How the Brown family took senior care beyond ‘the home’ with Village Concepts

Village Concepts Chief Operating Officer Stuart Brown holds a picture of his grandfather and company founder, William Brown, in his office in Auburn.
ANTHONY BOLANTE | PSBJ

Stuart Brown can remember running through the hallways of Village Concepts’ El Dorado West assisted living facility in Burien as a 10-year-old getting butterscotch candies from residents while his father met with the building director.

Now Brown is the assisted living management company’s chief operating officer, and wanders those hallways visiting with residents, thinking about his grandfather, Bill Brown, who co-founded the company with El Dorado in 1975 and was able to move there toward the end of his own life.

“It was a full circle. He created El Dorado West and lo and behold, 40 years later, he needed it himself,” Brown said. “It was nice to be there for him when he needed it.”

Village Concepts is a third-generation, family-run company based in Auburn that operates 17 facilities housing 1,529 seniors. That is more than double the number of residents from 10 years ago and the company is still growing with its 18th location in the early stages of development in Renton.

Technically a management company owned by Stuart Brown, CEO Steve Brown (Stuart’s father), Rick Brown (Steve’s brother) and Chief Financial Officer Pete Jorgensen, Village Concepts reported $2.7 million in revenue last year.

Their 17 facilities pulled in $37.5 million in revenue last year, up from $21.8 million in 2008 when there were 12 locations. Most of the properties are owned by a combination of Village Concept owners, other family members and individual investors.

When Stuart Brown was in school at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, he wasn’t even sure he wanted to work for the family business — he was thinking about a career in hotels. He considered transiting to the family business later in his life, but Jorgensen approached him before graduation and convinced him to join the family business.

Brown stepped into an administrative assistant role straight out of college eventually moving up to executive director of one of the facilities and then two before becoming chief operating officer in 2007.

Stuart Brown and Jorgensen have been running the company since roughly 2007 when Steve Brown started transitioning to more of an adviser, Stuart Brown said.

“He still continues to operate as sort of a mentor for us,” Stuart Brown said about his father. “He is still involved, but not operationally.”

Village Concepts dates back to 1975, when brothers Bill and Ron Brown built El Dorado West.

The two of them built and operated senior living facilities before creating what would become Village Concepts.

They were trying something different at a time when senior care was still pretty restricted to nursing homes. Stuart Brown said the founders thought it was important for seniors to have a place to go when they didn’t need much medical help, but perhaps some social atmosphere and a little extra help with housework.

“Grandpa wanted to help people have another choice,” Stuart Brown said.
“Communities now have amenities and are not just ‘the home.’”

Under his leadership, Stuart Brown has made sure that legacy continues, especially in the face of increased competition in the senior living industry, he said.

To set the company apart, one area Brown focused on as he stepped into the leadership position was affordable senior housing. Four of the 17 current facilities are income qualified housing, for example.

Lauri St. Ours is the director of government and legislative relations for the Washington Health Care Association and has worked with Village Concepts for more than a decade. The consistency in the family-owned leadership for the last 40 years as well as its focus on affordability set the senior living company apart from the competition, she said.

“Village Concepts understands residential care must be affordable if it is to be accessed by consumers,” she said. “In Moses Lake and Auburn, they recognized the need for affordable senior housing, and have successfully developed two in-demand properties.”

While Stuart Brown grew up around the senior assisted living community, he said it was never expected of him to join the family company.

But once he did, he said his dad told him he wouldn’t be able to sail through without giving it his all.

“My dad told me early on, ‘You’ve got to be the best or I’m going to have to let you go,’” Brown said. “There wasn’t the pressure to do it, but if I was going to do it, I’d have to be the best.”

 

Village Concepts

  • Family members: CEO Steve Brown, COO Stuart Brown and Vice President of Development Rick Brown
  • First facility: El Dorado West in 1975
  • Facilities: 17 with one under construction in Renton
  • Facility revenue: $37.5 million in 2017
  • Residents: 1,529

Lessons Learned

  • “Balance personal relationships with business relationships. Work is stressful and there will be disagreements. Ensure you and the family keep the respect and communication level high to avoid uncomfortable Thanksgiving dinners.”
  • “Ensure the values of the family are maintained in business decisions and practices.”
  • “Make sure non-family employees feel valued and part of ‘the family.'”

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