Is it time for operators to focus on small ball?

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John O'Connor
John O'Connor

 

Rick Matros tweaked more than a few noses last week when he made some rather disparaging remarks about the benefits of investing in behemoths. As he sees it, there pretty much are none.

Not that being noticeably contrarian is a new posture for Mr. Matros. With his spiked hair, tatted arms and well-worn jeans, he did not exactly blend in with the dark-suit crowd attending last week's National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care meeting in Chicago.

But to borrow a line from a famous brokerage firm, when Rick speaks, people listen. And what the chairman and CEO of Sabra Health REIT had to say about senior living operators seeking national coverage was this: they aren't cutting it.

“We think the national groups can't do it anymore. There are no advantages, just disadvantages. Not long ago, the REITs aggregated assets. I don't think they can anymore,” Matros declared to a full house.

It's hardly a coincidence that his comments came in the wake of Sabra's announced intent to chuck what's left of Genesis HealthCare portfolio by year's end.

Sabra's new mantra seems to be smaller is better, as evidenced by its latest plan to pick up two dozen smaller skilled-care operators.

According to Matros, the new sweet spot for acquisitions is an operator with 2-5 properties. He urged other investors to look for similarly-sized investment opportunities.

Why are smaller operators so attractive to Sabra?

“They don't necessarily own the market, but they know it well. They're always in the buildings. There's not these layers of management with hired hands on the ground. Markets are changing. Referral sources are changing. You need to be nimble,” he noted.

“I see no dis-economies of scale,” he added.

It was a very different message than the one delivered less than 24 hours later on the benefits of scaling up.

The message at the scaling session was that there are distinct advantages to getting bigger, mostly of the economies-of-scale variety.

So is getting bigger a good idea or not. As is so often the case, the answer depends.

Size that allows you to do things more efficiently is a good thing. Size that undermines how well you do things is not.

For in the final analysis, what matters most is not how big you are, but how good you are.

John O'Connor is McKnight's Editorial Director.
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McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Emily Mongan.

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