Sun Cities Today Blog

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Archive for the month “April, 2012”

Learning at the knee of the masters…

Little bit of redundancy here, but i tend to do that. Writing for me is a bit like thinking out loud; it helps me percolate up what i know and how it works. If i’ve learned anything in life, it is virtually everything has been done before. Simply by taking the time to look i’ve almost always been able to avoid pitfalls and find road maps that spared me blunders.

Learning from those who been there, done that is just common sense. Rather than belabor this, let me put it into perspective that is both current and relevent to now. We (the RCSC) are in th the midst of creating a marketing program; something they have never done.

The last time that happened was under DEVCO, and once they were built out in 1978, the “selling” of Sun City ceased. Contained in those first 18 years is the perfect blueprint of how it worked. It is a fascinating study in quality and quantity compared to a simple, clean concept that for most would have appeared to be understated.

Quick recap: First 5 years (1960-1965), massive national campaign with ads that would have the cast of Mad Men drooling. Seriously, they were that damn good. The problem was, there was nowhere’s near enough return on investment. The 50 person advertising company working for DEVCO, as good as they were, it didn’t get the job done.

Meeker comes to Sun City, mid 1965 and one of his first actions was to let them all go. He replaces it with a 3 person team and they focus on a Play and Stay program and building a true sense of community. I won’t belabor it, he was brilliant and by turning the community loose as a sales force, he explodes the myth that Sun City was a place old people went to die. By the way, did i mention he sold 2000 homes a year from 1968 to 1978?

Here’s the real kicker; in those years there was virtually no competition. Today, there’s near on 400 age restricted communities and the builders selling homes in them have massive marketing budgets. Sun City can never compete in the “traditional” types of marketing; nor should they ever try.

Let’s be blunt, the value in us driving sales in Sun City is about two things: The more homes that sell, the more money we collect in the Preservation and Improvement Fee (PIF). Of more importance to those living here, we enhance the value of their property and make Sun City less desirable to those looking at Sun City as just a “cheap place to live” or invest.

Bringing this full circle, let me spell out it from my perspective. Our marketing program should be almost totally internal. By focusing on building a stronger sense of community, we go to the heart of what sells Sun City…those of us living here. No one loves it like we do and by arming residents with the tools to promote the community we follow in Meeker’s footsteps.

I see that being done in a number of different ways: More effective communications, better branding of the community, targeted marketing and events with a purpose and great promotion. I know it sounds like a lot, but we do some of those things already, we just need to do them better. Ouch; sounds trite, but by setting goals and reaching them we move that much closer to preserving both the value and values that were built into Sun City.

Awesome!

Yesterday in Sun City…

A glimpse of things to come: A great time was had by all as we gathered to listen to Judith Ann Trolander. The Del Webb Sun Cities Museum hosted the special presentation by the author of From Sun City to the Villages. This well done text-book is a must read for those who are interested in the growth and development of age restricted communities.

Professor Trolander, from the University of Duluth, took us on a journey of the senior’s migration from the rocking chair to the age of active retirement. It was enlightening and the one thing most clear was that Del Webb and his people were the innovators. The fact is, Sun City residents live in the place it all began. Other communities followed, but were all inspired by the original Sun City.

The question and answer session was great. We had several couples in the audience and after the event got a chance to talk to several of them. Perhaps the best commentary was from the most recent buyers who have found their place in the sun. They loved the community and like all of us, wonder why more “boomer’s” aren’t looking at Sun City.

Simple IMHO (in my humble opinion); if they know about Sun City, people still think it’s a place where old people go to die. Nothing new there, that’s been the case from the day they began selling homes in the valley of the sun. The perception has always been strangled by those blindly believing what their mind see’s rather than what the reality is.

Meeker understood this and combatted it by an aggressive program of bringing people to the community and letting nature take its course. Love affairs were instantaneous and home purchases followed time after time. The Play and Stay was his brain child. Odd, because today nothing has changed, people visit, buy and love their new home.

Last night we left the walls and went to Phoenix to the MIM (Musical Instrument Museum). First time there and quite an experience. The place is huge and we’ll have to back to see the bulk of it. Friends invited us to go see a show that was passing through and it was a real treat. The unusual group was both fun and frivolous. The Caravan of Thieves were unlike anything we typically find in Sun City but it was definitely an enjoyably night out.

All of this is just the lead up to what hopefully becomes a more interesting perspective of what Sun City is and where we hope to take it. The internet has so much potential to show and tell those looking for a retirement destination and that Sun City should be worthy a look. Within months the RCSC’s new marketing site will be live and looking for ways to showcase all Sun City has to offer. One of the feature’s i would love to see is a “yesterday in Sun City” complete with picture and blurbs about what made the day so special. We’ll see.

For now, we’re busy enjoying both the ride and the destination. Nice!

Quiet!

Let’s start with a very simple but cold premise: Sun City is not for everyone! For real; from the day the community first opened in 1960, the company behind the project (DEVCO) understood the vast majority of the population would have no interest in a community where everyone was a senior citizen. 50 and better when it first began and over the years it changed to 55.

Early projections by those trying to convince Del Webb to invest in the project told him flat-out the market of potential buyers who would be interested would be well below 10% of the senior population.. That’s a frightening number when you are creating something as expensive and unique as Sun City was. Building the amenities before a house was sold was bad enough, but then factoring in a small target niche market had to be terrifying.

Undaunted, they plowed ahead and the rest has become history (which you will see more of in the coming months). Carbon copies have sprung up around the United States over the years and the Pulte Corporation purchased the Webb company primarily because they wanted to use the name synonymous with age restricted developments. “Del Webb Sun City” is recognized as the name with the most skin in the game, as well it should be.

How things have changed in those past years. Today, senior developments are smaller and have less amenities. Builders don’t want to sit on them for 15 to 20 years. They will not dedicate valuable land to an infrastructure of churches, shopping centers and an abundance of golf courses and recreation centers they ultimately hand over to the community when built out. It just isn’t practical.

Consequently we see smaller lots, less need for organizations structured to be a part of the community and volunteerism plays a lessor role. It is a dynamic that usually is most noticeable once folks actually taste the lifestyle built into the way of life. Essentially you have to try it, experience the differences to understand why one is radically different from the other.

My point is this: There are those who have no interest in giving back to their community (at least in the way we need give back in Sun City) by donating 10 to 40 hours per month. More of the services in the newer settings are bought and paid for as part of the expense of living in them. They come wrapped in HOA or Rec fees. Nothing wrong with that, just different.

Here’s the bigger kicker for Sun City: We are quieter, cleaner and less expensive than almost anywhere else. That’s huge. Visitor’s often are stunned at first glimpse. All of the volunteer organizations tend to lend into the equation in ways that are nearly invisible. I say almost because unless you see the PRIDE out picking up the streets, you miss knowing why it’s so darn clean-looking. Our winter residents enjoy the POSSE checking their properties daily, and unless you are here in the dead heat of the summer, you would never see it. Awesome.

As good as all of that is, we are  quiet. I know for some that’s a drawback. They need the hustle and bustle of downtown New York. They want the glitz and glamour of Los Angeles. There are virtually no “pickup” bars, the closest is a pizza/Italian eatery that has a small bar with an occasional performer; hardly where a heavy hitter would hang out.

The DEVCO folks had it spot on; Sun City isn’t for everyone. It wasn’t opening day and it still isn’t yet today. Between you and me, that’s just fine. I like clean; i like quiet and i love being able to give back to the community i have chosen to make my home. It’s a simple way to live, but then, i’m a simple kind of guy. Seems like the perfect fit eh?

Communication

Suffice to say, my first three months on the Rec Centers of Sun City (RCSC) board have been interesting. The challenges of working within a structure built over near on 50 years often are daunting. Time tends to solidify the process and because the day-to-day demands are so high on the paid staff, the organization moves slowly (that’s not a bad thing).

The important aspect of this is they do move. Glacially may be a bit slower than i’d like to see, but doing anything well is almost always better than just doing something differently. Perhaps the best part of this is i have found the board members have come to the table with an open mind and an eye to the future.

The biggest struggle for all of us are the time lines; a three-year term give us really a short period to make any kind of meaningful changes. Setting direction is the first step and working with committees to help determine where we are going is an important part in the process. Imagine how the staff feels with a constant revolving door as new board members bring new ideas.

For purposes of this discourse, i want to hone in on the committee i chair; member communications. I asked to be assigned to it; i see it as one of the areas we can address and have some of the quickest results. At our March meeting the committee identified a dozen areas we feel we have purview over (though we missed a couple). Now we will begin looking at each of them in-depth.

In preparation for this Tuesday’s (4-10-12) meeting at 1 pm in the board room at Lakeview i began an internet search. Google is fabulous and after typing in “effective communication” and hitting search, i quickly got back an amazing 102,000,000 results. Nope, didn’t read them all (he said with a smile), but i did begin reading through some of the more interesting ones.

The oddity is there often is a wide difference of opinion between what we see as effectively communicating versus a lot of communications. I think much of what has happened over the years at the RCSC is that communications become simply what we need to do on a month to month basis. Rather than taking on a life of its own, it simply exists out of sheer need.

I’m excited by the prospect of addressing these kinds of issues with the communications committee. Much of my life has been built around achieving outcomes; basing direction on how well we are doing on any given task. I found when things weren’t working as well as they could or should have, it was time for an honest evaluation, assessment and redirection.

I would invite any Sun City resident interested to sit in on this Tuesday’s meeting as a guest. We are on the cusp of formatting a new direction in a number of areas on how we communicate with members of the RCSC and if you want to be part of it, stop on by and join us. It will be an eye-opening experience for all of us.

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