It’s no secret that apartment communities are having a harder time finding enough renters these days.
With the growth in new apartment communities in the last several years and fewer students in town, there’s an estimated 8,000 surplus bedrooms in the area. That means the battle for renters is extremely competitive.
Yet some complexes are still managing to fill up. One reason? In addition to traditional marketing, they’re relying on innovative techniques to reach out to potential tenants—techniques that could work well for the owners of other small businesses as well.
Here are some successful strategies that have helped apartment communities, and could help you too.
When profits are down, traditional marketing and advertising are often among the first budget lines to be reduced. To counter the cutbacks, many apartment communities are promoting themselves with creative guerrilla marketing campaigns that rely more on time and imagination than a big budget.
For example, the two-year-old Jefferson 2nd Avenue apartment community promotes its presence downtown by handing out water bottles, whistles and LED lights—each with the Jefferson logo—to partygoers leaving center city bars and clubs. Also, in the past, Jefferson has infiltrated campus with promoters disguised as students who talk about how much they love the lifestyle Jefferson offers.
Marketing Director Alex Abernathy says both campaigns were designed to help Jefferson stand out from the competition, something he feels they’ve achieved.
Thanks to these guerrilla campaigns, and its many others marketing efforts, Jefferson has increased rentals from 30 percent to 80 percent of total capacity.
“Everybody else offers the same apartment product, the same deals,” Abernathy says. “The biggest thing is just being in touch with the students and really communicating with them.”
Phil Geist, area director for Gainesville’s Small Business Development Center, says it’s more important now for businesses to consider guerilla marketing “because they really should be getting their bang for their marketing budget buck.”
No matter how little money is available for advertising, free mediums fit the budget, as many apartment communities have discovered. To get the message out to increasingly tech-savvy renters, apartment communities are using social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter to create valuable chatter.
Complexes like The Estates, University Club, Gainesville Place and The Bartram use Facebook fan pages to advertise specials, share amenity information, give away prizes and communicate with current and potential tenants.
Geist says the success of social marketing lies in the opportunity to be actively engaged with the consumer, and small business owners looking to take advantage of free Facebook marketing need only a computer and a few scattered minutes each day.
He says a site becomes an invaluable asset if it goes viral, because people start talking about the site and generate more viewers, essentially doing the marketing for you.
But, he cautions, “To make social marketing work, owners need to be actively engaged. The more interesting a social media site is, the more people will come to it and use it.”
At University Club Apartments, assistant general manager Laney Schlomer says her company co-markets with local businesses as a low-cost way to attract renters.
For example, the 23rd Terrace community agreed to distribute several businesses’ coupons and fliers to its residents if those businesses would post University Club fliers in their stores.
University Club also hosts events for residents during which it offers free food and products, with everything purchased for trade or at a discount from local restaurants or stores.
Laney says such partnerships help the apartment community by offering residents added value, and the restaurant or store profits from getting its merchandise in the hands of consumers who wouldn’t normally know about what it has to offer.
“Any way that we can get the University Club name out is beneficial to us,” Laney says. “We’re not really looking at what we get [in exchange], we just want to get out there. The more you see our name, the more likely you’ll want to come take a tour.”
Discounts and freebies are virtually fool-proof ways to generate sales and attract consumers, and they’ve been the default go-to for apartment complexes determined to fill up in the oversaturated housing market.
For example, University Club Apartments conducted a contest in which the prize was a free apartment for a year. The event not only generated publicity for the 300-unit community, it attracted 390 potential renters.
The Bartram on Archer Road used a common giveaway to great success. It included a free month of rent for any tenant who signed for a year, which helped fill the luxury apartment complex for fall 2010. And at Jefferson 2nd Ave, free pre-parties followed by free limo rides downtown and entry to clubs helped convince current and potential residents to sign on.
For a small business looking to capitalize on such methods, Geist says the giveaway needs to relate to the product you’re trying to market and the demographic you want to reach. He says it could be as simple as an open house offering free pizza and soda to generate traffic at a new location or to showcase a new product, or it could entail giving a discount on products or services when customers participate in a charitable event.
It doesn’t matter what method you use, Geist says, as long as it is targeted and purposeful.
“It’s going to depend very much on the type of business as far as what’s appropriate and what would work for them,” he says.