The Golden Years

Oak Tree Retirement Villages

Selling up and making the shift to retirement village living is a big move for anyone to make but this maintenance-free lifestyle has a lot to offer. “The primary reason why people come to Oak Tree is not because they’re old,” explains Managing Director Mark Bindon. “It’s simply because they’re wanting to reduce the maintenance that they’re currently experiencing with the family home.”

The Oak Tree Group owns and operates Oak Tree Retirement Villages, a boutique network of 17 retirement villages catering to the over 55s market. New residents are warmly welcomed into these villages located across regional Queensland, NSW, Victoria and Tasmania. While the homes are stylish and affordable, they are purpose built to reduce some of the challenges that inevitably come with being a senior citizen.

For retirees, continuing to live in the family home can be a struggle although many choose to stay, fearing that they will lose their independence and lifestyle in a nursing home or retirement village. Mr Bindon advises people who are considering moving into a retirement village to first identify the challenges associated with their current circumstances. “Think about your current living situation and ask, ‘is it sustainable in the years ahead?’” An average sized suburban house is not really suited to the needs of an elderly couple, burdening them with lot of unnecessary house and yard work. Simply mowing the lawn can be a hassle, especially for older people living on a large block of land. “It’s often the case that the younger generation have moved away and aren’t around to help.”

Oak Tree Village residents enjoy a carefree, maintenance-free lifestyle where they can spend their days doing whatever takes their fancy. The manicured lawns and beautifully landscaped gardens are fully taken care of by staff so all the residents have to do is sit back and enjoy the peaceful surrounds. If a resident would prefer to do their own gardening they are free to do so and pets are welcome in the villages. The homes and villas are either in brand new or near new condition, combining contemporary style with Ergo Design principles.

Having to climb stairs or slipping in the shower can lead to a fractured hip or worse as people get older and their mobility decreases. Simple additions to the Oak Tree homes and villas like fitted grab handles in the bathroom, porous floor tiles and short pile carpets greatly reduce the likelihood of a fall, helping residents to support an independent lifestyle. Minimising the use of stairs wherever possible is critical. “At the end of the day, as we get older we all suffer from the same challenges such as trip and slip hazards,” comments Mr Bindon. “Even though our villas are very much built for independent people, it’s really important that we’re reducing risks around mobility and safety. That’s what the Ergo Design principles are really all about and that’s integrated into all of our villas and community facilities across all our villages.”

Another important consideration when choosing a retirement village is security. While the family and friends of residents are always welcome, the Oak Tree Villages are gated communities with a high number of single residents, mainly women. A communal living environment is the perfect antidote to boredom and loneliness which can plague older people who are on their own. “What we’re focused on in the villages is providing people with opportunities to participate in activities and develop new interests,” shares Mr Bindon. “We know from research that positive mental stimulation equally improves quality of life and life expectancy.” The Oak Tree Villages are tight-knit communities with lively social calendars for residents to enjoy at their leisure. With activities including craft classes, regular outings and various fundraising initiatives, there is never a dull moment.

The villages hold a lot of family orientated events and open days as a part of local awareness programs where the public can come in and look at the different facilities. “Even though privacy is assured in our villages there are more people living on site than in a traditional living environment so people need to ask themselves if that is something they think they’ll be comfortable with,” explains Mr Bindon. “The last and perhaps most important consideration for people is, do they see their current situation improving at home in the long-term or worsening as the years march on? At Oak Tree, we believe that people should come to us when they want to rather than when they need to.”

The average size for retirement villages today is on the order of 150 villas whereas the target range for Oak Tree is around 60 to 80 villas. “I think the primary factor which sets us apart is the boutique nature of our villages,” says Mr Bindon. “What it really means is there’s a more personal relationship between Oak Tree and our residents. There is also better security so we know who is on site at any one point in time.” Oak Tree residents have an open line of communication with management rather than having to go through a long, tedious process to get anything attended to – the latter of which is often the case with corporate operators.

The Oak Tree Group was established in 2004 by Mr Bindon and his business partners. “Originally my partners and I were involved in the childcare industry and we had identified through market research that the childcare industry was going to become very hotly contested,” he explains. “We started undertaking research into the seniors market around 2002, so we actually did research for about two years before identifying the sector that we wanted to get into, which was the retirement sector.” The regional markets are underserviced because the corporate operators who dominate the sector focus primarily on locations where it is possible to build large villages. It would be extremely difficult if not impossible for Oak Tree to compete in metropolitan areas whereas regional areas provide a “ready-made market”. Regional land parcels can be acquired at an affordable rate and local residents are happy to stay in familiar surroundings. They also recieve a far more personalised level of service from Oak Tree, as a boutique provider.

One of the most challenging aspects of the business is helping older people to make the transition from the family home to a village; having to break the emotional ties to a home can understandably make people very emotional. Then there is the selling process to deal with, which is stressful enough along with having to pack everything up. The Oak Tree Village managers are there to provide support and help make the transition as smooth as possible.

One of the other challenges for the business, being regionally focused, is that there is a significant travel requirement on staff and while they love what they do, Mr Bindon acknowledges that the travelling does take its toll. “We need to manage our growth in a responsible way and give our people enough downtime so that they are able to continue to do their job to the highest standard possible.”

Managing growth from a business perspective is not for everyone, but according to Mr Bindon it can be a lot of fun and almost always results in a growth in people at all levels of a business. There are a number of new Oak Tree Villages on the way in NSW and Queensland with Victoria and Tasmania also showing potential. The plan is to roll out five new villages a year for the next three to five years at least. Nursing homes are not being built at the rate they need to be in Australia and Oak Tree has plans underway to help residents stay in their homes for longer by providing access to tailored care services. The organisation has come a long way down that track already and is currently working with a number of home care providers.

Mr Bindon sees this as being one of the major developments in the coming years and is looking to the future of Oak Tree Retirement Villages with great confidence. “We are appreciative of the opportunity to be featured in Business In Focus magazine again,” he says. “We certainly enjoyed being featured the first time. We’d like people to stay tuned. Oak Tree is moving fairly quickly and our mission to establish ourselves as one of the primary brands in the regional, affordable retirement space is certainly well on track. We’ve got a lot of hard work to do but hopefully we can bring some more good news to Business In Focus magazine in the next year or two.”

Making Sense of Management

Management is the art, or science, of getting things done through people. Sounds fairly straightforward – except for the fact that people are not robots waiting to do our bidding. People have their own minds, motivations, and goals. So how do managers keep operations – and the people behind them – running as planned?

January 16, 2019, 3:59 PM AEDT