View to the Future
Panoramic Reeds Landing Is Making a New Name for ItselfDave Scruggs says that, since Loomis Communities acquired Reeds Landing after the life-care retirement community filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2009, a number of changes and improvements have taken place.
For starters, the units are now more affordable, said Scruggs, who became CEO of Loomis Communities early this year. Also, there have been extensive renovations and catch-up on a large amount of deferred maintenance, he said, noting that more than $3.3 million has been spent to “bring the property up to Loomis community standards.”
And then, there’s Lake Massasoit, just a few yards from the property. It’s now much more visible — and accessible — thanks to some extensive tree and brush clearing and the creation of a few walking trails.
“It’s a much different facility than it was years ago,” said Scruggs, adding that one of his primary goals since arriving has been making sure that area senior citizens and their families are aware of all this.
He calls it a “reintroduction” process, and early on, administrators and board members at Loomis Communities thought a name change should probably be part of the equation.
That’s because many were still associating ‘Reeds Landing’ with the bankruptcy, high-priced units, or both, said Scruggs, who noted that coming up with a new name was an intriguing exercise that involved a number of constituencies, including residents, many of whom wanted to somehow keep ‘Reed’ — as in Rev. David Allen Reed, the founder and first president of nearby Springfield College — in the mix.
“Our original thought was just to name it Loomis Lakeside,” he recalled. “But after talking with the residents, we learned that there’s a lot of memories for people who live here — spouses who have died here, for example — and there’s a connection to Springfield College. There was very strong sentiment that we keep Reeds Landing in the name.”
Eventually, those tasked with this assignment arrived at Loomis Lakeside at Reeds Landing, a name that accomplishes many things, said Scruggs. It references the lake, a feature that he believes truly sets this facility apart from other senior-living facilities in the region. It also respects the history of the site by keeping Reed’s name, he said, and it brings the Loomis brand front and center, which is perhaps the most important consideration.
“In addition to changes in the pricing and the contract, we’ve bought what I’ll call the ‘Loomis Communities way’ here,” he explained, referencing the operating philosophy that prevails at the company’s other properties — Loomis Village in South Hadley, Loomis House in Holyoke, and Applewood in Amherst. “We have more than 100 years of experience in operating retirement communities, and our predecessors didn’t have that breadth of knowledge.
“We changed a lot of policies and procedures,” he went on. “And we retrained the staff to do things the way we wanted them to be done or thought they should be done.”
The new name — not to mention the host of improvements — was rolled out at a lunch and open house on Sept. 15. That event was just one component of a broad effort to reintroduce the facility to the region, said Scruggs, who said this property has always enjoyed a high success rate when it came to converting visits into sales. The goal moving forward is simply to generate more visits and let the facility and its community do the rest.
“The percentage of people who come, look, and buy here is much higher than the norm for the industry,” he explained. “And this was just further confirmation that there was an image problem out there had to be addressed.”
For this issue, BusinessWest talked at length with Scruggs about how he believes Loomis Communities is making that image problem a thing of the past, while also setting some very ambitious goals for the future.
A Shore Thing
Soon after prevailing in a nation-wide search for a successor to long-time Loomis Communities CEO Carol Katz, Scruggs started looking for a home in Greater Springfield.
He eventually settled on a new subdivision taking shape in South Hadley, but the home would not be ready for a few months after he started, so he commenced a search for temporary quarters.
He found them at Cottage 1022 at Reeds Landing, a unit chosen because of the size of his dog, Magnolia, an Australian shepherd mix, more than anything else.
“I spent a lot of time here talking with the residents; the conversations over the dinner were great, and the life stories that people at Reeds Landing have to tell are incredible,” said Scruggs, adding that he learned a good deal during his time at Reeds Landing about the “rhythm of the place.”
“I learned about the things that were important to residents; these were things I knew intellectually, but living it with them made a big difference to me,” he went on, adding that he also gained some additional perspective on the facility’s history and the challenges ahead for it. “The board wanted me to be here and really know the life of the place.”
Recapping the past several years, Scruggs said a number of factors came together to precipitate the facility’s decline into bankruptcy.
The onset of the Great Recession and its immediate impact on the local housing market certainly played a role, he said, noting that many potential tenants could not sell their homes, something most needed to do to pay the entrance fee at the facility. And as the occupancy rate soared, the facility fell further into debt, which exceeded $28 million at one point.
“Sales went downhill quickly, and the organization wasn’t able to keep up with the basic costs of running the facility,” he said, adding that Loomis, unburdened by the enormous debt carried by the previous owners, has been able to substantially reduce prices, from around $500,000, on average, years ago to the $200,000-$250,000 range.
But perception has also been a problem for Reeds Landing, said Scruggs, adding that, for some time, there was what he called a “hangover effect” from the bankruptcy, or the perception that the property was still in fiscal disarray. And while entrance fees are now much lower and contracts more favorable to tenants, many people continue to believe the facility is beyond their reach.
An old marketing campaign, one that featured television spots showing tenants and prospective tenants driving around in a vintage Cadillac, fueled the perception that Reeds was a very high-end facility, said Scruggs.
Also, the property was suffering from that aforementioned deferred maintenance and general neglect.
“It wasn’t falling down, by any stretch of the imagination, but there was a lot of catch-up work to do,” he explained. “We’ve spent the past three years bringing the property up to the standards that we would expect for a Loomis community.”
The company invested heavily in infrastructure, such as roofing and other areas that are not visible, he went on, and this year took on more cosmetic items, including everything from new carpeting and wallpaper to landscaping and those aforementioned walking trails. There were also extensive renovations to the 44-bed nursing home.
With these improvements and a targeted marketing campaign, Scruggs believes he and his staff can raise the current occupancy rate of roughly 75% closer to the industry average of 85% and then to the ultimate goal of 95%.
“Occupancy today is about what it was a year ago, but interestingly, we’ve doubled sales since last year,” he explained. “One of the vagaries of this business is that, if you have a lot of people move to healthcare or pass away in a given year, it doesn’t matter what your sales are; you’re going to have a decline. If we’d had a normal transition rate, we’d be at about 80% now.”
Moving forward, Loomis and a marketing firm specializing in this industry, Retirement Dynamics, will work to use the facility’s strongest assets — the location and the Loomis brand — to drive sales.
“Retirement Dynamics brought to us a cohesive marketing plan for the organization,” Scruggs explained. “Rather than looking at each of the four retirement communities as its own island to sell to a particular group of people within five or 10 miles around it, they helped us recognize the value of the Loomis brand.
“When they started selling here [Reeds Landing], they realized that, when someone came across the threshold to talk with a salesperson, the two things that sold this place were the Loomis experience and this location,” he continued. “Within that brand, we looked at what was unique about each of the four communities, and what clearly was unique about this property is that you’re sitting in an oasis; the lake gives it a very different feel.”
With the renovation work and efforts to create stunning vistas of the lake now finished, the primary task at hand for this property is simply getting the message out, said Scruggs, adding that he believes it will certainly resonate.
“The brand is Loomis, the property is stunning and gorgeous, and it’s a beautiful place to be within the city of Springfield — that’s the message,” he told BusinessWest.
And if it can be effectively conveyed, the property formerly known simply as Reeds Landing can make a new name for itself — in more ways than one.
George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]