Fresh out of the Georgia Institute of Technology, having studied building construction, Tim Gary recognized an opportunity in a relatively new type of product: senior living communities.
Gary began his first senior living project in 1996 and has not looked back. But the industry veteran recently embarked on a new chapter, launching Galerie Living in 2017. With four communities in the Atlanta area, Galerie is poised to bring its luxe Corso brand to the Washington, D.C. metro.
And, Gary has become a tech entrepreneur with a product called Fynn, an integrated technology platform purpose-built for senior living operations, which is currently being developed.
Despite the obstacles posed by Covid-19 and the intense staffing challenges facing providers, Gary is bullish on the future of senior living — but, he believes that providers need to gain a clearer understanding of their consumer bases, and adjust operations and develop products to meet the new generation of older adults.
The Galerie model
Gary’s first senior living project was located in his hometown of Commerce, Georgia, and the community largely resembled other properties being built in the mid- and late-1990s.
“That was our first eye-opener to, ‘Hey, this is what the market’s building, but maybe we should be building something a little different,’” he told Senior Housing News.
For example, one common practice at the time was to put common spaces in the back of buildings, essentially “hiding” the residents from visitors. Gary observed that this was not fostering socialization, and shifted the amenity spaces accordingly.
Gary continued innovating, building up the Noble Village brand in a family-owned company; when his father retired, Gary struck out on his own and started Galerie.
The Galerie portfolio includes three communities under the Village Park brand and one under the Corso brand.
The Village Park brand offers market-rate rents — Gary estimated around $6,000 a month, depending on the market — but the communities include innovative approaches to design and operations.
Village Park Milton, for example, took top honor in the assisted living category of the 2021 Senior Housing News Architecture & Design Awards. Galerie Living’s in-house design team collaborated with THW Design on the concepts, including bungalows and cottages, and a pocket park that connects with a neighboring equestrian park.
The Corso brand offers an even more upscale experience, with monthly rates closer to $12,000, Gary said. Corso combines luxe design elements with elevated customer service. In fact, the community is staffed with an additional layer of management, including both an executive director and general managers, and management specifically focused on customer service in various facets of operations.
“We’ve tapped into the hospitality world to bring that expertise over and put that extra layer of management on top,” Gary said.
Training staff on customer service practices also is paramount. Senior living providers typically spend a lot of time training staff on care but customer service too often gets short-shrift, in Gary’s view.
“Covid … made us realize we needed to put two and three times the effort behind the customer service component of opening doors and the please and thank yous,” he said.
Village Park and Corso communities operate on a rental basis, not on entrance fees, although they include a continuum of care. While Gary does not think that skilled nursing is a necessity to include, he thinks that consumers increasingly want and expect health care to be available as they age.
That is based on his ongoing investigation into the changing needs and preferences of consumers, which he sees undergoing a transformation. And Galerie is adapting in various ways. For instance, the company is shifting to post-tension concrete and steel construction, which enables greater flexibility by reducing load-bearing interior walls.
“We are hearing it from the consumer: ‘I love what you’re doing from a common space standpoint … but when I get there, I may want a larger closet. And if they want a larger closet, and it costs $100,000, this customer is not going to hesitate to spend the money,” Gary said. “So you’ve got to have a building that has a structure that allows you to be flexible and to move walls.”
He says that the demand for luxury senior living is strong enough, and the Corso offering is differentiated enough, to succeed even in a market that is seeing an influx of new supply like Washington, D.C.
“We’re going to open it 40% preleased, and it’ll track the same as all our other projects — we’ll be right at 90% within 12 months,” he said.
A third Corso project also is in the works and could be announced before the end of 2021.
An integrated tech platform
From the start of his senior living career, Gary pursued an integrated model of development, ownership and operations. Though he considered working with a third-party operator, he did not believe that sufficient alignment could be achieved.
“I think that’s gotten a lot better, but I think we still struggle with that,” he said.
The lack of integrated technology custom-made to support senior living operations has been a major stumbling block to achieving owner-operator alignment, in his view. He is aiming to change that by creating such a technology platform, starting a separate company to build the product, which has been dubbed Fynn.
“Everybody in our company has come from one of the larger technology startup companies or an existing large technology company … we have some very talented people on our team,” he said.
Currently, senior living operators are typically working with a variety of technology products that they have bolted together, but that don’t integrate seamlessly or produce clean and actionable data.
Having such data will be increasingly essential for various reasons, Gary believes. In terms of building greater alignment between owners and operators, such information is needed for more robust and efficient reporting, for at-a-glance information about how communities are performing and where shortcomings are stemming from.
Being able to capture health metrics through tech such as sensors, and analytics and artificial intelligence capabilities, is also increasingly critical, in order to support more proactive care. Insurers, physician groups and other health care organizations are coming to see the role that senior living plays in the overall continuum, and senior living providers need to lower their care-related staffing demands and increase length of stay to stabilize net operating income.
“It is about providing a very predictive health care model, which is going to take a tremendous amount of data,” Gary said.
Providers also need integrated tech to deliver on consumer expectations around health and wellness. Making health data available to residents and families through an app is part of the Fynn model.
“We’re going to get a more active senior that’s willing to be proactive in their health care,” Gary said. “That consumer today is already wearing an Apple Watch, they’re already conscientious of being proactive … so again, you’ve got to have the physical structure that allows them to be proactive. And then you’ve got to have the technology behind it.”
Currently, the Fynn platform is being tested by providers, and Gary anticipates having a minimum viable product by the first quarter of 2022, with a full product by the end of next year.
He is not the only senior living leader to recognize the need for an integrated tech platform, and there are other efforts to create one. Glennis Solutions, for example, spun out of Atria Senior Living and is now providing the custom-built operating technology created by the large-scale Louisville-based provider.
Gary foresees that two or three integrated solutions ultimately will dominate the market, although he thinks the field will become more crowded first, and then consolidation will occur.
And he expects healthy demand for Fynn, in part because current industry challenges — notably sharp labor shortages — should further compel owners and operators to invest in technology that can ease workforce burdens by supporting smarter staffing patterns.
Bigger-picture, he repeatedly emphasizes the need for a focus on the future consumer, and hopes that the pandemic will not discourage new and innovative development in the sector.
“I really hope the industry will continue to invest more money into what they’re developing, putting a lot of thought behind it, because the consumer is there, there’s tremendous demand — it’s just that the consumers want what they want, and we’ve got to make sure we’re meeting what they want,” he said.
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