Rethinking the "Resident Function" in terms of Retention

I once heard a comedienne say to someone that "you can say anything as long as you say it with love," so let me just tell you all that from the bottom depths of my deep heart, I say this with nothing but love and respect for your efforts in this realm.

That caveat in place, let me just lay this out there from the start:

Your once or twice a year resident functions are NOT going the be what saves you leases.

We've all seen the summer pool party and the "winter gathering" and we know how much work they take to pull off.  There is massive planning involved, calling vendors for donations (Don't stop doing that!  They need to give some back to you!  Speaking as a vendor, it makes me feel like the universe balances when I can give something back to my clients!) then there's marketing the event, getting a feel for how many people will be at the event, buying food for the event and finally slowing the office down and expecting the 3 hour event to only take 3 hours of your time, you optimistic dreamer, you.

The common theme I hear when I hear people talk about their Summer Party is that it gets the neighbors all out there together to promote building the community up as a neighborhood.  As my old boss would say, the idea is great, but your implementation leaves a LOT to be desired.  First, only a handful of your 750 residents will show up, say about 1/6 of them, given every resident function I've ever seen.  Second, of the 1/6 that do show up, irritatingly, 1/2 of them are NOT the people who told you that they WOULD come.  Those people forget or just don't go. Thirdly, you either have a ton of food left over, or you run out.  There is no middle ground here, and THAT is most annoying.  And Lastly, the worst thing of all, the residents that do come, go back home, back to their hermited existence and don't come out until next year's party.

And, of course, that's just the TIP of the iceberg  that floats in the ocean of throwing an annual resident function.

This, all of it, I know.  And here's where you're going to think I'm crazy... How do we get around a lot of these problems?

Heather's Solution:

Throw  More Resident Functions.

Now that your eyebrows have arched skyward, let me explain my position here.  We're spending anywhere from $1500-$3000 for these once or twice a year blow out parties.  That's a pretty big amount of money overall, and sitting right here I can tell you that if you look at it terms of just resident retention dollars, that's a lot of second hand movies for a dvd lending library, some really nice courtesy towels for the workout center, or a goodly amount of food based retention supplies from Costco.

Or, it's a pretty good budget for one year of monthly program throwing.

If we've invested so much money in our clubhouses, arming them with function spaces, kitchens, movie theaters, what are we doing only encouraging people to come once a year?    It seems like both a shame and a waste.  Sure, we tour them through the place when the move in, we tell them how they can rent the rooms or reserve them, but after that... it just kind of fades in with the pool and workout room, and we pretty much forget about it until we throw a party or it's their turn to host thanksgiving dinner for a family of 20 and they come down and frantically reserve it.

If we look at a simple budget of $3000 for the year and break it down to $200 per month for a resident gathering of some sort, that still leaves about $600 left over, which you can funnel to either your "Holiday Party" or your "Summer Party" giving you a budget of $800 for one of those in that given month. 

The functions are smaller, quicker to plan and execute, and if you start this program in January and build through to the next December, your attendance will grow, making your December party well worth the additional budget for it.  And the goal, an increase in retention rates, is more easily attained because the interconnectivity of community will start to kick in.  With higher retention, thus saving cost via marketing and turn expenses, you can up your budget to $250 a month for the events the following year with a $800 pad for the yearly party. It's like exercising and muscle memory.  The more you do it, the more toned those muscles are until they start functioning as a reflex.  I have a very good friend who is a rock climber, and he tells me that you have to do it once every two to three days or you lose your agility and skill level at it. 

Well, I'm sure that planning and executing a year of resident gatherings looks a lot like climbing a mountain to a lot of people in the industry, but with practice, it can become a skill, just like writing thank you notes for tours.  Dress it up however you'd like to.  Try making every other month an exploration in diversity with things like an Japanese Tea, an Indian Cooking Class, etc.  You can then supplement the main focus with crafting support like origami, or teaching how to make henna tattoos.    A lot of vendors or stores or restaurants will come in and do these demonstrations without any charge because they see the value in a captive audience and FREE MARKETING.

Or what about picking your January event (and I say that because January is the month without any sunshine out here in Seattle) to be something like holding a book swap, second hand book sale, (ancillary income, gotta love that!)  or the like.  You can, at the same time,  have someone to teach knitting or crocheting, and through the whole thing serve the soul warming Hot Cocoa and soft cookies that make any rainy day where you'd curl up with a good book better!  What works for your community?  If it's not books, then is it a rainy afternoon movie?  Bed sheet stretched screens with a projector flickering and the smell of popcorn isn't something I've seen many people walk away from.  Or maybe you run a property in a University District.  I bet you have some computer gamers or Xbox players.  Why not hold a LAN party or a Tournament of some sort?  You'll connect with a group of residents that you would never connect with at any other resident function, because in my experience, they don't go just for the punch in the bowl.

It's about thinking smarter on retention, not spending money.  It's not about a bigger party, a noisy affair that people can't help but notice.  Throwing money at a problem doesn't make it go away and it completely blows out our budget! 

It's about that connection.  Smaller, more personal, more individual... that's the key.

Please, just think about this for 5 minutes before you order that whole hog to go on the roasting spit out by the pool.  That's all I ask.

"Where do you find your people?!" and "Why didn't your guy go apply through the website?"

That Dirty, Naughty, Awful "C" Word