EPISODE 003: HEATHER SELF, NEW HOPE SENIOR LIVING
[00:00:00] Michael Mahoney: Hi, Heather, and welcome.
[00:00:04] Heather Self: Hello. Good to see you, Michael.
[00:00:07] Michael Mahoney: It’s good to see you. It’s not every day that I get to speak with an Amazon Books’ number one best-selling author.
[00:00:17] Heather Self: Yes, that was a fun project.
[00:00:18] Michael Mahoney: Yes. So, we’ll start off by letting everyone know that you are the author of a number one bestseller, “Don’t Quit: Stories of Persistence, Courage, and Faith.” Before we talk about senior housing, I’m curious about how the experience of writing that book and getting some recognition for it impacted you.
[00:00:48] Heather Self: Oh, it was such an amazing process to go through, because I thought initially that I’m at the age of my life now where I just want to be authentically me and I wanted to put my story out there in the hopes that it would impact even one person, and it would be worth it to me. But it was a very vulnerable thing to share with the world. I actually got an email yesterday from a lady in China who had read my story and said how powerful it was for her. You think, “Wow, there are people across the world reading my words.” I thought it would be such a small, insignificant project, and more healing for me. It turned into this big thing for people and it’s just been such an honor to be part of that book.
[00:01:40] Michael Mahoney: That’s amazing. Again, if anyone missed the title, it’s interesting, it’s “Don’t quit: Stories of Persistence, Courage, and Faith.” That’s available on Amazon and probably anywhere where books are sold. Heather let’s talk about New Hope Senior Living, which you co-founded in Hendersonville, Tennessee, along with your husband. A brand promise is the value or experience that companies, customers, residents, or even employees can expect to receive every time they interact with your company. What’s the brand promise of New Hope Senior Living?
[00:02:26] Heather Self: Yes, that’s such a simple thing. It’s excellent care, excellent communication, and excellent food. If you have all those three things combined, the families are at peace, the residents are well taken care of, and it just begins to flourish a community where friends become family, and that’s our whole point in doing this project.
[00:02:48] Michael Mahoney: Okay. That’s a message that’s front and center on your website where friends become family. It’s your tagline. It’s where friends become family.
[00:02:59] Heather Self: Michael, this is kind of interesting to interject here, but we transitioned into that model after we started building. During the pandemic, we witnessed so many people that were excluded from family that were in four walls. They were getting their meals delivered at their doorstep, outside of some big box facilities, and things like that. I just thought, “Oh my gosh.” We realize that isolation kills too. It wasn’t just the pandemic itself. I thought that, in the worst-case scenario, if regulations ramp up and everything else, we will always have the people in our home that become friends and family with each other. It’s become the culture of our business.
[00:03:51] Michael Mahoney: How do you, or how does New Hope Senior Living compete with these big box operations, or much larger operations, many of whom provide fantastic service? They do a great job, but you guys are in a very different space, and I could see some disadvantages to being smaller. It’s a single location. How do you guys compete? How do you position yourselves to compete with them?
[00:04:20] Heather Self: Here’s the thing. We offer value to them. We’ve come into the marketplace and said, “How can we be of service to you? What do you need from us?” In return, they’ve done the same things. We have amazing administrators at our local big box facilities. They can get families and they’ll go, “You know what? I think New Hope’s just a better fit.” We can do the same thing if we think that is. It’s not a direct competition because we offer a very different product. We offer a family atmosphere and a home in a single-family home that we took and rebuilt to accommodate to make it senior-friendly.
[00:05:01] Michael Mahoney: I like that. It’s the concept of the Blue Ocean strategy. You’re not competing in crowded waters. You’re finding or charting your own path into wide open ocean. You’re not competing with these folks who have a lot deeper pockets and more resources. You found your own unique niche, so people come in and they have a family atmosphere and it really is a single-family home that’s been converted into a really wonderful facility. What inspired you and your husband to undertake something so challenging as opening a senior care facility?
[00:05:46] Heather Self: Yes, it’s a long story, but our mom or my husband’s mom, my mother-in-law, Eileen, was in a big box facility after Greg’s dad passed in 2014. We realized that she needed a lot more care because they were caring for each other, which couples often do in their later years. When one transitions and passes on, then the inefficiencies start to show up. She needed extra care, so we got her into a great facility here in Hendersonville. We’re big advocates for them. They do really good work but over time, as entrepreneurs do, you walk into a space and you’re like, “Oh, how could I do this better? There’s so much staff and they’re all standing there instead of— You just realize that there’s people that everything they can do is get up and walk a football field to get from their room to the dining hall, and sometimes, if you do that three times a day and you’re 92 years old, that’s all you got. So just by shortening that length and going to a regular dining room in a house is so much different than walking that football field three times a day. It makes a huge difference and impact on their overall health, their energy, their longevity, and quite honestly, their spirits. But anyway, that’s what drove us into that.
[00:07:16] Michael Mahoney: So that’s what drove you into— Did you have prior experience with managing, or providing assisted living?
[00:07:26] Heather Self: Not assisted living. It was really interesting. We dove all in. We went through memory care certifications. We went through training. We worked with Teepa Snow on her pack methods. We just full-on reeducated, and whatever we didn’t know, we hired people that were experts in that field to fill in our lack of knowledge, while we became more knowledgeable. But it was a calling for us. I think we’ve seen some things and we’re mission-based people and I’ve always believed that if you weren’t able, you wouldn’t have the opportunity, and if you weren’t capable, you wouldn’t have the desire. So, once we got those things in line and that burning passion in your gut to say, “Wow, we’ve got to do this.” It was no looking back. We just went full-on in and we’ve created a beautiful business.
[00:08:26] Michael Mahoney: Well, apparently you have. You’ve won an award or your facility has won at least one award that I’m familiar with for top facility in your area, so you guys are getting attention. It seems like it’s well-deserved.
[00:08:46] Heather Self: Thank you. We appreciate that. There’s no better reward than from the community.
[00:08:52] Michael Mahoney: Can you talk about how you integrate your brand promise into your culture with your employees and your residents?
[00:09:03] Heather Self: Yes, I think the first step to that is you just show up and you do exactly what you say you’re going to do. We instill that in all of our staff, and all of our families that work with us. It’s just important. You show up. You do exactly what you say you’re going to do. People know what to expect, and it raises the bar. That’s really ultimately what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to define, number one, what it looks like to age in America. This is a bigger mission than our small home that we service our community with. It’s a much bigger mission than that. We’re trying to redefine what it looks like to age in America and the only way that we tell—
[00:09:47] Michael Mahoney: What do you mean by that? Redefine what it means to age in America. How is that changing?
[00:09:53] Heather Self: We’re working with a huge group of people. We’ve now been added to the residential assisted living support staff. We’re able to coach other students along with this that believe in the same mission that we do that sometimes boutique can be better for certain people. I’m not saying we’re better than the big boxes or anything, but there has to be a product for everybody. Not everybody likes Coke, some people like Pepsi. You know what I mean? There has to be options. That’s what people really need when they get to that point in aging, because they feel like they have none. A lot of their independence is taken away. Their dignity’s taken away. Everything they’ve worked for their entire life is now shifting, and we have to be able to help them shift in a way that’s healthy and a good fit for what they want out of the rest of their years.
[00:10:48] Michael Mahoney: That makes sense. Okay, I get it. I bet in Hendersonville, there’s still a few people that like RC Cola, don’t forget about them.
[00:10:56] Heather Self: Absolutely, as long as you have it with a moon pie.
[00:11:04] Michael Mahoney: Can you share with us a challenge that you faced in trying to integrate your brand into your operations and how you addressed that?
[00:11:18] Heather Self: Probably the biggest hurdle we’ve had to come over is if you start something and do it completely different than the way it’s ever been done, it’s difficult. You have to be able to communicate that not just to your community, but to your potential customers. You have to be able to tell your story and your online presence. You have to have all this branding and start to get recognition for that that people are like, “Oh, those are the people that do that.” When you do something differently, you really just have to continue to tell your story until people understand it.
[00:11:58] Michael Mahoney: Can you share a story about one of your residents or an employee and how your unique positioning as a boutique operator and a boutique facility impacted them in this positioning for yourself as a boutique operation that provides excellent care and service and friends become family?
[00:12:24] Heather Self: Yes, absolutely. The one that comes to mind— I have hundreds now. We’ve been open and operational for a year and it’s so cool to see the way that we can impact families on such a deep level. We had one resident in particular. They were in the hospital. She was diagnosed with stage four cancer. They knew it was the end. The family did, and it was back during the pandemic time, so they had very restrictive rules on who could be in the room with the resident. They would have to take shifts, and they couldn’t change that family member every 12 hours, so if she was passing, they wouldn’t all be able to come in the room with her and be with her on hospice. That’s the point of hospice, to recreate and transition the way that you want to with the most dignity for you. We changed our policy and we said, “Okay, we looked at the family’s needs. How can we solve this problem? I had two rooms available at the time, and I said, “Come into our home. This can be the residence room,” and I said, “I will give the family this other room.” The family essentially stayed there 24 hours for two months. We fed them. We brought them to the grocery store. We did whatever we needed to do to help that family and make their transition the best that it could be, and let me tell you, from then, they have been our biggest advocates. They’re all over social media. They’re all over telling everybody about how amazing it is, and they’ve sent us three residents since then. If you just approach it like how can I solve this problem for these people, how can I be of value? Big things are going to come and it always pays off.
[00:14:21] Michael Mahoney: Yes, that is an extraordinary story. Thanks for sharing. That’s something that you can’t really do things at scale easily. What you just described is something that really is unique to a smaller boutique operator such as yourself. Wow. What’s your vision for the future for New Hope Senior Living. You’ve only been at this for a year. You guys are just getting started. Where are you looking to take this in the future?
[00:14:58] Heather Self: Two years into totality, but up and running for a year. That’s a great question. It’s ever changing because as we’re in the trenches, every single day, we’re identifying more problems. Our biggest thing is the best way to add value to the community and to humanity is to be able to solve problems, so we’re always looking at what those are and trying to identify that. It’s constantly switching. When we find a new problem, we’re like, “Oh, we’re going to add this. We’re going to subtract that.” We’re revamping constantly, but we’re definitely looking at growth. Right now, I’m working on architecture plans for a specific memory care home that we can do. It’s just growth and education. We’re trying to enlighten as many people as possible about it, because even it’s always been done a certain way, doesn’t mean that’s the way that it has to continue to be done. I think that’s the beauty of an entrepreneur.
[00:15:59] Michael Mahoney: How do you spread the word within your community in Hendersonville? How do you get the message out about what you are doing?
[00:16:08] Heather Self: Every way possible. That’s the thing when you’re doing it so differently, you have to take every single avenue. You have to brand everything. We give gift bags after tours that have branded coffee mugs. We give away a copy of my book. We give away marketing materials or collateral, everything like that, and also resources that they can use in the community, whether it’s veteran’s benefits or a hospice nurse specifically that we think would be a good fit for them or whatever that might be. We’re just constantly giving. Another thing that I do that I think your viewers will be really interested in is the little thing that I call marketing without advertising. What I do is I go to our hip community pages on Facebook. Just about every town has one or ten. It’s pretty popular. We go on there and what I do is I’ll ask for things like recommendations, because we do a farm-to-table model at our assisted living too, which of course you could not do in a big box, but in a boutique experience, you can. We grow a lot of our own vegetables. Our residents participate. We have indoor tower gardens where they pick their own herbs from. They cook with the chef. They’re very interactive in their own life, which is what gives dignity, so that’s very cool. That’s one thing I do. I ask for organic farmers.
[00:17:44] Heather Self: I get to figure out who are my beekeepers, who are my growers, all of these things, my farmers. I compile my list that way. They’re adding value to me, but they’re also learning about what I do. But I didn’t have to put in my number, my email address, my website, anything, and they start to get the message. Another really effective means was we do a taste of Hendersonville, which we get everybody on our bus on Thursday, and we take them out to a local, usually non-chain restaurant, and we take them all out to lunch. They’re out in the community. I post on those pages for recommendations of local businesses that we can visit while we’re out. Then I invite people. “Hey, if you see us out and about, pull up a chair, come have a conversation, let’s take picture.” Now we have a list of fifty-some people, which is growing every day. “Hey, where are you going to be this week? I want to come see you guys.” We have people come out and buy our residents lunch. They want to take selfies with them, so they’re all promoting on Facebook too. It’s just been a really good way to grow our mission.
[00:19:07] Michael Mahoney: You really take this to heart. The “where friends become family” that you are describing as you started to pull back the layers here and share, that’s really remarkable. The gardens and working with the chefs, just the way you really light up when you talk about going out and people around the town seeing you and spending time with your residents. That’s amazing. Wow.
[00:19:38] Heather Self: Thank you. It’s an honor.
[00:19:42] Michael Mahoney: It’s a great mission. It’s a beautiful mission. I can tell that you are making an impact on your community. It’s wonderful and they’re very fortunate and blessed to have you, your husband, and the whole team. How can listeners find you online or find New Hope Senior Living?
[00:20:06] Heather Self: Okay, our website is newhopeseniorliving.com. Also, follow us on Facebook, New Hope Senior Living. We’re pretty easy to find with a quick Google. If any of your listers would like a free copy of my book, “Don’t Quit: Stories of Persistence, Courage, and Faith,” they can go to heatherself.com, put in their email address, and it’ll be emailed to them. I also have a list of 20 lessons I learned from tragedy. It’s an entrepreneur’s guide to success and significance, and they will just get one small little tidbit of a thought process I went through, a lesson I learned, once a week in their email box, like a two-minute read at most.
[00:20:49] Michael Mahoney: How does somebody reach out to ask you for that if they’d like to receive a copy?
[00:20:55] Heather Self: They can just go to heatherself.com. It’s right there on the homepage. They can put in their email address and it’ll auto-send.
[00:21:02] Michael Mahoney: Okay, fantastic. I’m going to get my copy. I look forward to reading it. Heather, thanks for joining us today and for sharing your story and the story at New Hope Senior Living. Really enjoyed it.
[00:21:18] Heather Self: Thank you. It was an honor. Thank you so much, Michael.
[00:21:20] Michael Mahoney: Thanks, Heather. Bye-Bye everybody.