Andrew Levin knows Philadelphia. He grew up just outside the city and spent nine years living in the heart of downtown. “It’s vital for our company to have that local approach and have people who understand the local flavor of the environments we’re working in,” says Levin, director of real estate at apartment and hotel rental company Sonder. “Our people are out walking around and riding their bikes to work; we’re not just driving in from New Jersey or the suburbs. We live here every day.”
Levin was one of the earliest hires for Sonder’s Philadelphia operations, having cultivated real estate experience with Lidl and Bank of America, among others. His background in retail real estate would prove vital for establishing relationships with larger landlords in Sonder’s early efforts to hit the ground running. “I was able to pivot from discussing the work we did together at my old jobs, involving 40,000 feet of ground level retail space, to the 200 units that would be built above it,” Levin says. “It really helped us get our first letters of intent and projects into the pipeline.”
The head of real estate’s previous experience also proved powerful in bringing Levin to Sonder in the first place. “In [these] roles, I was working with groups that are very seasoned and have been around for a long time,” Levin says. “There’s not a lot of flexibility in branding or operational standards because the box is the box, and the parcel is the parcel. They’re designed to be the same for a reason.” But in Philadelphia, Sonder has the opportunity to operate in everything from historic building renovations to entirely new builds, from 200 units to 7 units.
The director of real estate is uniquely qualified for his role not only because of his prior work in real estate and his Philadelphian origins, but also for his firsthand understanding of the comfort in finding a home away from home. “My last year-and-a-half with Lidl, I was working remotely or traveling every single week to New York City,” Levin says. “I lived out of hotels maybe four nights a week, and I think what resonated so strongly with me about Sonder is their new approach to hospitality and to be located in other parts of town than your usual hotel row.”
The New Tenant
While Sonder’s guests are certainly afforded the opportunity to stay in Philadelphia’s more traditional areas, one of the company’s significant differentiators is the opportunity to provide frequent travelers with a much different stay than they’re used to. “You can absolutely stay with us in the heart of downtown, but some of our guests might prefer a more artistic or historic neighborhood with more local shops and restaurants,” Levin says. Sonder’s local staff ensures close relationships are made in the areas where they operate, so a Sonder stay always includes local suggestions coming from people who have lived and worked in those neighborhoods.
The variety of Sonder stays is apparent in the projects that come most readily to Levin’s mind. A project signed in 2018 for 2020 completion is a high point: the renovated historic Witherspoon Building. Built in the late 19th century, the office-to-residential conversion is a site worth Googling immediately. “This is our largest project in Philly currently [186 units] and it’s really going to be a crown jewel for us,” Levin says. “It’s a chance for our guests to stay in the heart of the city that I think will provide a true Sonder experience unlike any other.”
There are also smaller neighborhood projects, like a 24-unit on Frankford Avenue in Philadelphia’s Fishtown neighborhood. “These are neighborhoods where there aren’t high-rises, and so our larger competitors just aren’t able to compete,” Levin says. “If you want to stay in a hip and artsy part of town with access to cool restaurants and bars, this is an experience you’re not going to get from a traditional hotel.”
There are more projects coming online all the time, and Levin says Philadelphia has demonstrated an ideal location for Sonder outside of its Montreal roots. “I think what has proven successful for us is the fact that while we’re using technology to enhance our guest experience, we’re not customizing the actual buildings so much that they can’t be used for anything else,” Levin says. So while guests are able to fully personalize their experience, developers and landlords aren’t burdened with too Sonder-spec-heavy requirements. Guests are able to experience a city the best way possible: their way.
Sheltering with Sonder
While the COVID-19 pandemic has created challenges for many of its competitors, Andrew Levin says that Sonder’s unique tech-utilization makes it an optimal choice for those looking for both short- and long-term stays during the difficult time. “Sonder’s hands-off approach means there is typically no front desk to check in with, and no housekeepers coming into your room for [daily] cleans,” Levin says. “Just by its nature, the Sonder model has proven ideal for self-contained stays during the pandemic.” Levin says that he’s proud Sonder has been able to provide short-term “homes away from home” for the influx of medical and educational professionals doing important work in Philadelphia.
Rittenhouse Communications Group is proud to be the integration partner with Sonder for all projects in the Philadelphia region. They provide smart building technology solutions for each project tailored to meet the needs of both Sonder and building owners. Each project has been designed with Sonder’s operations in mind from smart security and building access to remote monitoring and maintenance. Rittenhouse Communications Group ensures that Sonder guests have seamless access and a safe stay.