C’mon Man … Show Some Respect!

Over the past decade, I’ve had success in building occupancy[i] with a focus on activities to demonstrate a superior senior lifestyle. It is encouraging to see more operators utilizing activities to convey LIFESTYLE CHOICE in their ads, but “C’mon Man”, we need to show more respect for our customers than is displayed in this direct mail piece:

“… we offer a lifestyle that allows you to focus on the fun things in life. You never have to worry about what to do today because there’s always something going on to keep you engaged. Join us today for one of our activities and stay for lunch. It’s on the house!

 

5 Things “NOT to Like” with this Marketing Technique

 

  1. This independent living ad targets prospective residents, and/or their families, who are ready to turn lifestyle management over to the facility. This “needs-based” approach has contributed to higher average-aged residents, older residents at move-in and shorter lengths of stay.   It has also led some experts to question whether the recent building boom in senior housing will create a supply that outpaces demand[ii], even with the influx of baby boomers into the “senior” classification.
    • We must promote independence with dignity and respect to meet the positive aging demands of newer, higher-functioning generations and attract adequate numbers of potential residents.

 

  1. This ad is synonymous with the “cruise ship on land” marketing concept that assumes “old folks” will be happy toCruise Ship on Land just sail off into the sunset and be happy as long as they get plenty of food and have something to entertain them between meals. Unfortunately, this is good intentions masking a form of benign ageism as identified by the MacArthur Foundation Study.[iii]
    • The dated “rest home” mentality was based on this principle that older adults no longer contribute to society and must be “cared for” in sheltered facilities at their end of life.

 

  1. Current and prospective residents have been responsible adults for most of their lives and don’t want to just have “fun” all day.   They lived an active and productive lifestyle BEFORE deciding to move into a senior living community and most desire to retain as much normalcy in their lives as possible.
  • Progressive Retirement Lifestyles (“PRL”) draws its scientific basis from Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.   In order to continue satisfying the higher level needs – e.g. EGO – of older people, our senior living 3b Activitiescommunities must provide mental and physical challenges for their residents with a diverse array of activities. The “3 B’s”[iv] – Birthday, Bible and Bingo – simply won’t cut it anymore!
  • Our programs respect and foster the desires of many residents to continue “contributing” in some way – by helping others within the community, by volunteering and/or by providing service to others “less fortunate”.

 

  1. “Worry” is a natural part of living and most mature adults don’t want to be treated as though they can’t “act” or “think” for themselves. They don’t expect to just “sit back” and be treated like children with every minute of their day planned for them.
    • The PRL concept has proven successful by offering multiple daily lifestyle options, while allowing the residents to make their own independent choices.

 

  1. The only specific “activity” highlighted in the flyer was a “Chef Showcase: Waffle Bar”, which is more “demonstration cooking” than a true resident activity.
    • At best, this is a passive event with residents and other spectators being entertained by the Chef.   Although entertainment is an important ingredient, PRL emphasizes interactive lifestyles with active participation by the residents in activity programs.
    • Unless the “waffle bar” is available every week, there is a risk that current residents will complain that the activity is just a marketing ploy and NOT a lifestyle feature.
    • PRL is a combined operations and marketing approach that enhances operations first and THEN invites prospects to participate in on-going programs.

The PRL program was developed to adapt to the evolving market and promote additional demand by respecting the prior life achievements and recognizing the on-going capabilities of newer generations of seniors. PRL creates positive differentiation from the competition by providing and marketing a more robust lifestyle with a greater quality, quantity and variety of stimulating age-appropriate activities than was frequently the case in the past.

I am Art Carr, the creator of the unique Progressive Retirement Lifestyles program and welcome your comments. PLEASE POST YOUR OPINION about whether you agree or disagree with these observations and share this article with those who might appreciate it.

Please contact me at 615-414-5217 or via email at art@progressiveretirement.com to learn more about the exciting Progressive Retirement Lifestyles program and its potential to enhance operations and serve as the foundation for improved occupancy.

THANKS!

[i] This approach enabled me to build a regional census 6 points higher than the national average and lead the fill-up of several new buildings, as well as stimulating turnarounds of other under-performing communities.

[ii] http://www.wsj.com/articles/new-senior-housing-raises-concerns-supply-will-outpace-demand-from-baby-boomers-1439285401

[iii] See “Successful Aging” by John Rowe, M.D. and Robert Kahn, Ph.D, published by Masterpiece Alliance Foundation, Inc., 1998

[iv] With a thank you to Sara Elizabeth Hamm who first “coined” this phrase.

AGING-in-PLACE – Threat or Marketing Opportunity?

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