It’s 4 am in the morning and the “curse” that has bothered me most of adult life woke me with a nagging sense of urgency. Falling back to sleep wasn’t an option, the computer was my only source for relief. I needed to find the keyboard and vent a bit. Seems i’ve always found people getting screwed to be a bit of a problem.
You read in my last blog about John Meeker’s involvement with Sun City via his oral history. In my opinion, once the concept was started, his actions in leading DEVCO to a whole better place resulted in Sun Cities unequaled success. As is said in my last post, there is no better chronicle of how it evolved than his journal summary in A Look Back.
I’ve posted this document before and i know some of you have read it. Frankly, if i could, i would make it mandatory reading for every board member and staffer in Sun City. I would bind it and give a copy to every Sun City resident wanting one so they could see up close and personal how and why Sun City came together as well as it did. It wasn’t an accident, Meeker and the people working for DEVCO and especially for him, did the right things.
They forgot about the corporation and focused on the people. Imagine in that in today’s society and in the modern spectrum of business practices we see from corporations where the almighty dollar is all that matters. In 1965 Meeker walked into a community where the divisive actions by the community leaders had fractured relations and left residents fighting with each other. It was a recipe for failure.
If you recall, there were two rec centers by years end 1964; the older Community Center (now Oakmont) and the newer, nicer Town Hall (the old Fairway). One paid a mandatory yearly fee, the other a voluntary. It resulted in one of the facilities open to all and the other used only by a portion of the community (unless Community Center was closed for repairs). Meeker called it the mini-Berlin Wall. It divided the community that bad. Within two years and behind the hard-working Owen Childress, they found a solution (and one to this day that has served the community well).
DEVCO had a policy of non-involvement (so much so that it was one of the three founding tenets from 1960 to 1965). It was standard practice for a builder to turn the keys over to the new buyer and then forget them. Meeker instituted a 60 day home warranty program that people loved. It built brand loyalty. Residents in those early years still talk about Del Webb as if he personally handed them the keys to their house.
John started giving great prizes away a club meetings (and according to his journal, most of those clubs were all but dead from lack of interest). Once he did that people turned out in droves and in his words: “When the first television set was given away to one of the ten or so people attending a club function, the next month’s meeting drew a very large crowd looking for that big prize, but instead found friendship and companionship. Of course other expensive prizes were given away, but this certainly indicated a need for DEVCO’s participation and direction to promote interaction between residents. Promotion of companionship, a most important human need, became a valuable sales tool for DEVCO.”
This concept of residents becoming a “sales tool” was the boiler plate behind Sun City’s growth. Home sales from 1968 though build out in 1978 were phenomenal; averaging nearly 2000 homes per year. In fact he described how it worked in this paragraph: “The only contact the salesmen were allowed was to give the vacationers a slide presentation , their free golf passes and a box of cactus jellies. No high pressure salesmanship was allowed.”
Picture that in your mind when you get the offer for the free gas, grill or whatever the gimmick is to get you to attend a seminar in buying into a “vacation condo special.” All you have to do is be pounded on by sales people trying sell you that time share for few hours or days. Meeker did it by letting potential buyers interact with those living here. It worked like a charm because people loved the community, loved the company and wanted it to succeed.
Page 19 has a section on Community Relations. It’s long and i won’t reprint it other than this portion of the opening paragraph:”DEVCO made it’s commitment to become more involved with residents for one very simple reason; to sell more homes. With prospects making several visits before buying and resident contact inevitable, it was imperative to make present residents enthusiastic spokespersons for the Sun City way of life. This naturally meant spending money on a variety of activities to promote companionship , happiness and security beyond expenditures for those physical facilities already provided by the recreation centers, golf courses and shopping centers.”
Let’s read that last sentence again: “This naturally meant spending money on a variety of activities to promote companionship, happiness and security beyond expenditures for those physical facilities already provided by the recreation centers, golf courses and shopping centers.” Damn, spot on, the community was more than just buildings and golf courses. Sure he’s blunt they did it to sell more homes, but the fact is, it worked on every level…nothing but win/win.
I could go on for hours but i know the more i write, the more i lose people. The point here is we have seen just the opposite tack of late. The corporation is making decisions with their eye more on the money than on the people. In an email i received last night i was questioned how a dead man’s estate was back billed for a trust transfer made back in 2003 and now when the home just sold somehow the RCSC was paid two PIF and transfer fees.
There are two things we know: First, we know Meeker’s plan worked. The other thing we know is the more divisive issues we put on or in front of residents, the more they dislike the things the RCSC is doing. You can’t build a stronger sense of community by driving wedge issues between the residents. The reason i can’t sleep at night is we are on track to keep trudging along the same failed paths we started going down in 2008, but more on that in the next week.