Zen Residential Ltd. is a leading property management company based in Edmonton, Alberta. With over 30 years’ experience in the industry, having robust, fully digitized systems in place, this business has earned its place at the top.
President AJ Slivinski took over ownership of Mayfield Management Group Ltd., now Zen Residential Ltd., in 2016 after decades of entrepreneurship and business experience, including many years in the food industry managing both a domestic and North American portfolio, building a major gaming operation in Canada, and operating a world-class contact centre in Cyprus. “In three years, the contact centre went from two people to 127 people, 12 different languages, a 24/7 operation,” he remembers. “In our fifth year we became the number one contact centre in the world in customer service, beating out FedEx and Carnival Cruise Lines in the final. It was quite a journey and quite an achievement to do something in an established industry and to become number one in the world.”
While building businesses, Slivinski began investing in real estate in the early 2000s, buying condominiums across Canada then eventually selling them when apartment complexes presented a better opportunity. He retired at 45, moved to the sunny shores of Panama with his wife, and wrote a book titled The Leadership Code which explores the successful strategies he implemented when building the world’s number one contact centre. But the lure of real estate soon drew him back to Alberta.
“I thought, ‘I need to get back into the industry.’ I have a passion for real estate. I have a passion for buying, selling and managing apartment buildings.”
Slivinski returned to his home province of Alberta armed with the experience and insight needed to shake up the industry. “The property management industry is very lethargic,” he says. “It’s very complacent, very antiquated, and heavily paper-based. Since I came from a background of online marketing with the gaming industry, I thought if I went out and bought a property management company in Edmonton that maybe I could be a disruptor. Maybe I could go in and completely shake up the market, bring technology to the industry, and disrupt the industry with that technology, understanding how and where tenants were currently and where the future was going to be with tenants. And not only tenants, but with all customers.”
He made good on his vision in 2016 when he bought Mayfield Management Group Ltd., which had managed some of his apartment complexes in the past. He made the acquisition “with the sole intention of trying to disrupt the industry with the formula I used in Cyprus to build a world-class contact centre.” To do so, he focused on three core areas: people, processes, and technology, all of which are connected.
“The processes are developed by great people,” Slivinski says, “and technology is the accelerator of great processes.” While all three areas are critical, people stand out as irreplaceable. “Both processes and technology can be copied, but it’s the people that can’t be copied.”
These irreplaceable people who make up the team hit the ground running after the acquisition. One of the first goals to tackle was to make a dramatic transition from a paper-based system to a digital one. This proved a major effort that came with more than a few challenges.
“They were the typical paper-based company,” Slivinski says of Mayfield Management Group when he bought it. “So we needed to change software and start to move toward the cloud. We were trying to position ourselves in the marketplace [to be] the technology leader. Today Zen Residential is completely cloud-based—the entire tenant journey and life cycle, right from when they first find us until the time they exit, is completely paperless. We have created our own proprietary digital tracking and paperless system called RRMS (Resident Relationship Management System). The application process is digital. The signing of the lease is digital, the move-ins and move-outs are digital. The entire process is augmented with a series of drip campaigns to keep in constant contact with renters throughout the renter lifecycle,” he explains.
After becoming a technology leader within the industry, the team is ready to take on its next challenge. “We’re pivoting,” Slivinski says. “The industry here in Edmonton—major property management companies—all built their business on what we call the stick-built 1960s, 1970s walk-up 20-unit apartment buildings in the downtown core. And today’s industry is changing and evolving. The new phase of the industry is what we call purpose-built apartment buildings. These are Class A, brand new apartment buildings that are almost like resorts.”
The trend has been steadily gaining momentum for over a decade, largely because these resort-like complexes provide the amenities and community residents want. “The purpose-built buildings that we are seeing really started in the U.S. about 10 or 15 years ago,” Slivinski explains. “They have full gyms, a demo kitchen, yoga studios, bocce ball, pickleball, dog runs, barbecues, heated walkways, fireplaces. They’ve got the full gamut.”
These apartment communities appeal to multiple generations. “They’re catering to Millennials who are not in a rush to buy a home or can’t afford a home with today’s interest rates, as well as Baby Boomers who are done raising kids,” Slivinski says. “They’re leaving the suburbs and moving to these purpose-built apartment buildings, not having to tie up all of their capital in a new purchase of a home. They’re using that to live on and they’re getting their community and their social connections through these purpose-built buildings.”
Developers have proven eager participants in the growing trend as the industry evolves. “These purpose-built apartment buildings are being built by the old developers that were building condos over the last 20 or 30 years,” Slivinski says. “Obviously the condo market has dried up, and so now they’re moving into these purpose-built apartment buildings.”
The team is eager to embrace this new direction completely. “Zen Residential has taken a position of being at the forefront of a cutting-edge technology-based property management company. We’re shedding our MMG legacy positioning and reputation of managing the old stick-built city buildings and placing ourselves at the forefront of helping these condo developers build these new purpose-built apartments,” Slivinski shares.
The concept “is completely different than building a condo and selling it and moving on to the next condo building. These are buy and hold assets.”
Zen Residential offers a full suite of services that will be invaluable to developers as they navigate this completely different terrain. “We can actually do the branding for these developers,” says Slivinski. “We can do the logo design, the website design, the complete SEO, lease-up, and marketing, as well as the property and asset management. And we offer consulting services upfront. Before these developers even put in their request for their development permit, we’re helping them.”
The company’s list of services goes on, including “consulting on the design of the floor plate where the offices should be, where tenant traffic should flow for move-in and move-out, amenity design, technology stack, and all other operational designs.” These services are an exciting new direction for the company. “Mayfield itself has been around for over 32 years, but our next chapter with our new name Zen Residential is to focus on Class A assets and help developers build and manage investments,” Slivinski says.
These decisions are complex and everchanging for developers. The stakes are high. Like renters, they want peace of mind when choosing a partner. Renters want to go home after a long day at work and just relax hassle-free. This was the genesis of the name Zen Residential.
The company is making some major shifts in order to give these assets the time and attention they deserve. Slivinski just merged his condominium division with Blueprint Condominium Management Inc., another Alberta-based condominium property management company. The merger “will now allow me to focus 100 percent of my time and effort on the apartment side and the single-family side of the business,” he says.
After taking an already seasoned company to the next level, Slivinski and his dedicated team are well prepared to oversee the upcoming plans to fruition. The technology is already in place and the team is eager to use its industry experience to lead the market in an exciting, new direction.