19 February 2021

Here’s to the enemies of the ordinary

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Ordinary is the enemy

Ordinary brands and businesses don’t survive. Being vanilla is just that, beige. Like marmite, you want people to either love you or hate you. Why would people spend the largest amount of their disposable income (their rent) on something which is just OK? Because they have no alternative as the majority of apartments which are coming out the ground are ‘ordinary’.You want to strive for people to come into your building and either say: ‘it’s amazing, I absolutely love it’; or ‘it’s really not for me at all’. If you’re relying on people just to say ‘it’s quite nice’ then they’ll never love living there, they won’t stay there for long, they won’t tell their friends about it. All in all, this is bad for business.

This is becoming increasingly important now due to the amount of build to rent coming out the ground. Seven years ago, I had the good fortune to do some work with the Fizzy Living team. It was exciting – ‘what, so you’re going to rent out completely new apartments with cool facilities to people?’ These weren’t flats, they were fizzies. Wind the clock forwards and we’re looking at a very different landscape. With ‘only’ 50,000 apartments available now there are at least another 120,000 in the pipeline. What’s going to make these feel unique and special like Fizzy did back in the day?

What are the owners of these buildings looking to do to make them special? Are they falling into the traps of what their private sale cousins did back in the mid 2010’s and just looking at each other’s product and trying to go one better but failing? In hindsight, it was fairly easy for Fizzy (once they’d been brave enough to start) as it was new.It was different.

But most importantly it was far better than the alternative – a dodgy old flat above a shop with a dodgy landlord. Now the landscape has changed forever. Those looking to rent in major urban areas have a plethora of choices available (or at least will in the coming few years). It’s not a case of ‘build it and they will come’ as those days are over. You need to design and build something they’ll love as if not, they’ll go and live in a competitors building.

Walt Disney Vision

At Optim being enemies of the ordinary ensures your prospective tenants will love everything about living in your building. It starts with the identifying the customer. And no, we don’t mean the standard ’25-35 single or couple’. This is generic and won’t get you anywhere. It’s not about demographics (albeit they do play as small part) it’s about psychographics and attitudes. What drives these people? What are they really looking for from their living experience? What brands so they admire and love? How do they want to live their lives? etc etc.

We then look to major societal trends which will affect your customers or product. This is especially relevant to BTR as unlike your private sale cousins, you’re in it for the long haul. You need to ensure the product is adaptable to the relevant shifts which will be happening in the future. We can tell you what they are and how to make the most of them. Then, equally as important, what do you want to stand for? What’s your vision or ‘Why’? What do you want people to think when they walk into one of your buildings? How does your building connect with the residents on an emotional as well as rational level? After all people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.

It’s also of huge value to look to complementary categories. After all, in our experience property somewhat lags behind most categories so you’re unlikely to find inspiration there.

Think of the ever-challenging retail environment. Successful brands don’t look to their competitors for inspiration, they look to their own purpose and reason for being and how this intertwines with their customers. An example being Universal Standard, famous for its super- inclusive (00-40) sizing extended its ‘access for all’ mantra to an apartment-style NY flagship where brand fans can book free online to host their own events.

This generosity-grounded initiative succeeds where Ikea left of with its 2016 rentable apartment in Warsaw which countered the perceived limitations of the city’s diminutive living spaces.

Universal Standard

We’re also seeing this in hospitality (another key sector to watch for the B2R brands). Take Virgin Group’s new cruising arm Virgin Voyages which includes an onboard record shop with karaoke booths and performance spots for resident DJ’s, including the likes of Mark Ronson.

Bringing this to life further, Ronson is curating limited-edition albums of other artists’ work exclusively for the cruise. Virgin Voyages are clear here. If you’re not into music and having a good time, best you go and book a cruise with P&O.

Space | 10 lkea

Virgin Voyages

In BTR your customer is not just popping in for a few hours or having a short stay. They are living with you 24/7 and will have individual and community expectations.

You will be hosting a much wider spectrum of customer experiences some public and many private. This extended timescale and the range of customer needs requires specific responses from the architecture, interior design, staff and in-house services that must be well co-ordinated to keep customers happy and satisfied.

The apartments must of course be distinctive, the shared amenities must offer flexible easily adaptable environments that suit the mood and needs of its community at any given time. To do this you must be clear the value and values in your BTR proposal and ensure this ‘golden thread’ has guided the design, operation and presentation of your offer to your customer.

Be Marmite. It may seem at odds with everything you’ve learnt but trying to appeal to the lowest common denominator is now the riskiest thing you can possibly do. No one will love what you do. No one will connect with you on an emotional level. In today’s age it’s far riskier to be vanilla and provide a generic product than it is to design something unique and relevant.

Design a product and service which stands out and people will absolutely love it and tell their friends about it. That’s what’s going to ensure you stand the test of time be more successful. As we say at Optim, happy people give you money.

Virgin Voyages