A few years ago at one of the  Brainstorming Educational Sessions  “Practical Leasing Strategies, Creative Marketing Ideas and Proven Management Techniques from Across the USA.”  was presented by Donna Olson of Olson Training, Kara Rice of Gracehill, and Rebecca Rosario of Full House Marketing, this sessions was both entertaining and idea-packed as it took attendees on a quick “flight” across the United States—complete with blue-suited flight attendants who handed out snacks and drinks. As we traveled (completely free of turbulence!), we learned what our colleagues in the various parts of the country are doing to keep their properties full and profitable. The ideas maybe several years old but they are still viable.

From the Northwest…
The first zone we covered was the Northwest, where we heard about an innovative way to use guest cards. ConAm Management has converted its guest card into a guest proposal; after the card is filled out, one copy stays with the leasing consultant, and the other goes home with the future resident. The future resident’s copy contains the property’s rates, location, contact information, and so forth!

Another great idea from the Northwest region came from Weidner Investment. Weidner is expanding its training expertise by sending a team to the national American Society for Training and Development conference. Those attending the conference will learn from training experts outside the multifamily industry—a key way to import fresh ideas and ensure that they are using the most effective methods available.

Two other fun tips we collected in this region included:

Setting up an inflatable moonwalk (those big bouncy things that kids love) outside your property on a Saturday afternoon to lure in drive-by traffic; and
Setting up a “cruise photo” spot in your office or clubhouse and having future residents pose for a picture when they visit—then using the photos as email follow-ups.

From the Southwest…
In our trip through the Southwest, we discovered some great ways to keep the bottom line healthy. We started with two tips designed to keep those rental payments and deposits coming in—even in the toughest markets.

As we all know, the soft economy has taken its toll on our residents. More and more often we are faced with individuals who simply can’t come up with the money they need, either for a deposit or a rental payment. In the wake of the September 11 disasters, the Las Vegas market was especially hard hit, with many in the tourist industry losing their jobs. Apartment residents, unable to pay the bills, were skipping like crazy, and ConAm Management knew it had to do something—quick—to prevent its Vegas properties from emptying. The solution it decided upon was to allow residents to pay their monthly rent in two installments rather then one big payment. By implementing this short-term, emergency option, ConAm weathered the worst of the storm—and went back to its standard collection procedures once things become more stable. Another management company is experimenting with a similar approach to its pet deposits, but with an income-boosting twist. It allows residents to pay their pet deposits in installments—but it charges a $50 “finance fee” for doing so.

Another “bottom line” strategy came from an Austin, Texas property that has replaced by its first-level flooring with concrete by some good people at foundation repair houston. Now, before you start envisioning the ugly, gray stuff you see in unfinished basements, you should know that concrete flooring has come a long way! Scored, stained, and patterned, it is an attractive and even elegant decorating choice. If you don’t believe that, here’s your proof: The Austin property was charging—and getting—$75 extra on a one-bedroom unit with the concrete flooring. And just think of the money it will save on replacement costs!

From the Midwest…

Our Midwestern portion of the session focused mainly on quick, clever marketing and leasing ideas, like the following:

Put a fishbowls or tanks, complete with live fish, in vacant apartments, and attach a tag that says, “We’ll keep him alive until you arrive.”
Put out bowls of Reisen candies in the leasing area, with a card that says, “Need a Reisen to live here?” Print up strips of paper with various reasons to live at your property, and attach one to each piece of candy.
For senior communities, have staff nametags printed in extra-large, easy-to-read letters.
Work with local tourism departments and companies to buy discounted admissions to area attractions (theme parks, museums, wineries, etc.), and offer these as leasing or renewal incentives.
Look into the price of a kiosk in your local mall—you may be surprised at how affordable it is. Steve Matre, who contributed this idea, has found that the cost per lease is typically $100 or less.
If you have properties that cater to college students, consider hosting a free seminar for those eligible to live off campus. Invite parents as well, and explain how the lease works, what it takes to live in an apartment, etc. The two best times of the year to do this are in January and August—and you might even consider coordinating with the university’s housing administrator so that your sessions coincide with orientation activities.You can get a dreamhost promo for registration.

From the Northeast…
The presenters had collected a hodgepodge of useful, easy-to-implement ideas from their contacts in the northeastern states. First up, from Princeton Properties, came the idea of a quarterly bonus program designed to reward the maintenance staff. Each quarter, the “pot” starts at $100 per maintenance staff member, and money can be both added and taken away for good and bad behaviors. At the end of the quarter, whatever is in the pot is divided among the maintenance team.

The next northeastern tip was to develop a “hospitality mentality.” One property that decided to adopt this approach offers a breakfast-on-the-go in its clubhouse from 7:00 to 8:30 each weekday morning. The property started offering these mini-breakfasts (coffee and muffins) to guests in its corporate apartments, but soon found that it was a great retention tool for all the residents. The managers also found that these breakfasts are great times to schedule renewal meetings!

Our presenters also reminded us of a couple of tried-and-true marketing techniques that we don’t always use as often as we should: sending out press releases and welcoming new businesses into our area with personal visits.

From the Southeast…

For the last leg of our journey, we learned about some ways to motivate our staffs. In a challenge especially appropriate for the southeast, one property management executive agreed to dress up as Elvis and spend the day as a human directional if a community could meet its leasing goal. They did—and he did. We saw pictures to prove it! Other companies in the region motivated and retained their staff by sending them on an annual ski trip and by providing a mandatory 6-week paid leave for those who had been employed for 10 years.

We also discovered some ways to capture our future residents’ attention…like with a musical follow-up! One company created a CD of songs and hired a professional DJ to announce and “frame” each song so that it pertained to the community. The CDs—costing around $1.75 each, plus the cost of setup—were sent or given to prospects who had visited the property. They proved so popular that the company ended up creating a Christmas CD as well!

Another tip focused on a different kind of communication: communication between staff and residents who speak different languages. To overcome the communication barrier that can be a problem in heavily bicultural areas, one southeastern property hired instructors from a local community college to teach its employees Spanish. The instructors focused on teaching “apartment talk,” the kinds of phrases the staff members would be most likely to use. Some of the attendees pointed out that you could expand this idea, and offer classes in English as a second language as a value-added resident service!