Podcast Ep 97: Lisa Geoghegan has created Sonalife, aimed at creating community experiences in property developments.
Already involved in managing community programmes in more than 2m square feet of real estate in Dublin, Geoghegan talks about improving the connection between tenants and landlords and how the current generation of renters and home buyers value the experiential aspect of living and working in a development. She also talks about her plans to take the business global.
The company provides community experiences within property developments and aims to attract and retain tenants for developments, build a community within a property and create a harmonious work-life balance.
“For the first time ever in Ireland new developments are being built with community in mind”
This is achieved through the creation of a carefully curated community development plan, which employs a range of tools and strategies, including organising events and activities where residents can come together and establish communal bonds, all based on the interests of the people living in the area.
Building the experience economy
Sonalife was founded in 2019 by Geoghegan, who was inspired to recreate the personal happiness she experienced in a Cambodian wellness centre and help others feel that way in their daily lives. The community development company depends on a broad network of landlords, tenants and local service providers and is fast becoming a determining factor for millennial and Gen-Z aged renters and workers, who value the “experience economy.”
“It’s about creating events and experiences that add to a community experience within an office block or within the private rental sector,” Geoghegan told the ThinkBusiness Podcast.
“Every tenant is different,” she explains. “Our job within the community management structure is all about relationship management and finding out what’s happening within these individual companies. We have everything from wellness and fitness programmes, women’s networks, you name it. Many businesses are SMEs with an HR manager who is trying to do everything. So we find out what’s happening, identify the gaps across all the tenants within an office block or within a development, and add value that’s good for everybody.”
She cited the example of Central Park in Leopardstown. “There are some amazing tenants there and we’ve created very active LGBTQ networks, women’s networks. The key is finding out what these companies and their employees are passionate about and they can share time, resources and events. That in itself is creating a great sense of community. We target things that add value to different tenants.”
Part of Sonalife’s modus operandi is to have a concierge team that is on site to look after dry cleaning, booking taxis, creating food markets and providing music and entertainment to make lunchtimes more social.
“It’s about encouraging people to get out of their offices and mix in a more social atmosphere. We also create running clubs and fitness classes at lunchtime
“Every development is different, and people are different. Our job is to find out what people need and want and supply them with those services.”
I put it to Geoghegan that communities have changed over the years and from a residential perspective, few people even know their next-door neighbours. Many people might smile and nod at neighbours whose names they don’t even know before closing the door on the world. She’s on a mission to change this.
“For the first time ever in Ireland new developments are being built with community in mind. The foundations are there to actually enhance that community experience. These have residential lounges, community kitchens, gyms, cinema rooms. They provide the amenities to create a sense of community and having community events adds to that.”
Geoghegan created the first community experience programme at Central Park in Leopardstown and has gone on to create similar programmes in more developments.
“But now it’s really a conversation that’s becoming topical, especially within the private rental sector. Developers are getting people in-house to develop these services, this is definitely the future of property.”
Sonalife is currently developing an app to help developers and communities to manage experiences and this will provide the Geoghegan with the firepower to scale and export the Sonalife model.
“It’s going to connect the people in the properties on one platform where everything’s easy to see what events and experiences are available to them. The user-friendly app will also help us to understand what people want and need and help us to ask people what they value. An events company will ask what the client wants and the budget whereas we have a different approach which is to put on the best things for the people in these communities. If not enough people have signed up for the summer BBQ we can put that money into something that is seen as more valuable within the property development’s community.”
Geoghegan said she aims to export her model globally by leveraging existing relationships with developers and property management clients.
“Our plan is to go global with a mixture of online community resources and balance that with real life events and experiences. With the app platform we’ll be able to work with clients in their properties abroad.”