National Lifestyle Villages Group (NLV) provides new and affordable lifestyle options for empty nesters who no longer desire the stresses associated with a high-maintenance house. After spending many years working closely with the tourism industry as part of his father’s organisation, Managing Director John Wood noticed the growing trend of people permanently relocating to caravan parks. Taken by the camaraderie often enjoyed by those on holiday, John began selling mobile homes in caravan parks for people who wanted the capacity to eliminate their mortgage or downsize their home. As public interest in and demand for the mobile homes grew, John began to incorporate conventional building products into the homes that he sold. Recognising a number of issues within caravan parks, such as the low security of tenure, low-quality facilities, and lack of privacy for permanent residents, John embarked on the creation of a facility exclusive to permanent, year round village residents (he calls Lifestylers). Wood opened his first village in the town of Wanneroo, Western Australia in 1999. The village’s success led to the founding of NLV Group. “We’ve really matured, and are providing tailor made facilities to suit the generation of people who’ve got an extra thirty years to live, and their kids have left home, but they’re not yet ready to move into retirement villages.”
Now entering its thirteenth year, NLV’s villages are homes to over two and a half thousand people. The company is now expanding to provide services like renovations and home maintenance to their clients, and is now beginning to open itself to new possibilities, such as joint ventures with other organizations, interested in delivering new services to their villages, such as healthcare and aging in place services. NLV is also experiencing increasing demand to build villages on land that owners do not want to sell, but are interested in making an income from. As their model is slowly being franchised, NLV has begun to provide management services to those aspiring to build a village, but lack the knowledge or experience required for the successful management or development of the project.
With every decision that they make, NLV carefully takes financial, social, and environmental factors into account. “When we’re dealing with a project, we know that we will be the owners for the next sixty years,” John says. “Whatever we do now, we will be the ones accountable to whoever’s living in our village in five to ten years’ time.” Such knowledge has led to NLV’s ability to carry out complex projects in a sustainable fashion. “If you’re making a long-term decision, often that decision is what’s best for the people who live there and the planet.” One such decision was to reduce the ecological footprint of people living in its villages by over 50% saving significantly on the cost of living of its residents and the long term operating cost of the villages. Another was to develop its own relocatable home building complany so that it could drive down costs and supply much more eco-friendly homes into its villages.
The first project NLV took on proved to be their most challenging, due to the unique nature of the concept within the state. This fresh approach involved numerous difficulties, such as different legislative constraints, as well as different construction and development methods. Later, over the course of their fifth project, NLV realised that a greater priority had to be placed on the reduction of their ecological footprint. “We made a lot of mistakes,” says John, “because we were at the bleeding edge rather than the leading edge.” This created many stresses and strains with the company’s staff, management line, and infrastructure, due to their determination to follow through on their initiatives, even at the risk of a socially or financially negative output. “What we learned from that is that in any of the decisions that we’re making, our biggest risk is not applying an equal amount of energy into the three core principles of sustainability, which is social, environmental and financial.” New government incentives, guidelines, and legislations have allowed NLV’s more recent environmental efforts to be rolled out in an easier, more efficient manner. Having just rolled out their next five year strategy, NLV plans to use some of their models and apply them to different sectors. They are looking to fast track the roll out of their model across Australia. “You never know what might happen after that,” John says “We might expand outside of Australia. But for the time being it’s more the same, but at a faster development rate so that we can accomodate the demand of the baby boomers the rapidly aging demographics of our population.”
NLV has been the recipient of a variety of awards, most notably the prestigious Telstra Western Australia Business of the Year Award in 2006, as well as the Western Australia Environment Award, also won in 2006. Amongst their other awards have been three HIA Greensmart Awards in 2007, two HIA Pilbara Housing Awards in 2011, the 2012 UDIA Award for Excellence (Seniors Living award) for their Hillview Lifestyle Village, and a the Judge’s Award for Excellence in their partnership with LandCorp for Karratha project Warambie Estate.
As an industry leader, NLV’s high engagement with peak bodies is critical to the business. “That’s what keeps you in touch with what’s actually happening,” says John, “and the challenges in your sector.” A benefit of having such strong relationships is the opportunity to collaborate with like-minded groups and individuals in the sector, who share an interest in the success and growth of the industry. John also points out the importance of building lasting relationships with the village residents and the committees who represent them, as they are a significant body of people. “If we are not always working with that group of people strategically and respectfully, and learning what we need to learn, then it will be hard for us to continue to be leaders in the sector.”
John feels the major issue that may affect and have an impact on Australia is the level of confidence in the market, and whether that confidence can continue despite the occurrence of global events that could affect the psyche of the Australian population. “I do believe that our confidence is growing, and as the world starts to realize that every time something goes wrong, everyone finds out really quickly that we are becoming a little bit more immune to that,” Wood explains. “As long as we can continue to be on the shopping list, and be one of the best performers on the shopping list, then we should be okay and be able to get through both the good times and the bad times.”
“I really love what I do,” John says, “and my biggest challenge is keeping my passion for what I do in perspective with my passion for my family.” Though many others may face such a challenge, John has been fortunate to have the support of his wife and family over the course of his roles as CEO and Managing Director of NLV. When John attracted an equity partner in 2006, John was able to step back from the CEO position, choosing instead to become a Non-Executive on the board, which granted him a new perspective on business, and the management of businesses. The change has also allowed John become more active in his family life, acting as parent liaison for his daughter’s school, and the president of the cricket club at his son’s school. With his children growing up and his wife developing a business of her own, John is again playing a greater part in the running of the company as MD again. John’s primary goal in the short term is the recapitalisation of NLV, and the attraction of the patient capital required for the company to be able to take a five to ten-year view.