministry and what they did, and really liked what we heard and wanted to get behind that even more and pump up that program and make it a chief part of our property.
And so that’s kind of where it all started. And it’s evolved into probably one of the biggest, if not the biggest, amenity and attraction on our property for our clientele.
Q: Because the program was already in place, did you run into any hurdles (e.g., costs, legalities), to keep it running? Or, in this case, any challenges in expanding?
A: In talking with the group we were partnering with, Urban Outreach, and what they needed to expand the program and move forward, there were certainly some costs to be incurred by the property. And being new owners, we were very wary of any increased expenses and really trying to evaluate the return on the investment there.
They needed to have a two-bedroom unit provided, free of charge, to the person who would be in charge of coordinating this kids’ club and all the programs on-site full time. And so we’re missing out on the rent of that unit. And in addition to that, there are monthly costs for administrative fees, snacks and craft supplies, sport supplies — whatever they need to provide stuff for the kids.
And so we thought twice. We didn’t just jump into it because it was not a significant cost, but enough of a cost to worry about, especially for new owners. And, fortunately, we decided it was well worth it, and it has been very, very well worth it.
Then we had some insurance costs we had to figure out with having all these extra programs on-site. We wanted to make sure we were covered from a liability standpoint.
Aside from that, it took us a little while to find the right person to run the on-site programs. And we went through a couple people for the first year or two, trying to find a right fit that worked with our staff well, worked with our kids well, and just fit our property. So it didn’t just all fall into place the first time. And I would say we had to go through a few people and have some serious meetings with Urban Outreach about finding the right person that was going to be a good fit.
Q: How have the residents reacted to the program, and how has the reaction evolved as the program has grown?
A: I would say the residents definitely respond to it well, but sometimes it takes them a while — especially if they’re new to the community — to get a good handle on what it is, what it provides and what we do there. And so we had that initial hurdle when we first started explaining things and getting people to sign up. But I feel like it’s got some good momentum now. And it’s a very popular thing on the property that most of the residents, especially the ones with kids, know about.
And the room where they conduct all the kids’ club programs is attached to our leasing office, which is a phenomenal deal because if you’ve got a mom and dad in the leasing office wanting to get information about the apartments and perhaps fill out an application for a unit, and they’ve got a kid with them, they can hear the kids laughing and stuff down the hall. Their kid is usually intrigued. And while the mom and dad need to spend some time going over the lease with our staff, the prospects’ kids can go and join the kids’ club program for 30 minutes or an hour and get a good taste of that. So it’s a great leasing tool as well.
Q: Do you credit these programs for the increase in your property's value?
A: Oh, definitely! It’s certainly contributed to it. The program does a great job of showing that we care and that we provide something extra that most properties don’t. And if a resident has a kid that’s involved in the program, it’s really hard for them to leave and find somewhere else. And so that really helps increase our renewals, which therefore decreases our expenses, which raises our NOI [net operating income], which raises the value of the property. And it’s just this great trip that’s onset from a simple program like that.
Q: Are there any other programs that you think provide a similar value to residents?
A: If you’ve got a property that maybe doesn’t have such a high concentration of children — we’ve got a lot of two-bedrooms and three-bedrooms on our property, so we have a lot of kids that this is a great fit for — there are other organizations. I know in Houston there’s one that’s called CARES that provides a couple on-site to-dos — kind of the same thing as Urban Outreach does with our property, but it’s more geared toward your typical apartment resident, not necessarily the kids or just strictly the kids. So they’ll meet with new move-ins and make sure everything went well, and organize community events, and things like that.
So there are other organizations out there that do this same setup, this same kind of deal. And you’ve just got to figure out which one best fits your property and your clientele.
Q: How does staff development, such as the NAAEI designations you helped acquire for several staff members last year, help factor into the success of your property?
A: Those are invaluable, especially for a company like mine, where we’re relatively small. We’re not able to have a big in-house training program, so we’re able to outsource that to our local apartment association that provides the training and those designations. The cost is enough to worry about, but if you think about the benefits provided, it’s well worth sponsoring. If you’ve got a good team member that is willing to go and really wants to learn, I think it’s a steal of a deal from an owner standpoint.
Those programs really help to motivate staff. It brings in fresh ideas, breaks up the monotony of a day-to-day job; it gives them kind of a fresh perspective on things, helps them make more contacts in the industry that they can rely on when they have a question about how to handle certain situations. And then it just really shows that we, as their leaders, care about them and want to invest in them.
I’ve heard from some other independent owners that they don’t want to sponsor those programs because they’re afraid that their team member might leave them or ask for a raise or might make some contact and go work for someone else. And I certainly see what they’re saying there, and I would say there’s definitely that risk. But I would rather train somebody and get them performing at top level and have them leave me for another job than to have an untrained, unmotivated person sitting at my desk every day, just collecting a paycheck. And that seems like a much better situation to me.
And when you provide not only the training, but then you really show them that you care, they’re not going to leave you when they know that you care about them and you have their best interests in mind. There’s a strong sense of loyalty there that just makes for a strong, loyal award-winning team.
Q: As a result of any of those trainings and the networking that occurred, have any new programs developed or are any currently in the works?
A: We’ve had managers or community directors and people come back from those programs saying, “Hey, I heard about this new marketing idea at my class” or “I heard about this new way to increase collections at my class. Do you mind if I go ahead and implement that?” Of course, my answer is always yes.
I know specifically on the marketing side of things, there’s so many creative ways to market your property and market your product that are floating around out there. And so often, it’s just a matter of getting the right idea from the right person at the right time.
And I say very often I never had an original idea in my life. I’m just really, really, really good at copying other people that are successful. And it’s funny — so how I form my business is I find someone who’s doing what I’m doing better than I’m doing it, and then copy them over and over and over and over again. So to be able to make contacts like that, and that can allow you to learn and copy what people do, is invaluable.
Q: Is there anything else that’s unique about Windfern Pointe Apartments or how you operate that would be of value to readers of Operations Insights?
I could sit on the phone all day and talk to you about the great programs we have on our property. But the fact of the matter is, I have very little to do with them on a day-to-day basis. It is all about the team we have on-site and in our company.
And you cannot do it alone. You have to learn to delegate and trust and find the right people who can fit on your team, and then get them doing the right thing. To my staff, I would say, “Great job. It’s all a team effort.” And they’re the ones putting in the hard work. And to other owners out there, I would say focus on building your team and not relying on your own efforts. Figure out who are the winners in your industry, and get them on your side, take care of them; treat them like family and they’re going to pay back tenfold. And you’re going to create a successful award-winning family of a company that can’t be stopped.