Oak Tree Retirement Villages provides quality retirement homes at reasonable prices, which sets them apart. In an industry dominated by large corporate “super-villages,” Oak Tree has focused on providing smaller offerings, designed specifically for their communities and affordable to the average Australian retiree –without compromising quality.
“Our homes represent value for money,” says Mark Blindon, CEO of the group. “At all times, we are fine tuning our product offering, design, construct and management models. We want to deliver affordable accommodation that meets the needs and desires of our residents – that’s what we want our brand to be known for.”
Blindon and his team came up with the idea for Oak Tree while working in the child care industry. They noted that there was a shortage of retirement village accommodation in Australia, particularly on the Eastern Seaboard, and decided to investigate. They embarked on a research program to better understand the sector, and to help determine whether or not they wanted to get involved.
At the time, Blindon recalls, the industry was undergoing a significant shift. Until then, not-for-profit organisations had dominated the sector, but private enterprises and corporate groups were starting to gain a foothold. That was an encouraging sign, Blindon says, and the time was deemed right for him and his team to stake their claim.
“We started by looking for an appropriate site on the Eastern Seaboard, and our first acquisition was in 2004,” Blindon recalls. “We’ve expanded from there.”
In the years since acquiring their first site, Oak Tree Retirement Villages has evolved to become Australia’s leading provider of affordable retirement homes, with nine villages throughout Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania.
Open and direct
Though retirement living started off as a cottage industry, it was quickly subsumed by large scale developments when the major corporate groups got involved. Oak Tree Retirement Villages stands apart in today’s industry by bucking that trend and focusing on more modest villages, with 60 to 80 dwellings.
“We think that’s most appropriate size for us, and we think it makes for the best operating model,” Blindon says. “That allows us to have a greater control with respect to management, and a higher level of involvement with our residents.”
That higher level involvement allows Oak Tree’s teams are able to form very direct and transparent relationships with residents. Every village has a resident village manager who is responsible for the needs of the residents. From an administrative point of view, the manager provides the link to the head office in Brisbane. This allows for an open stream of communication, which can sometimes get lost in larger organizations.
“It means we can make decisions and solve problems quickly,” Blindon says. “There’s not layers of management that a request from a resident needs to go through. They have direct access to us as owners and Directors pretty much anytime they see us – which is regularly.”
Within the Oak Tree team, the relationships between management and staff are similar to those with the residents – open and direct. By keeping the organisation small and the bureaucracy limited, Oak Tree has been able to foster honesty and openness in their workforce, which helps form close relationships.
That openness also exists between the staff groups and the resident groups at the various facilities. They engage with each other on a regular basis, which gives the residents a good sense of what the organisation is trying to achieve at any time.
Oak Tree Retirement Villages is always looking to expand, but they are committed to taking their time and choosing their opportunities carefully. In the company’s early days, they looked to metropolitan areas such as Melbourne and Brisbane to situate their villages. As their business has grown, however, they have decided to focus on developing smaller villages in areas where the needs of the community are not being met.
“Many of these areas feature a lack of corporate-built villages, yet a growing numbers of senior citizens,” Blindon says. “This creates an opportunity for Oak Tree to enter a virtually untapped market.”
Currently, the company is in the midst of several new projects, with new Oak Tree villages set to come online in several areas both in the countryside and the Eastern Seaboard. They recently completed a small village in Yeppoon, Central Queensland, for example, and are just starting work on a second complementary village in the same area. They have also launched a project in Toowoomba, Queensland and another in Newcastle, New South Wales.
“We’ve got another number of areas that we’re looking at, including Townsville in the Far North,” Blindon adds. “And we’ve also got several opportunities in New South Wales.”
“Basically, what we’re trying to do is infill along the Eastern Seaboard, in and around areas where we’re already established,” he says. “That gives us some economies with our marketing and our village management, and also provides badly needed accommodation in areas that are not supported by corporate groups.”
In order to ensure that each of those upcoming villages is up to Oak Tree’s high standards, Blindon says they rely on their close relationships with contractors, local partners and architects.
“It’s very important to us that we’re communicating with those guys on a one-to-one basis, and utilising their local knowledge to make the process work more efficiently,” he says.
Oak Tree’s architectural skills are provided in-house, he adds. Those capabilities have been honed and refined throughout the years, but the company also makes sure to seek input from local bodies on every project – that helps them fine-tune the designs to make them more suitable for a particular area.
In all of Oak Tree’s designs, however, there are consistent objectives they have to achieve. For example, they make sure there are no steps, that the layout functions and flows efficiently, and that the garage provides direct access to the house. Those basic features are complemented with area-specific design measures, and result in happy and comfortable residents who can enjoy their later years without hassle.
Moving forward, Blindon says Oak Tree’s main objective is to become the leading provider of regional accommodation for senior citizens on the Eastern Seaboard. He expects that objective will keep the team busy for the next decade at least, especially as the elderly population is expected to grow at an “alarmingly rapid rate.”
“For us, it’s about capitalizing that,” Blindon says. “We want to be present in those areas, and we want to leverage on our capabilities and our knowledge to provide people in those areas with a genuine option once they reach their senior years.”
For more information, please visit their website at: Oak Tree Retirement Homes