A SWOT analysis, identifying Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities & Threats, is often used in developing the marketing strategy for an individual community. As discussed in several prior articles in the “Wake-up Call” series, the aging-in-place concept should definitely be viewed as a threat to the traditional senior living community industry.
This phenomenon is clearly gaining traction and as reported in the Orlando Sentinel, “it even has its own National Aging in Place Week, which falls on Oct. 11-16 this year.”[i] All indications are that this stated preference will become even more prevalent as succeeding generations age into the historical target demographic for senior living communities.
On the other hand, management, marketing and sales can turn this challenge into an OPPORTUNITY. It is becoming clearer that an aging adult will need to adapt their living space to be able to continue to effectively “age-in-place”. For instance, the Orlando Sentinel article identifies the following AGING-IN-PLACE Architectural Features:
Wider doors, hallways and toilets
Same-level transitions or ramps instead of steps
Roll-in showers with wide, doorless entries, grab bars, nonskid tiles, built-in seats and handheld shower units
Walk-in closets, casement windows, lever-style door handles
Waist-high kitchen appliances and storage drawers.
How many of these features are provided as “standard” in your community?
Are some of these features included in selected apartments (e.g. ADA[ii] or “handicapped” units)?
How often do you focus on these features when conducting a tour?
Is your company willing to add certain of these features to accommodate the needs of a potential resident and get a move-in?
Can you speak intelligently about what it would cost the individual to make these changes in their own home?
Some organizations, especially independent living communities, have been reluctant to include several of these safety features for both cost and ambience reasons. The philosophy of these companies has been to “wait for the customer to ask for it”. For instance, one IL only included grab bars in their ADA units because they didn’t want the building to look “too much like an assisted living facility or nursing home”. After losing several prospective residents, the owner agreed to make modifications – AS NEEDED – but encountered problems in retrofitting the showers.
Another industry leader uses lo-rise toilets throughout their buildings, except where ADA regulations require raised toilets. In most cases, they will “switch-out” the toilet if the resident specifically requests it, but leave it up to local management to handle.
The fact that aging adults are prepared to add these architectural features in their own home should tell builders and owners that it’s time to wake-up. Items such as grab bars, hi-rise toilets and walk-in closets need to become as standard as wide hallways in ALL levels of senior living communities.
Taking this step may initially increase construction costs slightly, but will positively impact marketing. It will enable sales people to build better relationships by focusing on CAPABILITIES vs DISABILITIES!
In fact, safety features such as grab bars, non-skid flooring, etc. may be marketed as part of a HEALTHY AGING concept. Aging is a normal process and it should become natural to either add these features or move into living accommodations that were designed to promote resident safety. As senior living specialists, we should promote these features as preventive measures for a healthy aging lifestyle instead of only adding them AFTER the individual needs them.
3 things happen – ALL NEGATIVE – when we make a prospect ASK for features that they may have already installed in their own home:
- We place them in an awkward / embarrassing situation when they are forced to admit and focus on a frailty. NO ONE likes to be reminded of their weaknesses – why should we expect a senior to be any different.
- The value perception is diminished. The prospect will question: “WHAT ELSE is LESS than I have at home?” or “WHY don’t they have these features – I thought they were the experts?”
- They may never ask the question, nor learn that options are available. They will simply go elsewhere that does provide the desired features.
If your community does offer these features, how do you work it into the conversation and turn them into selling points without making the prospective resident feel “disabled”?
For instance, a 6 – 8 foot hallway is clearly wide enough to navigate a wheelchair, but that’s not what most prospects want to hear. On the other hand, you might point out how spacious and well-decorated it is and then ask the question as to how it compares with the prospect’s home. [Note: the average hallway in a single family residence will be 36 inches or narrower.]
The key is to sell a LIFESTYLE vs a litany of real estate features. This approach will enable you to establish a personal relationship with the prospect and present the retirement community as a positive option, instead of something they will “have to do”.
Show the prospect how different features are designed to keep them safe and able to maintain their independence. Observe that very few private residences are designed with these safety features even though statistics show that 1 out of every 3 seniors (over 65) will fall each year.[iii] This may prompt a discussion about the type of safety features they have or lack in their home and lead to the conclusion that the “smart” choice is to move-in with you!
A great follow-up question is whether they know what it would cost to retrofit their current home with the same features that you include in their basic rent. Depending on the extent of the modifications, costs can easily run between $20 – 40,000. (How many months of service would that buy at your community?)
Invest a little time to establish greater credibility by identifying contractors that are doing those services in your local community and finding out exactly what they charge.
Should the prospect “know” what the costs are, MOVE THEM TO YOUR “HOT LIST”! They are ready to do something – now all you have to do is convince them that you offer their best alternative!
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[i] “Seniors embrace aging in place”, Jean Patteson, Orlando Sentinel, July 9, 2010
[ii] Americans with Disabilities Act
[iii] International Council on Active Aging