I read with interest the New York Times article, “What is the Blood of a Poor Person Worth?” https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/01/sunday-review/blood-plasma-industry.html. This is another critical piece centered around plasma donation centers. These articles are predictable, and unfortunately, due to the current proliferation of new facilities, likely to be repeated. While these commentaries have been more common in local news outlets, a critique in the New York Times is likely to draw considerable attention.
As a developer of plasma donation facilities, several important themes jumped out at me:
- COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT & ACCEPTANCE
- INSTITUTIONAL IDENTITY
- FACILITY APPEARANCE
During my forty years in plasma center operations, I’ve come to understand that a relationship with the surrounding community is vital. When I was actively overseeing plasma donation facilities, I required Center Managers to be active in the local Community Council. I encouraged communication with community representatives, and often this helped to quickly “nip problems in the bud.” In several cases, our Managers had the opportunity to serve as Community Council presidents. This is just one of the many avenues to thread the plasma center into the community fabric. This process is important and, other than time, not particularly expensive.
Aside from establishing favorable relations between the community and the facility, it is also important to create a favorable Institutional Identity. In past years, plasma centers tended to locate in low-income demographics, in deteriorated building stock. This is mentioned prominently in the New York Times article. Site selection processes establish target demographics, but they should also consider other variables. Particularly, it is important not to locate in blighted areas. The purpose of this is two-fold: 1.) to discourage the negative stereotyping of plasma donors (commonly referred to as “customers” or “clients”); and 2.) to encourage donorship across the community’s demographics.
The exterior appearance of a plasma donation facility and adjacent areas is equally important. Some examples of this include:
- Maintenance of Exterior Areas: clean window, clear of trash and debris
- Outside areas clear of loitering
- Discrete Smoking areas
When considering the location for a new facility, how are these objectives best accomplished? Because of the rise of e-commerce and the decline of hardbox retailing, there is an oversupply of strip shopping centers. As a result, “in-line” construction is often the choice for developers. These centers are relatively inexpensive and completed quickly. They favor the reactivity of companies capitalizing on an exploding plasma market rather than long-term planning. How does this choice jibe with our three principals of Community Involvement and Acceptance, Institutional Identity, and Facility Appearance?
Unfortunately, not well. In the Blog BANKTALK, the article “Ten Best Businesses that Love a Blighted Strip Mall”, has plasma donation facilities as, you guessed it, number four on their list, sandwiched between Boost Mobile stores and start-up night clubs. Going “in-line” brands you, by association, with the surrounding tenants. The fact that a Landlord has rented to the before mentioned tenant types shows that the property is underperforming. This almost guarantees a poor tenant mix and deferred maintenance. It is likely, due to vacancy or low rent structure, that a Landlord will not maintain an aging strip shopping center in line with the Institutional Branding you are seeking. Most Plasma Center leases are in the 10 to 15 year range. What condition will these deteriorating shopping centers be in at the terminus of their lease?
Strip-Shopping centers are grossly overbuilt in the United States. America has forty percent more strip-shopping center space than Canada, and four times the square footage compared to Europe. Due to the continued deterioration of traditional retail business, vacancy and undesirable tenant mixes will become more common. In my experience, however unfair, guilt by association is a common reaction of the community if your plasma center is located in a shabby strip.
Which leads me to my last point: Community Acceptance. Because of zoning laws and business regulations, plasma centers, like any other business, operate at the pleasure of the jurisdictions law-makers. In my 47 years in the industry I have seen many communities where zoning regulations or outright prohibition has eliminated plasma donation; Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Brownsville, Texas are but two examples. There will be more.
What is the alternative? How do you control your destiny and establish a profile of professionalism and community investment? It starts with the location of Plasma Centers in solid areas. Time and again it has been shown that your donor profile is indicative of your choice of community. Secondly, establish your own institutional presence, don’t rely on a shopping center owner or their choice of tenants to establish it for you.
The best way to accomplish this is by leasing a freestanding building. The advantages are many:
- Consistent prototype design across your portfolio to enhance operational efficiency.
- A well-built freestanding building creates a favorable image of your business, facilitating community acceptance.
- You are in complete control of your image – not the night club next door.
Free standing plasma donation facilities realize all the objectives discussed here. For thoughtful long-term planners, free standing professional buildings are the answer to achieving your long term goals.