Chief executive Clive Fenton speaks about his pride in McCarthy & Stone’s philosophy
Ask McCarthy & Stone chief executive Clive Fenton why he joined the UK’s leading retirement housebuilder and he will say it was because of the “business opportunity” and “the chance to make a difference to people”.
But a third reason, that is more personal and emotive, lies behind his focused and experienced manner – the memory of the last few years of his parents’ lives before he joined the company.
“My parents stayed in the family home much longer than they should have done,” Fenton says. “My father died at 90 and my mother had got to the point where she could no longer live independently, so we felt we had to move her into a nursing home because we weren’t aware of alternatives.
“If she had moved earlier into something like the accommodation McCarthy & Stone offers then I know she would have been able to live out her life within the sort of environment we provide.”
Fenton is well aware of the impact that retirement living can have on people’s lives. “If I want to cheer myself up I just go to one of our developments and talk to our customers,” he says.
“Almost unanimously they will tell you how much of a difference it has made to their lives and that they wish they had made the move sooner. You feel you are transforming people’s lives at a time when things are becoming more di cult for them. It makes you feel good about what you do.”
Fenton is also prepared to put his money – and his family – where his business is. He has just helped his 95-year-old godfather to move into a McCarthy & Stone Assisted Living apartment.
A sense of pride for what McCarthy & Stone has achieved, and the direction it is taking, radiates from Fenton as he discusses the company he joined two years ago after nearly 30 years with a rival housebuilder.
The relationship McCarthy& Stone has developed with its customers is a particular source of this pride. A change in the way the company operates, which makes it unique in the sector, is that it now not only builds apartments but also manages them beyond the point of sale.
Fenton highlights the confidence this gives McCarthy & Stone customers, who know that their relationship with the housebuilder extends throughout their time in the development.
McCarthy & Stone has developments from Aberdeen to St Ives and now has approximately a 70 per cent share of the market, but it is the consistent ve-star customer satisfaction rating from the Home Builders Federation that stands out. An open-door policy that invites customers to give feedback on any aspect of the service is at the heart of this, and the company organises regular surveys and focus groups.
As a result of all that feedback, the company is increasing the amount of space in apartments. This includes adding walk-in wardrobes and using under floor heating to free walls from the clutter of radiators. Parking provision has been increased and Wi-Fi offered in shared spaces.
Windows over sinks are usual in a kitchen but reaching them can be tricky. McCarthy & Stone now installs electric windows that can be operated at the touch of a button in some apartments.
When Fenton took the top job two years ago the company was building 1,500 homes per year. It is aiming to increase that to 3,000 within the next two years.
Fenton and his team have also launched a third “product” to complement Retirement Living and Assisted Living apartments. Ortus Homes are aimed at the over-55s who want to maintain a good standard of day-to-day living space but no longer want bedrooms that stand empty.
“We are always looking to meet the needs of customers,” Fenton says. “Some of that is increasing awareness. There used to be a stigma around retirement living but people now are seeing it as a positive lifestyle choice rather than a last resort.”
What homeowners value most
More than 85 per cent of McCarthy & Stone homeowners feel there is a sense of community among the people who live in their development.
According to a recent survey by the company, 77 per cent of its homeowners particularly value this companionship.
The headache of maintaining property proved the biggest factor (55 per cent) for people deciding to make the move, followed by health (39 per cent) and loss of a partner (31 per cent). Financial matters such as reducing bills or releasing equity were of lesser importance.
Location, location, location was the mantra when it came to buying, with the most important factors being local facilities nearby and being close to family. Downsizing, staying independent and the quality of the apartment were also considerations.
Support for the move from friends and family was also felt to be important. Almost 74 per cent of homeowners said their family saw this as a positive move, with fewer than three per cent reporting that their family had significant concerns.
A key part of McCarthy & Stone’s strategy now is to manage its properties itself post-sale, rather than using an external company.
This has paid significant dividends when it comes to customer satisfaction. McCarthy & Stone won its 11th five-star customer satisfaction rating in a row from the Home Builders Federation (HBF) and the National House Building Council (NHBC) in 2016, making it the only UK housebuilder of any size to win the top rating each year since the awards were established in 2005. Safety, security and the availability of help were the most valued management services.
Having a house manager on site was felt to be the service homeowners valued most, that and the availability of a 24-hour emergency call system and camera-entry to the development.