Continuing Challenges or OPPORTUNITY …

for the Senior Living Industry?

Will operators continue to “cut costs” – even when it entails reducing services for the residents?

Will the focus continue to be on “need-driven” admissions and move-ins?

Will the average age of residents continue to increase while the average length of stay decreases?

Will new development and innovations continue to stagnate?

Will the “Aging in Place” movement continue to gain strength with seniors choosing to buy more services that help them stay in their personal residences?

OR

Is this the year that:

a)       The industry begins to prepare for the changing demands and needs of new generations of potential residents? [READ MORE]

b) Progressive visionaries challenge the “status quo” in design and operational philosophies?  [Update to Follow]

c) More emphasis is placed on providing a quality lifestyle for the resident, regardless of his/her medical (physical & mental) limitations/capabilities?  [Update to Follow]

d) Operators embrace new technologies to provide a stronger value proposition as a viable alternative to the prospect remaining in their own home? [Update to Follow]

e) New entrants from outside the industry and foreign investors assume leadership roles with new energy and vision?  [Update to Follow]

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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

A ”LIVING ROOM AWAY FROM HOME”

Impact your Closing Rate!

The goal of a senior living community is to image001provide a positive experience – and not add stress – for each resident, beginning with the move-in decision.  A quiet, comfortable location for private conversations regarding the prospective resident’s personal losses, financial matters, and concerns over giving up their house and perceived independence will help foster the development of a relationship, promote “peace of mind”, and reduce the length of the sales cycle.

A room that looks like the prospect’s living room at home would be ideal for this purpose.  It should be a logical extension of the tour where the prospect and other family members, if present, can just sit back, rest and relax after the tour.

Some properties use the term “closing room” for this space, but it reminds me of a car dealership, real estate open house or attorney’s office.  We’ve all encountered these formal settings, but few would recall them as a great experience!

The move-in process for a senior has different dynamics because it’s a life decision and involves a number of different emotions.  If the time is right, the senior will communicate it; and if it’s not, no amount of “hard sell” is going to force them into a move-in decision.

So, how should the sales / marketing office be designed and what items should be included?

  • Comfortable, upholstered furniture with enough seating for at least 4 individuals should be organized in a conversation grouping using living room style chairs, preferably high back, and a sofa.
  • Create a “great room” feel (even using decorative screens if available) with a clear segregation of “family” area from “work” area.  The marketer should exude warmth and friendliness by getting up from behind their desk and joining the prospective resident and their companions in the living room area!
  • This family area should be illuminated with warm lighting, using table lamps instead of harsh overhead fluorescent lights. LR4
  • Accessorize with a few throw pillows, maybe an afghan tastefully draped over the sofa and other “homey touches”.

One of my more successful managers even displayed a stuffed teddy bear on the sofa.  She noted that it was surprising how many potential residents would sit down next to the bear and surreptitiously “give it a squeeze”.

  • Hang some nice artwork on the walls.
  • Include a mini-refrigerator, stocked with bottled water and various soft drinks, and a set of air-pots with hot water, regular and decaffeinated coffee.  Offer some type of home-baked “sweets” and serve it with china plates and cups.

Some communities use a fine china set for this purpose.

Now, for a few don’ts:

  • Avoid the use of large office-style desks, file and storage cabinets that create an institutional look.  If you must have a work area for the marketer, try to place this at the end of the room ensuring that it is kept neat, clean and free of clutter.  If budgets permit, use an upscale desk (e.g. Queen Anne style).Many people like to place a round table in this room, but, these are often unstable and may appear too formal.
  • Many people like to place a round table in this room, but, these are often unstable and may appear too formal.
  • Don’t use office style or dining room chairs in the living area.
  • Although coffee tables and area rugs add ambience, they are generally not recommended for senior areas because of the risk of falls.
  • Don’t display big charts, write-on boards and floor layouts that depict all of the empty units.

First, the use of those charts may be counter-productive.  If the marketer has just given a tour and helped the prospective resident narrow their choice down, why confuse them with a number of new options for consideration?

Second, this space shouldn’t look like a real estate office.  A senior living community sells a lifestyle, more than just a “unit”.

Third, since one of the primary benefits of the charts is as a motivator for the sales team, put them in the office – not in the living room area.

  • The use of an interactive computer and electronic signatures for the move-in paperwork may be more time efficient, but gives an “institutional” feel to the process.  The marketer can build more trust with today’s senior by using the more familiar and old-fashioned paper method; using a conversational, inter-personal approach to obtaining the necessary data instead of turning it into an administrative, clerical process.  Once the information is obtained, the marketer should enter the data into the computer themselves and print documents for the prospect’s review.

In conclusion, move-ins occur in senior living communities when building personnel establish good meaningful relationships with prospective residents and their families.  The proper design and use of the sales / marketing room can be an effective tool in that process and management should view the money spent in outfitting the room as an investment that will provide returns over and over.

Given today’s economic challenges, it might make the difference between the prospect not only choosing your community, but in making the commitment to choose any senior living community!

Progressive Retirement Lifestyles is working to create the next generation of senior living communities.  Your input will be appreciated.

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