September 21-23, 2021
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The Leaflet Article

Featured Article:

How Retail Shaped my Future

Paula Crowley, CEO, Anchor Health Properties

As CEO of Anchor Health Properties, I can attribute my passion for developing innovative healthcare projects to my experience in the "retail world” and creating a positive customer experience from a very young age. I grew up living in an apartment in Atlantic City above my parent’s retail business, a collection of shops and restaurants called Gordon's Alley.  As a young girl I worked in the various  shops and watched and learned as my parents interacted with customers. They wanted to use their business as a way to change how people perceived Atlantic City. I have to credit a lot of Anchor Health Properties' success  today in healthcare development  to what I learned from them: knowing your market, merchandising services and above all creating a positive customer experience.

After college I entered the executive training program for Saks Fifth Avenue in New York City, where my education about the customer experience was enhanced. Saks has long offered above and beyond customer service. Their clientele are invited to enjoy a personalized experience every time they enter the store. Saks has best practices advisory teams that work with stores to increase customer engagement, providing elements such as a concierge desk, a greeter upon entry and an extremely flexible return policy. The idea is to make shopping as hassle-free as possible. Later in life I became development director for The Rouse Company, a former industry leader in the development of major suburban malls and urban marketplace projects, where that customer engagement piece was central to all of their projects. They excelled in understanding markets, creating wonderful environments and matching the right goods and services with their customers.

In the 1990s as the economy changed and retail development was at a standstill I became intrigued by the strategy of translating the basic principles of successful retail development to the healthcare arena. There were changing market conditions in the hospital landscape: market competitiveness, personal choice, pricing pressure and rapid changes in technology - all of which provided a great foundation to apply my "retail world" knowledge to the development of healthcare facilities - especially in the outpatient setting.

Just like in retail, customers have a choice where they shop. And today healthcare is widely available in so many more places and there are more healthcare providers now than ever before. That means that to be a success, a healthcare facility needs to put the customer experience first and foremost. The key to staying relevant is engaging customers and delivering care in a location they are comfortable with and in an environment that is easy to navigate.  This is particularly true in an outpatient setting.

Whether you're designing a healthcare facility or a retail shop the first question we tackle is "what is the best location for the customer." Convenience and visibility are key here and we must ask ourselves:

  • Can the building be seen from a major highway? Is the entrance as accessible as possible? 
  • Can the project be sufficiently branded to create immediate customer awareness

Just like a successful shopping area, if you can’t enter, park and access it easily, you likely won’t stop in to shop.

Just like a customer walking into Saks, customers walking into a healthcare facility should be warmly greeted or have immediate access to information or a concierge center. And like retail stores that accommodate the husbands or ‘tagalong’ shoppers with comfortable seating, healthcare facilities can’t forget the friends or family who accompany the patient. Offering free WIFI in a comfortable waiting area, child minding for moms or dads while they are seeing their physician or having a diagnostic test,  and plenty of food options makes it an engaging experience for all.

In retail stores the sales associates are an essential part of creating a positive customer experience, and that translates to the staff of a healthcare facility as well. Being considerate of their needs means creating efficient spaces, such as collaborative workspaces, as well as areas where they can relax and unwind during breaks, such as outdoor gardens or break areas with comfortable seating and natural light.

My passion for creating an amazing customer experience when Anchor is developing a healthcare facility is all thanks to my early experience with retail. From the high quality goods and services in the shops at Gordon's Alley in Atlantic City, to the personal touch of Saks, and the welcoming public environments crested by The Rouse company - healthcare design should always consider engaging the customer first.

Paula Crowley has throughout her career been on the cutting-edge of real estate development. She co-founded the company which has evolved into Anchor Health Properties in 1985 where she is the firm’s Chief Executive Officer. During the past 18 years Anchor Health Properties has pioneered a new vision for healthcare real estate development bringing the strengths of the retail experience to the healthcare industry.

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