Four days. Two thousand-plus anxious students and all their frantic parents. 110 degrees. Twenty-five Place Properties' employees and 60 university staffers. Welcome to move-in week for students at Kennesaw State University, outside of Atlanta.
The yearly event–happening this month at colleges and universities across the country–has all the makings of a reality TV show with its potential for the perfect combination of drama and disaster. In fact, some people would take one look at the frenzied scene and quickly run in the other direction. But not Cecil Phillips, who helped his three grown daughters survive their move-in days and now relives the experience each year as chairman and CEO of Place Properties.
"One of the beauties of this job is that it keeps me forever young," says Phillips. "I still joke that I am 24; it's kind of tongue-in-cheek, because I am only 25," the 59-year-old adds with a grin.
Place, with more than a decade of experience as a student housing developer and manager, has move-in day down to a science. In April, the company starts gearing its management team for the big event with a two-and-a-half day training session complete with a practice run-through. Such detailed preparations are critical to Place's success. After all, the company's entire resident base moves in during a one- to four-day period in August.
During the training session, the company covers nearly every scenario that could possibly happen, both positive and negative. "It's all about that first impression," says Joyce Copeland, Place's vice president, property management. "If they have a terrible move-in day, when renewal time comes they are going to remember that terrible move-in day and go someplace else."
But Place does its best to keep such situations at bay. On move-in day at Kennesaw State–and at properties throughout Place's portfolio–Place employees and the university staff gather as early as 7 a.m. to set up move-in stations, stuff welcome bags, and fill coolers with cold drinks. Employees then help with the carefully orchestrated student check-in process, while others are strategically positioned throughout the property to help direct students to their apartments, man the elevators, and hold doors open as residents lug in their goods. "It's organized chaos or chaotic organization, depending on how you look at it," says Phillips.
The company makes a strong effort to put students' needs first not just on move-in day but throughout their entire stay. From the design of the units to day-to-day management practices, Phillips and his team work tirelessly to ensure that students have a first-rate college living experience. "Cecil is an innovative guy who looks for new and better ways of doing things," says Ken Becker, director of New York-based Citigroup Global Investment Bank, which provides Place with financing. "Place typically does market studies with focus groups and surveys that involve the students on issues all the way down to what kind of furniture they prefer in their units and what kind of gathering places they like."