Transcript – Kara Marinko, VP of Marketing and Development, Phoenix Senior Living
[00:00:03] Michael Mahoney: Hi, Kara.
[00:00:04] Kara Marinko: Hi.
[00:00:06] Michael Mahoney: You are on the road again, I understand.
[00:00:09] Kara Marinko: Yes, again.
[00:00:10] Michael Mahoney: Right. Heading out to?
[00:00:12] Kara Marinko: Lovely Virginia.
[00:00:14] Michael Mahoney: All right. Heading out to one of your communities.
[00:00:16] Kara Marinko: Yes.
[00:00:17] Michael Mahoney: Good for you, and when you get to that community, I know that you’ll see something that’s unique in all of your communities for Phoenix Senior Living. there’s a hand-carved canoe hanging in the lobby.
[00:00:32] Kara Marinko: There is.
[00:00:34] Michael Mahoney: What is the story? Tell us why. That is something that is definitely unique to Phoenix Senior Living. No other organization has that, but that’s your symbol. What’s the story?
[00:00:49] Kara Marinko: Well, when the canoes came to life many years ago, they were really an unintentional idea. My brother, who is the CEO and founder of Phoenix, his father-in-law lost his wife to cancer and he was lost and didn’t really know how to stay busy and needed to continue to focus on what he loved, which was woodworking. His first grandson was very eager to learn about his woodworking hobbies, and they, literally, in the backyard, created the first canoe. My nephew was not on any devices or on a gaming system or on a phone or tablet, which is so easy nowadays to hand to a kid that and then we’re half-listening and half-participating in a conversation. It was a real authentic experience for both of them because when you think about our young generation, they’re our future. There’s nothing more magical than when you see a child and an older person come together. As cheeky as it sounds, it’s pretty magical. Our wisest generation and our youngest come together and they created memories of things that you can’t really buy and put a price tag on. That is where the canoe was born.
[00:02:42] Kara Marinko: Since then, when you think of a canoe, I’m not a big canoer, but when you’re in a canoe, you have to be going in the same direction to go anywhere. If you’ve got somebody going forward and somebody going backwards, you’re staying in the same place. In a sense, to me, the canoe wasn’t born with this idea, but it really has transformed that not only is it a symbol of our intergenerational focus, but also our teamwork, moving in the same direction, supporting one another, and getting to the next step, instead of going backwards.
[00:03:27] Michael Mahoney: Take us to that next step. You have this concept of a canoe, which I love because it’s a visual. It’s unusual to have a brand promise, or a concept, but then to have a visual, and physical representation of that really allows us to stay in the minds of potential prospective residents. It’s a visual reminder to people walking through your facilities of what you represent in this intergenerational program and the concept of teamwork. How does that translate into what you have now with this intergenerational program. How does that play out in your organization?
[00:04:14] Kara Marinko: The canoes are a reminder that we want to spend time with the young generation and include them. You take your most unhappy or most grumpy resident because we all have them, and you have them spend time with a young person, it’s amazing how their personality changes, their whole demeanor changes. When they see a baby, residents come to life. When you just embrace those little moments of a child. We also have implemented in quite a few of our communities, a Phoenix kids camp that is free. Every summer, communities will invite young children to come into the community and literally spend the week spending time with residents. Thanks to Covid, we got off track there and are a little hesitant to put it back in place just yet, but that is amazing and I can share some pictures with you of some kids camp, but it truly reminds us that there’s nothing more precious than making memories with folks that deserve that time, so our kids camps are really a focus of that intergenerational programming.
[00:06:01] Michael Mahoney: The inspiration at Phoenix Senior Living for your brand promise and your differentiator comes from personal experience, from your family. This really is deeply personal and deeply meaningful and truly setting the tone from the top. It’s a beautiful story. The way you’ve described this really is a differentiator for you. How would you then describe your brand promise? A brand promise is the experience that you want a resident or a family or an employee to have when they interact with one of your locations. The experience you want them to have, and how you want them to feel. What’s the brand promise of Phoenix Senior Living?
[00:06:54] Kara Marinko: When it comes to your loved one, everything matters, and it matters to us. We’ve been on both sides of a community as a family member and as owner and operators. As a family member, we do understand why it’s such a big deal if mom’s bed wasn’t made the right way or why mom’s eggs are cold or why somebody didn’t come and check on Mom. We understand that it is a big deal and it matters to a family. If it doesn’t matter to us, it displays in all of our culture in a community.
[00:07:35] Michael Mahoney: Tell us more about that. How do you display your culture in the community? What things do you do at Phoenix Senior Living to make sure you’re integrating your brand promise into your culture for employees and for resident?
[00:07:55] Kara Marinko: It starts at hiring for passion and purpose, and for someone who truly cares. I can’t teach somebody to care. I can teach somebody how to give a shower and make a bed and all those things, but I can’t teach somebody to care. It starts at the interview, and it matters how we onboard somebody. If we are just giving them the keys to the castle and say, “Here you go, figure it out,” we’re setting them up for failure. They need to understand this story. They need to understand the why before they can really truly provide the level of care and service that we expect.
[00:08:39] Michael Mahoney: You’ve got more than 60 locations around the southeast, correct?
[00:08:45] Kara Marinko: Yes.
[00:08:46] Michael Mahoney: That has to present its own unique set of challenge in terms of maintaining your brand and unifying your brand across communities. Can you talk a little about some of the challenges that, as a larger provider, you would face in making sure you’ve got a unified, and consistent brand across your communities and how you manage that?
[00:09:11] Kara Marinko: We pour our mission and our vision into our teams and into our regional folks that then continue and share that at the field level. It comes from the top, and to hear Jesse speak of the why, our mission, and our continued focus on care and service is what motivates people. That’s what makes them keep showing up.
[00:09:40] Michael Mahoney: Okay, and you are active, and visible at the communities. You’re on the road now. I think you said you’re on the road quite a bit actually in the communities and working with the staff and the residents to make sure that you’re keeping that brand promise alive as part of the culture.
[00:09:59] Kara Marinko: Yes. It’s amazing when you are touring a community and you stop and talk with the team and you ask a simple question about, “Do you have all the tools you need to do your job? How are you doing today?” I can go into a community and ask somebody about their day, about their kids, about their softball game, about them, because we focus on the person.
[00:10:34] Michael Mahoney: Can you tell us a story or two around your brand promise and maybe how your brand has positively impacted a resident or an employee?
[00:10:47] Kara Marinko: We implemented the Phoenix Rising Fund, which is a non-profit fund that associates or anybody can donate into. It’s a hardship fund. We have an application process. Bad things happen more than you can imagine. When you have the amount of associates that we have, you can only imagine— Houses burned down and children passing away. It’s really bad life-changing things that people don’t always plan for. The Phoenix Rising Fund was created to be able to provide that monetary support for folks who experience a true life hardship. That is just one of the things that we’ve implemented to the field and to our associates.
[00:11:53] Michael Mahoney: Who could make a donation to the Phoenix Rising Fund? Is it something that the organization does or other associates donate to?
[00:12:06] Kara Marinko: We do donations. You can do a payroll deduction. We have different fundraisers that we may do or events in a community. We actually do, twice a year, a golf tournament where we raise money for the Phoenix Rising Funds. It’s sponsored by our vendors and partners. Truly, at the community level, everyone is bought into that and understand the importance of the Rising Fund.
[00:12:37] Michael Mahoney: What was the inspiration for starting the Phoenix Rising Fund? Again, that’s unusual in the industry. I haven’t heard of that elsewhere.
[00:12:56] Kara Marinko: Jesse would tell you, as silly as this may sound, that he did not found Phoenix to be this “ooey-gooey, I love all people, I want to take care of them.” He truly founded Phoenix on being a really amazing place to work with the mindset of if you have happy associates, you’re going to provide a really amazing experience. This is just one of the things that he has implemented as a commitment to being the best employer. That was really the birth of the Phoenix Rising Fund.
[00:13:35] Michael Mahoney: Do you think that’s played into— Your attitude towards bringing in associates and recruiting and how you view your associates, has that been helpful to you in this current environment where I know it’s a challenge for everyone finding employees, or finding staff?
[00:13:47] Kara Marinko: It has been a good source of recruitment. Talking about the different benefits that we have, the different programs that we have, the field focus that we have, that, of course, all helps.
[00:14:05] Michael Mahoney: Tell us about the future for Phoenix Senior Living. I know you’re opening new communities and you’re looking, and part of your role is to help develop new communities. What’s the vision?
[00:14:24] Kara Marinko: The vision is truly not a quantity-based vision, it’s quality. People ask all the time, “How big are you guys going to be?” We have no idea. We just know we want to be the best place to work and live. We look at different opportunities and different markets and demographics and if it makes sense then that’s what we entertain. We try to look at how helping the local community by providing jobs are going to also affect the local community. There’s really no number of saying that this is where we want to be. We just want to be the best option for folks.
[00:15:04] Michael Mahoney: You mentioned in terms of vision and your focus on quality, what are some of the metrics that you use to measure quality and determine how you’re doing in terms of achieving that objective?
[00:15:18] Kara Marinko: Several things. We have a dedicated quality assurance team that does regular audits, if you will, of our communities, not as a “got you”, but as just an additional means of support. People don’t know what they don’t know, and we hope that everybody’s been onboarded and trained properly, but sometimes you can miss something. It’s just another layer of support. It’s amazing how many people say, “Man, I learned so much from my QA audit.” If you can learn from that, you’re either winning or you’re learning. If you are coachable and trainable, you’re going to take these tools that we give you and be successful. Another method of ensuring that quality is we have a partnership with a third-party company that does our associate and resident satisfaction surveys randomly. We call a certain percentage of every community every month, and we ask questions about, “What was your onboarding like? What’s your confidence in the community? What’s your experience with dining?” We are calling either the resident or the power of attorney, and then we’re also doing it for associates because it matters how someone was onboard.
[00:16:50] Michael Mahoney: You’re surveying associates as well?
[00:16:52] Kara Marinko: Yes.
[00:16:53] Michael Mahoney: Wow. Okay. There’s really a 360-degree review.
[00:16:57] Kara Marinko: It is.
[00:17:03] Michael Mahoney: You’re out in the field. Wow. That’s impressive. Well, Kara, thanks for taking the time to join us today. This is a really fascinating story and you’re doing something right at Phoenix Senior Living, and you’re doing some things your own way. I want to say different. Our show here is about brand promise and differentiation, but you’re clearly doing things differently because you want to do it your own way. The inspiration for the intergenerational programming and this concept of the canoe and then your Phoenix Rising Fund, it’s really unique, and very special. I enjoyed hearing your story and thanks for joining us and I hope that our paths will cross again soon.
[00:17:46] Kara Marinko: Thank you for having me. I really appreciate it.
[00:17:50] Michael Mahoney: Thanks, Kara. All right everybody, we’ll see you next time. Bye everyone.
[00:17:53] Kara Marinko: Bye.