Author Archives: Echo Surina

Echo Surina

About Echo Surina

Echo Surina is an award-winning writer whose articles appear in consumer and trade magazines nationwide. Through her boutique writing studio, Philanthropology LLC, she helps organizations differentiate themselves in the market by developing and articulating their message using strategic communications campaigns, including feature articles, direct-response copywriting, media outreach and more. A portion of profits is donated to help military personnel. She lives in the New York City area.

Luxury Residential Ship Live And Work Onboard

Luxury Residential Ship Allows People To Live And Work Onboard

You know what a cruise ship is — a small floating city packed with people, all-you-can-eat buffets, frosty umbrella drinks and a few families wearing matching T-shirts that say things like, “Thompson Family Reunion.”

But have you heard of a “community at sea”?

Imagine, if you will, a luxury community where residents have access to the best amenities. Now imagine that luxury community on water and you have The World residential ship.

That’s right, you can buy an apartment on The World and travel the world. You must have a minimum net worth of $10 million just to apply to buy one of the exclusive residences, which range from 357-square-foot studios to 4,200-square-foot, six-bedroom apartments. Besides the crew and staff, the only ones onboard are owners or their guests. The ship is managed and staffed by ResidenSea Management out of Miramar, Fla.

Although capacity on the ship is 600, rarely are more than 300 people onboard at one time. Main thoroughfares and community spaces are often vacant, especially when the ship is in port. That’s when residents are off exploring solo or participating in ship-facilitated group activities on land such as Pretty Women Day, a nine-hour shopping spree on Rodeo Drive.

The World is for those who love luxury travel. But it’s not for everyone. The quiet, reserved vibe, neutral interior design of common areas, and strict dress code help create a community culture that doesn’t seem to fit anyone with mildly eccentric tastes.

While rock stars and other nonconformist types aren’t found here wearing the standard pantsuit, there’s another breed of folks who are plentiful — business people.

Take Richard Reed for example. He is founder and chairman of a company and one of the many World residents who hasn’t hit retirement yet.

Reed lives onboard about four months every year, winters at his penthouse in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, and spends the rest of his time in Scottsdale. Despite this jet-setter lifestyle, Reed manages to stay well connected while on the high seas.

“It is just as easy to do business in our apartments onboard as it is on land,” says Reed, a resident of The World since its maiden voyage in March 2002.

Every apartment has Internet access and a private fax and telephone line (a Miami area code makes it convenient for domestic callers to get in touch with residents). A conference room equipped with cutting-edge technology and a library offering an array of daily newspapers make doing business at sea easy.

With two networked computers and an all-in-one printer in his condo, Reed has everything he needs to check on business, pay bills and manage his stock portfolio online.

“Just last week I was able to purchase a piece of real estate in Mexico, complete all the paperwork and close — all while the ship was sailing in the Bering Strait, far from civilization,” he says. “Frankly, it’s a lot more fun doing business from the ship than anywhere else I can think of.”

www.residensea.com

PetSmart: Pets Hotel

PetSmart: Pampered Pooches = Profits

PetSmart now has a new trick up its sleeve: five-star pet hotels.

PetSmart, the largest chain of pet supply stores in the U.S., is undeniably a market force to be reckoned with. Pet parents have been pulling dog biscuits and kitty litter off PetSmart’s shelves since the company opened its doors in 1987. Since then, the retail conglomerate with more than 38,000 employees has expanded its predominantly “dog-centric” products and services to meet the needs of customers with cats, horses, fish, birds and more.

The first in-store PetHotel opened in 2002 and has proven to be PetSmart’s fattest cash cow, as it can increase individual store revenue by 29 percent.

The five-star quality boarding exclusively for dogs and cats offers salon luxuries that compete with those of people hotels: a shampoo, massage and blow dry package, hair brushing, nail trimming. Holiday waiting lists have exceeded 400, and due to robust demand, PetSmart plans to add more PetHotels, growing its current 90 to 292 by 2010. Ultimate build-out is expected to be 540.

“(PetHotels are) on fire now,” says PetSmart Chairman and CEO Philip L. Francis.

But market dominance isn’t guaranteed or permanent. Despite soaring success with PetHotels and a revenue of $4.3 billion in 2006, PetSmart recently reported sales and earnings will be lower than predicted for 2007. It forecasts third-quarter earnings of 17 to 20 cents per share, with yearly earnings coming in at $2.02 to $2.07 per share. That’s down from initial earnings predictions of 21 to 23 cents per share in the third quarter and $2.08 to $2.10 per share for the year.

Hence the importance of PetHotels to PetSmart’s bottom line. Francis says he anticipates pet parenting will peak in 2020. As a result, PetSmart started a two-year market research endeavor to discover other industry needs it can meet. He says PetSmart might provide in-home and in-office services in the future, such as poop scooping and aquarium care in places of business.

“Success” is a word that takes on a different meaning depending on who you ask. Francis summed it up in three letters: TLC, or total lifetime care for the pet and parent.

The company’s nonprofit PetSmart Charities Inc. started in 1994 and is fundamental to PetSmart’s overall mission, as its adoption programs help alleviate pet overpopulation. PetSmart has saved more than three million lives to date, or one life every two minutes, through adoption programs such as the one in which Francis got his own dog, Bit O’Honey, a mixed breed third in line to be euthanized.

Despite PetSmart’s positive impact on pet adoption, it has received criticism recently because it’s considering selling rabbits, one of the most abandoned animals in the U.S.

From July to December 2007, 25 PetSmart stores out of about 1,000 sold rabbits as part of its own study to learn if this is a feasible new market. Based on findings, PetSmart may decide to sell rabbits at specific locations. “There are no adoptable rabbits in some towns,” says Francis, explaining the company’s decision.

PetSmart wouldn’t release the locations of all test stores, but confirmed three are in Arizona: Phoenix, Glendale and Tucson.

Kim Dezelon is director of fundraising for the Brambley Hedge Rabbit Rescue in Phoenix and is also a PetSmart shareholder. The nonprofit has been adopting out rabbits through PetSmart for more than a decade, placing more than 1,700 rabbits in homes.

“If consumer demand was so strong, we could have worked with (PetSmart) more closely to meet that demand with the rabbits at our shelter,” Dezelon says. “We are extremely disappointed. We’ve had a long standing relationship with PetSmart.”

But Francis says no determination of the pilot program’s future has been made and all considerations will be taken.

“We’re in the information gathering stage,” he says. “Nobody knows the truth. When we know it, we’ll act responsibly. We’re (making) enough financially, we don’t have to grub for every penny.”

To learn more about PetSmart PetsHotel, visit petshotel.petsmart.com.

Homebuilders Refining Their Services

In light of the economy’s condition, homebuilders are refining their services to meet the needs of their customers.

The Valley’s housing market continues to ride real estate’s proverbial wave, sometimes enjoying the crest, and right now just trying to survive the trough.

While the current down market isn’t good for homebuilders, it is providing homebuyers higher quality and stronger customer support to go along with the lower prices.

“Salespeople were in an order-taking mode for 10 years,” says Paula Sonkin, vice president of the real estate and construction industries practice at J.D. Power and Associates.

During the housing boom, Sonkin says homebuilders were unaccustomed to servicing the client beyond the initial point of sale. Now they are recognizing the importance of negotiating and developing relationships — new skills they have to learn as customers demand more sophisticated service.

Since a salesperson’s ability to meet clients’ changing needs generally has been subpar, homebuyers are turning to construction managers and on-site project managers who have become exponentially more important over the last year, Sonkin says.

“It’s a huge opportunity for builders, who are making sure construction managers have the people skills to communicate with the homebuyer,” Sonkin says. “Now builders and construction managers are having regular meetings with salespeople. We know the role of the salesperson has changed.”

Another example of how the slow market is good for buyers is better quality of construction. The J.D. Power and Associates 2007 New-Home Builder Customer Satisfaction Study was recently released and shows an increase in home quality since 2006. Sonkin says that’s partly because builders are constructing fewer homes, so they have more time to fix problems before the buyer moves in. According to the survey, satisfaction among homebuyers has remained high in Phoenix and across the country. Phoenix’s overall average for customer satisfaction is 107, while the national average is slightly higher at 111.

The survey shows these four builders rank first in the Phoenix market in their respective categories:

  • Overall Customer Satisfaction: Centex Homes
  • New-Home Quality: Trend Homes
  • New-Home Design: T.W. Lewis Company
  • Mortgage Originator: CTX Mortgage (serving Centex Homes)

The global marketing information services firm annually surveys people who have purchased new homes in 34 markets nationwide. The 2007 study ranks only new homebuilders who closed 150 homes in the 2006 calendar year and whose buyers submitted at least 50 usable surveys about the builder. The Valley, Sonkin says, is a highly competitive market because there are more homebuilders here than in most other places.

“If you think buying a car is a big deal, let’s talk about building a home,” says Sonkin, relaying what J.D. Power III told her 13 years ago as he was on the cusp of embarking on a new business endeavor.

“We did nothing but our homework for two years,” she says, explaining the company set out to uncover what needs existed in the homebuilding industry that the firm could help meet. As it turns out, there was significant need, and the J.D. Power and Associates New-Home Builder Customer Satisfaction Study was born. Builders can purchase the full-length version of the survey, which comes with complimentary consulting services provided by J.D. Power and Associates. Now in its eleventh year, the survey provides current information to industry leaders.

“(The study) is designed for J.D. to work with builders to better (their business),” Sonkin says, adding that the company oftentimes helps builders differentiate themselves from competitors on quality or design. “Our goal is to raise the bar in terms of customer satisfaction with consumer benefits.”

Centex Homes-Arizona started purchasing the survey four years ago.

“The (J.D. Power and Associates) brand is recognized by consumers as credible. The information captured in the survey is terrific,” says John Michell, president of the Arizona division of Centex Homes. “It validates some of the things we have worked so hard to achieve, and it puts a spotlight on areas where we still have opportunities to delight our customers. The team at J.D. Power gives suggestions on ways to improve customer service and training we provide our employees.”

Tempe-based T.W. Lewis Company, which ranks first in new-home design, does not purchase the study because it employs its own third-party surveyor, Woodland O’Brien & Associates, to poll its buyers and provide monthly feedback.

Still, T.W. Lewis Company President and Chief Operating Officer Kevin Egan says J.D. Power’s study has much to offer.

“(The study) would probably be beneficial to a homebuilder that rated poorly or one that lacks sophisticated survey systems,” Egan says. “The biggest value in the J.D. Power survey results is it validates what we’ve been doing, which is designing homes that fit our buyers’ needs and lifestyles.”

Fore more information on the companies mentioned,  please visit the corresponding websites:

www.centexhomes.com/phoenix
www.jdpower.com
www.twlewis.com

Cardiac care - AZ Business Magazine April 2008

Cardiac Care Improves In Arizona

Arizona’s health care industry evolves to meet population’s cardiac needs

The risk of heart disease increases with age, and people are living longer. Fortunately, the disease’s mortality rate has decreased in the U.S. over the last several decades. Much progress has been made in cardiovascular care, and improved medical practices are encouraging. Arizona has exciting new cardiovascular-related construction projects, medical practices and programs, but how does the quality of care here compare to that in other states?

HealthGrades, a leading independent health care rating company, sheds some light. It rates hospitals across the U.S. on numerous procedures. A hospital receives a rating of one, three or five stars in a wide range of categories from heart failure and heart attack to coronary intervention and cardiac surgery. About 15 percent of hospitals across the country that are ranked receive five stars.

“Like that in other states, the quality of cardiac care in Arizona varies widely from hospital to hospital,” says Scott Shapiro, senior vice president of corporate communications and marketing for HealthGrades. “But according to our study, overall cardiac care in Arizona doesn’t outperform the rest of the country.”

Even though Arizona as a state isn’t a leader in cardiac care, it does offer cutting-edge facilities. Of its 27 hospitals rated by HealthGrades, three are in the top 5 percent in the U.S. for overall care. Granted, high performance overall doesn’t necessarily equate to high performance in all specialties such as cardiac care, but there is good news in Arizona’s case. Over the last several years, HealthGrades has recognized a handful of hospitals here for excellence in cardiac care, including Scottsdale Healthcare-Shea, one of three hospitals in the Scottsdale Healthcare system.

Robert Gianguzzi, associate vice president for heart and vascular services at Scottsdale Healthcare, is a 25 year veteran in the field. As someone who has seen the industry mature, he observes positive industry changes related to what he calls “the migration to the Southwest.”

The link between Arizona’s proliferating population and the quality of its cardiac care is a tried and true finding: The higher the quantity — the more procedures done — the higher the quality. More people living here means more people receiving care for cardiac needs, which in turn means a boost in hospitals’ quantity and quality.

“With (baby boomers) coming down from different parts of the region, it’s adding a level of sophistication for services,” Gianguzzi says. “Hospitals have aggressively moved to tertiary clinical cardiovascular powerhouses. You’re getting a lot of educated consumers. People are retiring and demanding more services.”

Scottsdale Healthcare-Shea is one of relatively few hospitals in the country that has the state-of-the-art da Vinci surgical robot used for minimally invasive, off pump bypass surgery. An incision is made by going in between ribs, rather than opening the chest; scarring is minimal and recovery time is approximately one week as opposed to three.

It is technologies such as this and progressive research practices unavailable at most hospitals across the country that make some of Arizona’s institutions highly desirable to those needing care. Local to international patients seek out these institutions for their new technologies, which are often hard to come by elsewhere. Yuma Regional Medical Center, for example, received five stars in the heart failure category for 2008 and is the first location in the country to implant a new type of cardiac stent.

Not only are methods of care evolving, so is the aging population’s needs. Carol Benson is public affairs representative for the Mayo Clinic Hospital, whose Phoenix location earned five stars in every field of the cardiac care category from 2006 to 2008.

“(There has been) an increased demand for ventricular assist devices and artificial hearts as a bridge to transplant,” she says. “Also, much more serious cardiac cases, especially since starting a heart transplant program in 2006.”

As hospitals see higher volumes of open-heart surgery, interventional minimally invasive procedures, as well as those for arrhythmia management, they’re challenged with providing the highest levels of cardiac care.

“We have a couple factors impacting cardiac care — growing population and ability to meet those needs and also having baby boomers who are reaching the age of being referred to a cardiologist,” says John Harrington, FACHE, CEO of Banner Heart Hospital in Mesa, the second largest free-standing heart hospital in the country.

Booming population is a double-edged sword. On one hand, the more patients hospitals treat, statistically, the better the care will be. On the other, the sheer number of those accessing heart services stresses an already busy system.

For more information on the health companies mentioned, visit the following websites:

healthgrades.com
shc.org
yumaregional.org
mayoclinic.org
bannerhealth.com

CB Richard Ellis Service, AZ Business Magazine Oct/Nov 2006

CB Richards Ellis Expands Its Definition Of Who It Considers A Client

And Service for All

CB Richard Ellis expands its definition of who it considers a client—supreme service for which it stands

 

CB Richard Ellis (CBRE) is the world’s premier, full-service real estate services company. It has been providing real estate owners, investors and occupiers who represent an array of industries spanning the globe since 1906. Its 100th year anniversary calls attention to a record of astounding achievement and begs the question: what is success and how did this industry leader undeniably obtain it?

And Service for All“We define our success by understanding what our clients need and incorporating their success matrix into our strategies and tactics. When they’re successful, we’re successful,” says Chris Ludeman, CBRE president of U.S. Brokerage at the Los Angeles headquarters who has been with company for 25 years. “When people traditionally think of a commercial real estate firm, they think it’s all about money. Our best people will say it’s not: It’s about the people. The money follows, it doesn’t lead.”

If only every business operated under this value—the importance of prioritizing clients and employees above monetary gain. When people are treated well and feel valued and understood, they become long-term customers and work hard, ultimately forming a winning team.

CBRE’s reputation for excellence in serving clients starts on home turf, with more than 19,500 employees at 356 offices worldwide. What’s the cache? If you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t take care of someone else. “Service to employees—it’s absolutely the best,” says Perry Bassett, a client and private investor who was with CBRE for nine years and a top producer in Tucson. Sales personnel are taken to educational events, supported through ongoing education, regularly recognized for their ascendancy and rewarded at ceremonies for levels of achievement. “It’s not like there’s a hierarchy,” adds Bassett, “like you’re an enlisted man verses an officer. If anything, salespeople are held in higher esteem than management. And that’s reflected in every company activity.”

CBRE’s healthy internal corporate culture, its strong core value in people first, permeates through its employees to its clients.

“The quality of service is excellent. They’re very professional,” says Vice President of Kitchell Development Co. Jeff Allen, who has done hundreds of millions of dollars of business with CBRE over his 16 years with the company. “Many of the brokers have been there for 20 plus years. It’s the most experienced commercial real estate brokerage firm in the state.”

When asked if there is anything he’d criticize about CBRE, he quickly answers, “No. We love our brokers. It’s a valuable service they bring to the real estate community.”

CBRE’s reputation for consistency, predictability and superior execution is due in part to all of its salespeople. They’re fully immersed in the market, constantly current on the latest in their specialty field.

AZ Business Magazine October November 2006“We do our best work when we become an indistinguishable part of our client’s executive team,” says Ludeman. “When we can be seen by clients as an extension of their own employees and strategic advisors, it demonstrates we understand their business opposed to them understanding ours.”

Like many of CBRE’s staff, Tyler Anderson’s tenure of more than 20 years has allowed him to observe and testify to the company’s service over time. The top producer says, “It’s our culture to ensure the client is always put first and meet their needs. It’s a people business that’s relationship driven. Through great relationships there’s great trust created and reliability.”

Mike Sandahl, another 20-year veteran and top producer in Tucson sums it up best: “Honesty and integrity has made us a valued partner in our clients’ business. It has helped us to achieve success not only for our clients, but lead to the success of CB Richard Ellis in both cities.”

Why it works
CBRE sales staff undergo a rigorous screening process, one-year training program and ongoing education throughout their careers. They are considered by many to be the top providers of real estate market knowledge on the planet. Because everyone is required to specialize, clients glean the expertise from a number of deep wells rather than a shallow, expansive pool. Find out what these experts say has allowed their company to offer stellar client service.

Reputation
When Rich Rodgers worked in commercial real estate for another company, he says he had to “sell himself” to get a listing. In the ‘80s when he worked at CBRE in Tucson for nearly five years, he says, “I didn’t have to sell the company because everyone knew its reputation; whoever is working for the company is professional. So I didn’t even need to sell myself,” which was half the battle.

Experience
The sheer number of salespeople alone who have been with the company for a long time enhances the depth and quality of expertise. “We have more than 20 people who’ve been with the company for 20 years or more,” says Tyler Anderson, a sales professional in CBRE’s Phoenix office.

Arizona Business Magazine Oct/Nov 2006

Summer Ranch House

Western Mountain Cuisine At Hidden Meadow Ranch

Eat & Tell

Western Mountain Cuisine at Hidden Meadow Ranch is a Best Kept Secret No More

 

Rustic and luxurious Hidden Meadow Ranch, located just outside of Greer, is a year round, five-star-quality ranch offering high-end cabin rentals and property for sale along with a handful of outdoor activities, most of which are closed to the public. Fortunately, dining at the Lodge is one exception.

eat_and_tellHidden Meadow Ranch’s Lodge is a destination dining experience. Because it’s located in Northern Arizona’s high country, it’s not a place you pop in last minute. It’s a great incentive to take a scenic weekend road trip, perfect for celebrating a special occasion or as a reward for a day spent hiking or skiing. Approximately 15 percent of people dining at the Lodge come for the food only and are not cabin guests or living on property. A best kept secret no longer, this gourmet mountain cuisine is worth the drive.

The striking, 5,500-square-foot building made of hand-peeled logs is where all meals are served in casual elegance. During colder months, an enormous fireplace provides a cozy backdrop for the indoor dining area. When the ground thaws, meals are also served on a wrap-around porch overlooking a field of wildflowers.

A seasonal menu offers dishes with sophisticated, yet rugged flair. From main courses like stuffed pork loin with spinach wild mushroom phyllo to complimentary rosemary bread served with molasses-thick balsamic vinegar—Executive Sous Chef Joe Stoiber creates dishes with a delightful twist of the unexpected.

Food Review
Arizona Business Magazine Aug-Sept 2006Achiote-Marinated Elk Tenderloin—one of the best meals I’ve had. Ever. So good in fact, I wanted to order it for every meal thereafter: breakfast, lunchand dinner (and that’s coming from a borderline vegetarian). One bite and you’ll be a believer, too. The Lodge’s specialty and served year round, the New Zealand elk is teamed with braised red cabbage. The meat is remarkably more tender than the accompanying mushroom whiskey demi. Heaven.

Pan Seared Lump Crab Cakes—You wouldn’t think seafood served in the middle of a forest in Northern Arizona would be a party for the taste buds. Sometimes it’s nice to be wrong. Roasted corn relish and sweet Chile aioli accompany the appetizer that is just as tasty as it is pretty.

Green Chili Macaroni and Cheese—This supped up version of the staple comfort food has benign spiciness. The cheese gives it a thick, mild demeanor that kids and adults will enjoy.

Crème Brule—After breaking the caramelized surface of this favorite, the delicious body underneath has a pleasant cotton candy-like aftertaste.

 

 

Arizona Business Magazine Aug/Sept 2006