New Home Insights Podcast Episode 40 Transcript | John Burns Real Estate Consulting


Episode 40: Successful Brand Partnerships

Transcript

Dean Wehrli:

Today we have someone who gets to go to Jimmy Buffet concerts as homework, which is very cool. We have Bill Bullock, he’s the president of Latitude Margaritaville, which is an arm of Minto Communities that is building some of the funnest, master plan communities in the entire world. Bill, please say hi and give us a little bit better introduction than I just did of you.

Bill Bullock:

Well, thank you for having me. Like you said, I work for Minto Communities, I’ve been with Minto for a little more than 10 years and based in Florida.

Dean Wehrli:

So let’s start at the foundation here for latitude Margaritaville. What exactly is a Margaritaville community?

Bill Bullock:

So, they’re active adult communities all over the US and there have been for 50 plus years. And what’s ironic, in 2010 we actually acquired Sun City Center Tampa. And that was one of the very first [inaudible 00:01:35] ever built. And we acquired the last thousand units to ever be built in that community and celebrated its 50th birthday. And learned a tremendous amount from where the buyer from an active adult perspective had matured to and some pretty unique stories there. Being an older active adult community started back 50 years ago, they had shuffleboard and the old stale clubhouses.

Bill Bullock:

So we came in and took over. First thing we did is we asked the residents, “What do you guys want?” And they said, “We want fun. We like this new game called pickleball.” And I’m like, “Well, what the heck is pickleball?” And they introduced us to pickleball, which is one of the top growing sports in the nation right now, especially for active adults. So point being and going through the story on acquiring Sun City, it really laid the groundwork for our expansion into other markets with active adult housing. So as we started to build through the final thousand lots of Sun City, we said, “There’s a lot of benefit in having a large-scale active adult community. You can do amenities that are meaningful from a competitive geographic standpoint. You got to have critical mass.” The key is affordability, Sun City Center Tampa was very affordable, that’s why it sold so well. And the active lifestyle, folks didn’t want to be coined as heaven’s waiting room, which some of the older active adults have turned into.

Bill Bullock:

That community was going through a regeneration, if you will, being at 50 years old, it had gone through two or three cycles. So, we kind of put all that in the mixing bowl and we said, “If we want to have a successful active adult community in today’s age, it needs to be vibrant, it needs to be fun, it needs to be youthful. It needs to be large enough to have critical mass for good amenities. It needs to be close to interstates and airports because these people like to move around, they like to travel. And it needs to be positioned in a location where you can get critical mass, but still offer affordable housing.” And we’ve done a tremendous amount of survey work, these folks are looking for housing from the $150,000 to $350,000 price point range.

Dean Wehrli:

Awesome. And so Daytona Beach was ground zero, that was the first one. I think you’ve done it in Hilton Head, Watersound, Florida, and I believe one is coming up in Panama City, Florida.

Bill Bullock:

So we started Daytona about two years ago, about six months after that start launched our Hilton Head position-

Dean Wehrli:

Wow.

Bill Bullock:

And both of those are little North of 3,000 units. And Watersound is Panama City-

Dean Wehrli:

Oh, got it. Okay, okay.

Bill Bullock:

We’re partnered with the St Joe company, who has an incredible landholding up in the panhandle

Dean Wehrli:

And so far, I mean, I know this answer, but maybe a lot of our listeners do not. Tell us about the reception to these communities so far, especially in terms of those pesky little details like sales and price point.

Bill Bullock:

I’ve been in the business for 25 years and been through downturns and upturns and I saw folks camp out in 2004 and five, and buying four and five investment homes in a whack. And we know where that led us and I don’t want to go down that road. But that was a different level of excitement than what we saw when we opened up Daytona. And so once I had gone through all those camp outs in the 2004 or five, they led to like, “Do you really want to do that again? Is that the sign of the wrong thing?”

Bill Bullock:

So we had an overwhelming response of people who wanted to be first to buy in Daytona Latitude Margaritaville. So we did the camp out and it was amazing, I mean, these were people genuinely interested in buying a single home, their retirement home. We put up a big tent, we played movies all night, we brought in pizza. And it was an amazing exercise in psychology, if you will. Those people became a community that night under the tent, they put their chairs in line with where they were going to buy their house. First chair up [crosstalk 00:06:09]-

Dean Wehrli:

Okay.

Bill Bullock:

Jerry number 50, et cetera. And we saw people actually move themselves down in line to someone they had met that night, so they would be next to the person in line so they could both buy a lot next to one another. I’ve never seen anything like that.

Dean Wehrli:

They’re making like neighbors/friends in line on night one.

Bill Bullock:

In line, camping out-

Dean Wehrli:

Wow.

Bill Bullock:

Waiting to buy a home.

Dean Wehrli:

That’s amazing.

Bill Bullock:

It is truly exceptional. And that translates into a very, very close knit community today, these folks have a shared vision of what community and lifestyle means to them. And they’re experiencing it every day, I mean, from a customer standpoint, we have some of the highest results in the nation. And it’s because we have very happy people who want to be in that environment.

Dean Wehrli:

That’s amazing. Yeah, I’ve never seen that … I mean, I remember the campout days too, but A, this was not a time where there’s a lot of camp outs, when you were introducing Daytona. And B, I’ve seen some of those camp outs as well, and you’re not seeing people make friends, in fact kind of the opposite.

Bill Bullock:

Exactly.

Dean Wehrli:

So I know you guys have an interest list that is a … I mean, it’s an appreciable portion of the nation. Literally it could be counted on the census. Tell us about that and tell us about who is buying at Margaritaville. Who are they, where are they coming from?

Bill Bullock:

Sure. So, we have North of 300,000 people on our interest list, it keeps growing every day. We do some pretty exciting promotions, we sponsor the US open pickleball championship, we’ve done two back-to-back years on Wheel of Fortune with a home giveaway. And every time we do anything in the public’s eye, the media loves to pick it up because it’s Margaritaville. And so that list keeps growing, but specifically who’s buying? Well, it’s 55 and better, so it kind of tells you the age. It’s a very young demographic, it’s a very active demo. Depending on where you are, either in Florida, I-95, you tend to pull from the Northeast. I-75, Panama City, you tend to pull from the Midwest.

Bill Bullock:

What’s unique about Watersound, Panama City, it opens up the Texas market. I mean, Texans have always been coming to Florida, but Texans really love the Emerald Coast, Panama City beaches. So we’re already seeing a lot of interests from Texas. But it’s your traditional feeder markets, Florida is our biggest source, 50% of our buyers are Floridians relocating from within the state. But from there, it goes New York, New Jersey, Chicago, Midwest. But what’s really unique this go around on our interest list, our number five top state is California.

Dean Wehrli:

Wow.

Bill Bullock:

And not to pick on California, but the price of housing in California is higher compared to Florida. And we’re seeing a lot of folks say, “My retirement, I want to live in a state with no income tax. And I want to take some of that money that I have in the form of equity in a home in California and reposition it in other ways outside of real estate.” So that’s a unique trend to see a California register that high.

Dean Wehrli:

Yeah, it is. I mean, mostly you think even if they retire in state, it’s usually the desert like Palm Springs or they go to Arizona, I mean, they’re renowned for being part of that Arizona Exodus. But Florida, you don’t traditionally hear a lot of, so that’s a draw, that’s a reach. That’s amazing.

Dean Wehrli:

Speaking of draws, what are the biggest draws to live at Latitude Margaritaville? I’ve heard that you have something like 12 concerts a week. 12, which I feel like maybe, Bill, you’re overindulging your residents a little bit, if that’s true. [crosstalk 00:09:56]-

Bill Bullock:

We have four pillars, it’s called food, fun, music and escapism. And that’s really the foundation for what the community is built on and it is true. We have 12 concerts a week-

Dean Wehrli:

God.

Bill Bullock:

We’ll do at the pool during the day at our Latitude bar and grill, live music at the pool. And then in the afternoons, we have a full band concert [inaudible 00:10:19], everybody comes in their decked out golf carts and they’re grabbing a margarita. And we have a three, four or five piece full band.

Bill Bullock:

So last Sunday, this past Sunday, Mac McAnally, part of the Jimmy Buffett and Coral Reefer Band, showed up and did a concert. So not only are we able to bring in local talent, we’re also bringing in well-known talent. And then the food component, we have a full service restaurant onsite, fitness in our resort pool, getting ready to start an indoor pool. In the case of Daytona, we actually have a beach club, which is under construction. We’ll have a shuttle that takes you from the community out to the beach, which is pretty unique for an active adult community.

Bill Bullock:

So there’s a lot of attraction there, but the commonality in the residents, I think they walk in the door with a certain concept of what Margaritaville lifestyle means to them. And so when they get there, they’re immediately surrounded by friends who want the same things out of retirement lifestyle. And it’s our job to deliver it and so far, so good.

Dean Wehrli:

And tequila is one of those things, I’m thinking.

Bill Bullock:

It doesn’t hurt.

Dean Wehrli:

So really you have this sort of built in, I know it’s not truly built in, I mean, it came about organically, but you’ve thought it out laboriously. But you have this theme that provides this cohesion that really every master plan is looking for, but it’s hard to find. With the concept, it gives you that sort of automatically, is that fair?

Bill Bullock:

Yeah, you’ve got an iconic recognition with Jimmy Buffet and Margaritaville. You’ve got tremendous IP, intellectual property, which you can build off of. And that’s a double-edged sword, I mean, you just can’t stick Margaritaville up on the side of the building and paint the houses Key West colors and think you’re done. I mean, every element of planning, down to lifestyle calendars, and food offerings all have to be on brand. So it takes a monumental effort to do that, both from Minto and our partners at Margaritaville, who are fully invested in what we’re doing. We’re on the phone with them multiple times a week and meetings to keep that authentic.

Dean Wehrli:

Okay. Now with a lot of age qualified or active adult communities, the biggest competition really isn’t other active adult communities, but it’s aging in place. Folks just deciding to stay put and maybe retrofit their home. Is that your biggest competition to get folks into Margaritaville?

Bill Bullock:

They are competition, we’re keenly aware of that. And that’s phase two of our deployment. We’ll be going to what you’re talking about, aging in place locations. Not a much different variant, but a sized appropriate variant where we can go to some of these markets where you’re going to support something 500,000 units, et cetera.

Dean Wehrli:

Now, okay, I should [inaudible 00:13:18], I suppose. But how involved is Jimmy Buffett himself? I mean, is he in the trenches, is he in planning? Is he play a concert every once in a while? Or how big a part is he?

Bill Bullock:

That’s a great question. He’s very busy with his concert schedule, but he’s been out to the community, I think, five or six separate times. He was there while we were under development, he’s named the streets-

Dean Wehrli:

Oh wow.

Bill Bullock:

He actually owns a house in Daytona, it was very cool. Out of nowhere, he just popped into the community one day and started knocking on residence doors and said, “Hi, I’m your neighbor, Jimmy Buffet.” And they couldn’t believe it.

Dean Wehrli:

That would be amazing.

Bill Bullock:

So, he’s not just a name attached to the brand, he’s very involved.

Dean Wehrli:

What was the reaction … I remember those old commercials where they brought the huge fake check to the doors and people started screaming-

Bill Bullock:

Yeah, right.

Dean Wehrli:

Was that kind of reaction?

Bill Bullock:

Oh, totally. Not to talk too much about Jimmy, but when he shows up in normal persona clothes, he has his hat on and his sunglasses. Sometimes people don’t immediately recognize him and they go, “Oh, you’re pulling my leg.” And he goes, “No, I’m really Jimmy Buffet.” Some was shock and disbelief, and some was, “What are you trying to pull over on me?”

Dean Wehrli:

That’s funny.

Bill Bullock:

But he’d go in and sit down with them and have a drink. And he’s an extremely personable guy.

Dean Wehrli:

Now, I’m not going to lie, I never been a huge Jimmy Buffett fan. Do you have to love Jimmy Buffet music, for instance, do you have to know a song in addition to Cheeseburger and Paradise and Margaritaville?

Bill Bullock:

Actually when you sign the contract, you have to name 10 songs.

Dean Wehrli:

Oh my God.

Bill Bullock:

In all seriousness, we strive to maintain a balance. The Margaritaville lifestyle is Jimmy Buffet, but it means a lot to a lot of different people. And we have a good component, probably half of our residents who are not, what is term Parrot heads, a die hard Jimmy Buffet fan. They like the components to food, fun, the escapism that we talked about. And then there’s been several articles written that the press has gone out and asked, “What brought you to the community?” “Well, the price, the concept, the lifestyle.” And they flat out go on record saying, “We don’t necessarily like Jimmy Buffet music, we don’t know any of these songs. We love living here, we love what it represents. And actually now that we’re hearing some of his music, we kind of like it.”

Bill Bullock:

But when we’re doing our interviews for bands and entertainment, we make sure they play all kinds of music. And if you’ve ever listened to radio Margaritaville on XM Sirius channel 24, they purposely play a huge mix of music, it’s not all 100% Jimmy Buffet. So it’s a fine balance and one that Margaritaville is keenly aware of and helps us navigate. So that we’re as equally attractive to those who want to hear Jimmy’s music 24/7 and those who may not.

Dean Wehrli:

That’s good. If my wife and I become part of that Exodus from California to Florida one day, that’s good to know. Because I asked her if she could name any Jimmy Buffett songs and she said, Margaritaville, and then she said, the Pina Colada song. And that could get her in big, big trouble, I think.

Bill Bullock:

But actually, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that exact statement. She’s not alone.

Dean Wehrli:

It seems like it should be a Jimmy Buffett song.

Dean Wehrli:

How do you assess a market? You’ve mentioned a little bit about this just a few minutes ago, the affordability, the market size. Just real quick, if you could, recap how you assess a given market or even a location for a Margaritaville, for its potential acceptance of a Margaritaville concept.

Bill Bullock:

Okay, that’s another great question. So there’s five or six check boxes. Initially in this first phase of deployment, it’s a piece of property that’s meaningful in size or large enough in size, so we can do something meaningful from an amenity standpoint. Because you’re competing across the nation, Arizona, the villages, you name it. And we think that critical mass is North of a thousand units, 3,000 seems to be working very well for us right now. And that allows you to do a full-blown town center and in some adjacent public neighborhood retail. Which in the case of Daytona Beach, we have a 2,000 square foot retail center, this just opened. Anchored by a Publix and so you can get in your golf cart and you can drive there and get your groceries. But then you can always go back to the private town center and get the food, fun, and the music.

Bill Bullock:

So size is critically important. Paying the right price for the land, so you can offer product. And we just launched a new product line in Daytona called the Conk Cottages and they start at 209. So, [inaudible 00:18:14] from the very, very low 200s to approaching 400. So that’s a broad spectrum of pricing, which our buyer has told us, that’s what they’re looking for.

Bill Bullock:

The access to transportation is huge, again, interstates and airports. And if you look at Hilton Head you’re on 95, you can jump down to Savannah, you’re at Atlanta international airport and you can go anywhere in the world. Same with Daytona, you’ve got OIA, Orlando international airport, and you’ve got I-95. 74,000 people a day drive by Daytona Beach and a long time ago, a lot of folks have used billboards. Well now you got social media and the internet. Well, an amazing thing happened, we started putting billboards up on the interstates and you put a flip-flop in Margaritaville, people notice it because it’s iconic and our drive by traffic is triple what we see in any other community. So, some of those older techniques actually start working again.

Bill Bullock:

Access to medical is key. You, got to be five, 10 minutes from an urgent care medical because of the demographic. They like to have fun, not only in the community, but outside the community, so shopping and entertainment districts. And then continuing education is big for these folks. And in both Hilton Head, we’ve got University of South Carolina, and then there’s actually eight colleges in Daytona, believe it or not. So all those when mixed together are what we call the imperfect ingredient for citing our communities.

Dean Wehrli:

Eight colleges in Daytona, I’m not going to lie, I’m going to have to look that up.

Bill Bullock:

They have eight colleges and universities. I mean, they have aeronautical university, you name it.

Dean Wehrli:

Oh, okay. So, okay, without giving away any state secrets, we’ll wrap it up with this question. Where would you go with this concept or maybe not go? And why? And again, please don’t tell us where the next Margaritaville is, unless you can. Are you going to be branching out beyond the Florida and the [crosstalk 00:20:22]-

Bill Bullock:

I think at this point, we’ve got a good foothold, a beachhead, if you will, in Florida, between what we’re doing in Daytona Beach. And just the sheer scale of what Watersound could become. And then there’s land for 170,000 entitlements up there and when you think about that, you’re talking a whole city.

Dean Wehrli:

Yeah.

Bill Bullock:

There’s undeniable music connection between Margaritaville and Jimmy Buffet, and you start thinking about places like Austin or Nashville, which have a huge music component. Those are our logical next destinations. Where we wouldn’t go and I probably get a call a week. I’ve got this great piece of property, it’s on a lake and I started going through the five criteria. Well are you close to an interstate? No. Do you have medical? No. Where do you go shopping? Well … but it’s a great lake.

Bill Bullock:

And so this isn’t necessarily the remote resort location that you fly in and you take your shoes off and get away from everything. We’re looking for resort locations that are in close proximity to the criteria I mentioned. So not every location is suited for what we’re doing, but like I said, the music connection and I hope I didn’t give too many hints away there. And then, I think a phase 2.0 is smaller iterations of this in key markets where people want to age in place. And we’ve definitely identified and get a lot of feedback from our survey work that there’s high demand for that.

Dean Wehrli:

I think I do get the hint on the music connection, you guys are going to Detroit, Michigan. Am I right? Did I get it?

Bill Bullock:

You nailed it.

Dean Wehrli:

I’m just curious, have you thought about any other like lifestyle connections? Like a Rolling Stones community or something like that?

Bill Bullock:

It’s interesting, we’ve been contacted by a slew of different folks-

Dean Wehrli:

Really? Okay.

Bill Bullock:

Golfers, musicians. It would be a disservice to our partners with Margaritaville to even entertain those. I welcome anybody who has those opportunities to attempt to do it. What we’re doing with Margaritaville and the lifestyle is pretty unique, would you do an Elvis Presley community? I don’t know. But what we wanted to do down here in Florida and take that tropical vibe and easy living, it fits like a glove. And we know it’s deployable across the US because so many people are constantly seeking that out.

Dean Wehrli:

Yeah, that really does make sense. When it is that perfect connection between the vibe and the theme. And what you’re doing in terms of your housing product [inaudible 00:23:12], is perfect.

Bill Bullock:

Well, I appreciate that.

Dean Wehrli:

Awesome. Well, Bill, this has been very, very, very helpful. I’m really most glad to hear that you don’t have to necessarily be like Jimmy Buffet music, that’s important to me. Although I don’t hate it, I’m one of those, eh. But that’s good to know for the future, the hopefully distant future, we’ll see.

Bill Bullock:

Well, when you’re ready to come out and take a look, let me know. I’ll give you firsthand tour.

Dean Wehrli:

I will, thank you. Thank you very much. That has been New Home Insights podcast. If you’d like us, please subscribe, rate, and review and give us a nice five stars. If you did not like us, then don’t do any of those things and just go listen to Joe Rogan. Bill, thanks again.

Bill Bullock:

And thank you, I appreciate your time.

Dean Wehrli:

All right, until next time. See you guys.

If there are any other podcast platforms that you used where you have trouble finding our podcast please send us an email with your recommendation.





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