National News

Driven to Find Renters

Posted June 2, 2018 2:15 a.m. EDT

NEW YORK — To reach young Brooklynites, a trendsetting group often hunched over phones, Stuyvesant Town has rolled out an ad campaign that may seem counterintuitive, involving something both old-fashioned and offline: a truck.

But it’s not just any truck that’s being deployed by the massive Manhattan rental complex. Rather, it’s a sky-blue Isuzu that’s been given a top-to-bottom makeover.

Featuring a trailer lined with picture windows and decorated with living room furniture, the 22-foot-long, 12-foot-tall vehicle has been turned into a sort of apartment on wheels, and one that, since late April, has been turning heads as it tools around town.

Those curious stares have not yet translated into lease signings, StuyTown’s managers admit. But they may be onto something, according to some marketing executives.

A moving 3-D billboard, like herky-jerky GIF files or vinyl record albums, has the kind of throwback vibe that just might appeal to millennials. “I think it’s original and smart and memorable enough to bring in people who might not want to spend their weekends apartment-browsing,” said Thomai Serdari, an associate professor of marketing at the Stern School of Business at New York University.

Whoever dreamed up the stunt, added Serdari, who isn’t affiliated with StuyTown, is “very much ahead of the game, which is strange when talking about a truck going through a neighborhood.”

Some neighborhoods will see more of the mobile home than others.

Members of the management team at StuyTown, a 56-building, 80-acre complex along First Avenue that includes Peter Cooper Village, say they are targeting Brooklynites who regularly take the L subway line and who will be inconvenienced by 15 months of line repairs next year.

To root them out, the truck is frequently dispatched to places like L-train-dependent Williamsburg. On one recent Sunday, the truck rumbled down Meeker Avenue, then Metropolitan Avenue, to Kent Avenue and North 11th Street.

For now, the tricked-out truck can be appreciated only from a sidewalk, as it doesn’t have set stops as it loops around. It mostly just travels on weekends, although a five-day schedule is envisioned.

But this summer, the truck will be parked for extended periods at street fairs, near concert halls and by bars, said Rick Hayduk, the chief executive officer of StuyTown Property Services, the property’s manager.

During those longer visits, a leasing agent will throw open glass double-doors and invite would-be renters inside, said Hayduk, who added that he expected the truck, which has slogans like “awesome service” on its outer walls, to be a hit. “A lot of this is about the cool factor,” he said.

Up three steps is a simulacrum of an apartment, although spartan and small. The truck offers a living room appointed with a Hans Wegner-style table and chairs, and a tufted midcentury couch.

The floor is made of the same kind of engineered wood found in recently renovated StuyTown apartments, managers say. And there’s a flat-screen television that soon will be powered by solar panels on the truck’s roof. The presence of the panels seems a bid to call attention to ongoing efforts at energy conservation at StuyTown, where many roofs are receiving solar panels as well.

Other changes have been afoot at StuyTown, which has 11,246 units, about 6,000 of them market rate. Rents are regulated at the rest of the units in the complex, long a middle-class bastion, under the terms of a deal hammered out in 2015, when Blackstone Property and Ivanhoe Cambridge bought the 1940s complex for $5.45 billion.

The new ad campaign is focused on the market-rate units, which start at $3,200 a month for one-bedrooms, Hayduk said, and $3,800 a month for two-bedrooms.

The truck, which spends its nights at a West Village parking garage amid BMW and Mercedes cars, is not just taking aim at Kings County. It has also cruised to Chelsea, the East Village and SoHo, where residents may be familiar with StuyTown but haven’t given much thought to what may lie inside its solemn red brick walls, said Kelly Vohs, StuyTown’s chief operating officer.

“We want people to see the truck and think, ‘A company that is going to do that, that’s clever, that’s not what I thought about StuyTown,'” said Vohs, who in 2013 hauled a truck-mounted billboard through the streets of Manhattan to promote the Boca Raton Resort & Club, a Blackstone property in Florida.

As ad buys go, StuyTown’s special truck seems relatively inexpensive. The truck and its renovation cost about $150,000, although that doesn’t include the salaries of the driver and leasing agent, Vohs said, adding that a billboard might run $100,000 per month.

“It’s a very noisy media landscape,” he said. “How can we be different from what else is being done?”