By Diana Mosher
Avalon Bay Communities, Greystar, Laramar Group, UDR and many more. The client list of Apres Creative Group, a Denver-based, boutique branding and design agency, reads like a Who’s Who in multifamily real estate. On social media Apres appeals to this client base by showcasing a deep knowledge of the industry. Why did these creatives decide to specialize in apartments? It turns out the trio who founded the business—Kim Ziereis, Partner, Business Development; Pauline Colamatteo, Partner, Creative + Accounts; and Sara Evans, Partner, Strategic Design—met while working at Archstone. I recently had the opportunity to talk to Kim Ziereis about how the industry has changed since she launched her career, the satisfactions of rebranding “classic vintage” properties and much more.
Diana Mosher: When did you start your agency and how did you wind up becoming multifamily specialists?
Kim Ziereis: We launched Apres Creative in February 2013. I got my first job out of graphic design school with a large multifamily company Archstone here in Denver. I did Powerpoint and the company newsletter, and over the course of 13 years I grew my department into an internal agency for the company. Multifamily is all we know. It’s not like I went to design school and said, “Apartments here I come.” Archstone had such an awesome culture and multifamily turned out to be a great industry, too. So upon the sale of Archstone, two of the designers who worked in my department and I looked at each other and said, “Why don’t we give this a go on our own and see what happens.” We all really enjoyed working together and had an amazing collaboration over the years.
All the people [our internal agency] had supported at Archstone went to other multifamily companies. We continue to work with almost every one of our marketing managers from Archstone to this day because they know what they’re going to get from us. They know we don’t need any ramp up time to understand apartment leasing or operations or even the financial side of the organizations because we lived it for so long—over a decade.
Diana: You’ve worked with many high profile clients. Do you help rebrand older properties as well as new construction?
Kim: Yes. Working on the new development projects is obviously sexy. But working on something dated and bringing it into more relevant design—giving a breath of fresh air to an older property—is also very satisfying. Many classic vintage properties have good bones. They just need a facelift and to be repositioned in their market for a different demographic and/or to increase rents. We do this kind of rebranding work for Greystar. Esprit Cherry Creek in Denver is one example. It’s near the best shopping and great food and it’s super outdoorsy with a huge trail people are always on. Our directive was to take it from stuffy to modern and make it attractive to a 20-something who just got a job in Denver and is moving from California. When we came in, we were struck by the massive open air courtyard that you really can’t tell is there when you’re driving by. There’s a lake, a fountain, and a path were you can walk your dog. We used these attributes to come up with the circle motif that conveys to the market a feeling of something open and airy and appealing.
We also helped reposition The Fillmore Center Apartments, an iconic property in San Francisco that went through a massive approximately $20 million renovation of its units, hallways, and all the common areas. We had the opportunity to go out there and see what The Fillmore Center is all about. It’s a very central jumping off point if you’ve just moved from another city. They have a shuttle service to the financial district. Everything is really easy to get to, so the creative we came up with was a map icon with crossroads representing the different streets.
Diana: How do the branding, interior design and architecture teams all work together to become one team? Ideally the different disciplines start working together at the beginning of a project. Does that typically happen?
Kim: We’ve seen a couple of ways developers operate. One approach is, “Yes, everyone come to the table, get in the tent. The more perspectives and disciplines that we have, the better.” Other times the work is more piecemeal. The developer says, “Here’s a new property, here’s what’s going on, but can I have it yesterday?” A little bit of our special sauce is, “OK we get it, we don’t need to dig in too, too much. We can connect those dots without having that ground work with the architect and the interior designer and everyone programming the space—but our happy place is really when we’re able to get in on the ground floor with everyone working on the project including the interior designers replacing the spaces so that our branding efforts can match their vision too.
Diana: I enjoyed checking out your blog which includes multifamily market reports. Apres Creative is also very active on Twitter sharing multifamily trends.
Kim: We do like to keep up on what’s happening in the major metros from our central location in the Rocky Mountains. Part of our process is going to visit and be in the market so we can experience it from the resident perspective. Where are people going to walk and get coffee? What’s the day to day life there like? It’s kind of obsessive. Even just driving around taking my kids to various things, I’m looking at apartment properties. You can’t escape it. It’s a great industry, and a fun group of people across the board.
Diana: This adds value to the work you do for your clients.
Kim: We’ve been revisiting our company values and mission. Essentially, what it comes down to for our mission, is we want to be the easiest design firm to work with and we always want to delight our customers with the design. We check our egos at the door every single day. It’s never about our personal preference or style. It’s always about what the client wants. We may not always agree with it, but we will take their vision and make it look great and make them happy. Clients come back to us because we really listen. We delight people by listening and delivering on their vision in ways they never expected.
Diana: How has the apartment business changed since you first got involved? What are the most interesting trends you’re observing?
Kim: The business has changed a lot since I started. Apartment developers know they achieve value if there’s a wow factor in the lobby, an art installation, or rotating art gallery. It resonates with prospects and makes the apartment community feel very special for the residents. The industry is taking the customer into account now much more than they did in 1999 when I started. Then it was garden community after garden community. It was always the same blueprint. You walked into the leasing office and to the left was the manager’s office and to the right the assistant manager’s office, with a weird arrangement of couches and fireplaces and ornate objects with raffia tied around them.
We’ve been fortunate to be part of teams that were rethinking the way leasing offices are designed. Leasing professionals used to be sitting across a desk from the prospect with the barrier of a computer in between. Now they’re both on bar height stools in an open setting that might resemble a boutique hotel lounge.
Another trend we’re just picking up on now is the notion of mindfulness and well living in apartments. We went on a mindful retreat last year. We want to operate in our work and life with more intention and less of a reactionary stance. There is a development in Denver that’s making sure everyone has a view and natural light in addition to the juice bar and walking trail. It’s really fascinating to watch these good health concepts come into multifamily. It will definitely take off. It’s like when LEED certification was becoming big.
Also, the ways the industry is catering to different lifestyles has been amazing to watch over the last decade or so. A project we did in Minneapolis has a bike repair shop and you can bring your beer down or do a wine tasting while you’re fixing your bike.
Diana: Without divulging all your secrets, can you share a couple of resources that inspire your creative process?
Kim: We lean on what hotels are doing quite a bit just because there’s a big hospitality mentality in our industry. We like to see what hospitality is doing from a customer touch point perspective. Being out in urban environments is incredibly inspiring. Our partner Sara Evans is our globe trotter. She went to Paris and New Zealand last year. She has a whole photo bank of type treatments and other interesting design elements she saw along the way.