Direct to consumer brands (think Harry’s, Warby Parker, and Casper) have stolen market share from the incumbents. Their success isn’t because they have a slightly better product, it’s because they are obsessed with connecting with the customer.

Real estate owners/operators can learn a lot from the success of digitally native DTC brands. In the apartment industry, there is little brand awareness and almost no brand loyalty, so residents are up for grabs. Owners who resonate with prospects, offer a great value, and cater to their lifestyle will ultimately win.

I spend a disproportionate amount of my time at properties, talking with our residents. While it’s cumbersome, I genuinely care about what they have to say and ultimately believe our focus on our residents will enable us to develop deeper insights, provide a better experience, and outperform the competition over the long run.   

We’re at the tail-end of completing a significant renovation and repositioning of a 481-unit value-add property in Downtown St. Petersburg. We compete with new construction deals built by some of the top developers such as Related and Bainbridge as well as Class A deals operated by REITs like Camden. While we’re positioned in the market as the value-option, we can’t rely solely on price as our differentiator. Our ability to curate the resident experience, recognize trends and capture the essence of the submarket are our true competitive advantages.

Here are a few of the things we’ve done or are exploring that have come as a result of resident feedback and time spent in the market.

Created an Owner’s Pantry: The average unit size at the Property is under 500 SF so residents have minimal space for large appliances and tools that are seldom used. We have a fully equipped pantry where residents can reserve a vacuum, mop, ladder, power drill, tools, jumper cables, large pots and pans etc. and other limited-use items.

Launched Mobile Doorman: Residents proactively set up a private Facebook group to organize events, share information, and swap goods. Rather than have disparate forms of communication we launched Mobile Doorman so residents can more seamlessly communicate internally and with the staff. Mobile Doorman offers an online bulletin board, marketplace, and events calendar as well as other features such as the ability to reserve amenities, sign in guests, and get notified of package delivery.

Unique Resident Events: We’re extremely event-focused doing at least 3-4 events each week.  Rather than doing the same tired events over and over (Taco Tuesday, Wine Down Wednesday etc.) we look for guidance from the residents. We happen to have a lot of freelancers and entrepreneurs who work from home, so we’re in the process of planning a small business networking event.  

Resident Conveniences: We strive to create a convenient lifestyle-driven community. We currently offer (or are in the process of launching) 24/7 concierge, dry cleaning pick-up and drop-off, Fetch package concierge, and the Wayland Bodega offering basics, snacks, and locally made goods. We strive to make our resident’s lives as easy as possible.   

Classes: Residents value experiences over spaces. We offer fitness classes in the gym, yoga in the courtyard, dog training in the dog park, and sushi-making classes in the demonstration kitchen. We invest heavily in the resident.

Guest Suite and Hoteling Units: Residents have limited space for guests so we created a fully furnished guest suite they can reserve at a reduced rate for family members and friends. We’re also looking into the viability of offering residents the opportunity to hotel their unit while they’re on the road.

Many of these programs and services were implemented as a result of observations and feedback. We don’t do this just to generate positive reviews or ensure a high retention rate. We do this because this is what our residents want and this is the only way we can out-compete our deep-pocketed competitors who have experts in every position.  

I came across this tweet today and couldn’t agree more.

My competitive advantage is the willingness and desire to be in the weeds and listen to residents while maintaining a wide view of how people want to live.  What’s yours?