The “GRADUATE” turns 75!

It’s the late 1960’s.  The war in Vietnam is escalating and college campuses are erupting in violence across the country.  Then comes the quintessential coming-of-age film with a young, drifting college graduate fulfilling an adolescent fantasy by being seduced by an older woman.  This film was the springboard for stardom for Dustin Hoffman and “Mrs. Robinson” became a chart-topper and Grammy Award winner for Simon & Garfunkel.

On August 8, Dustin Hoffman will reach 75 years of age and enter into the target demographic for senior living facilities.  He is part of the “Bobby-sox Generation”[1] that will drive occupancy for the next decade.  Other notable bobby-soxers turning 75 this year include:

Bill Cosby                                               

                                                                            Warren Beatty

General Colin Powell (ret)

Former Sec. of State

George Takei                        Billy Dee Williams

Mister Sulu”                           “Lando Calrissian

Jack Nicholson 

Roberta Flack


Elinor Donahue

Burt Reynolds      

Morgan Freeman

Richard Petty  “The King

At the time “The Graduate” was filmed, a U.S. male could expect to live to an average age of 67 years (74 years for a woman)[2].  That meant that the average man – who, in 1967, would have generally been expected to become the principal family breadwinner – would retire at age 65 and have a few years of retirement before dying.  His widow would then live another 7 to 10 years and likely need some form of health care support in her waning years.

These are the demographics and statistics that have driven the development of the senior living industry for the past 40 years and led to the adoption of the “rest home” mentality throughout much of the industry.  A quiet, secluded location was considered appropriate for the aged to live out their remaining years.  As providers, our focus was on giving high quality medical care and supportive services to make the resident comfortable in their final years.


The reality is that the world has changed radically as a result of medical advances since 1967.  Our sampling of bobby-soxers have already beaten the odds by exceeding their projected life expectancy.  They are still vibrant and active with life expectancy now increased for white men to over 76 years and 81 years for women.[3]  Beyond the extended life projections, the Christian Science Monitor and other articles[4] note several significant changes in the make-up of the aging population.  The gap between male and female mortality has narrowed to just 4 years[5]        as women are now smoking more with higher incidences of obesity and uncontrolled high blood pressure.  In addition, the life expectancy for blacks (African-Americans) has made great strides towards the white statistics.

These analyses suggest that the successful senior living facility of the future must appeal to a much broader demographic than just the traditional 80+, widowed, white female.   Fundamental changes in everything from location and building design to lifestyles management will be necessary to offer a product and services that will appeal to the Bobby-sox generation.

[1] Born 1935 – 1945.  See for a further discussion of the Bobby-sox Generation

[2] See:

[3] Christian Science Monitor, June 19, 2012:

[4] e.g. ABC World News, June 16, 2011:

[5] USA Today, 4/20/12:

Relentless Follow Thru

Whether playing golf or hitting a baseball, “follow thru” is critical for consistent success.  The same is true in sales for a senior living community.  Move-ins are a process and not an event.  Simply running an ad in the newspaper or holding an open house is NOT ENOUGH!

What is needed is a systematic approach to prospect management AND the discipline to follow and adhere to that system.  The system doesn’t have to be fancy or complex – an industry leader successfully utilized a manual system for years.  But, it needs to maintain pertinent data about the prospect, track all activity and establish suspense dates for periodic follow thru.

Of course, the system is not enough by itself either.  The process starts with “getting the right people on the bus[1]” Does this mean always hiring a super salesperson – someone who can sell ice cream to Eskimos?


Is the ability to sell senior living a natural, “god-given” talent that can’t be learned?


Anyone who has ever networked or established a relationship with someone else can be taught how to successfully build occupancy for their senior living community.

So, what makes a person “right” for the job?  Attitude, a desire to help and serve the aging population, willingness to learn and a drive to accomplish something are often more desirable traits than are technical skills.

“This is a very simple game. You throw the ball, you catch the ball, you hit the ball.” is a famous quote from the movie Bull Durham.  Strategy (e.g. bunt, steal, intentional walk) can be complex, but continuous success depends on these basics.

The sales process for senior living should also be kept simple.  The basics are a good game plan, effective training and then consistent and relentless follow thru.

Marketing will create the demand,

but the follow thru will lead to the move-in.

Some of the steps in the sales process can be viewed in a downloadable PowerPoint presentation by clicking here.  This game plan should follow the sports axiom: good offense starts with good defense.[2] In senior living, providing an exceptional experience for the current residents “defends” against unwanted move-outs and provides positive feedback to potential new residents and their families.

There is no “magic pill” that works everywhere.  A customized game plan must be created based upon each unique situation, just as a winning coach prepares differently for each opponent. A building with a low number of prospects needs to focus on filling the top of the “funnel” with marketing, advertising and branding efforts. Others may need sales training / reinforcement, or even changes in personnel.

Over time, most facilities take on the personality of the local manager(s).  Efforts should be taken to understand the local culture and select a manager with a similar background and personality.  For instance, an urbanite with a high energy level who is used to a rapid pace, quick decision-making and a direct (in your face) approach to problem-solving may be a “duck out of water” if assigned to a rural facility. So, in addition to getting “the right people on the bus”, senior management needs to get them “in the right seat”.

Senior living clientele have had success in their lives and are generally smart and sophisticated shoppers.  They will want to become “part of a senior living community that shares common interests, values and/or resources[3]”, but will also be attracted by local management with a personality similar to theirs.

They will build a relationship with the prospect one step at a time by:

Making a Friend

Solving a Problem

Following this approach, a number of people who said, “I’ve never sold anything in my life!” became successful at filling senior living buildings.  In training, they were shown that many networking techniques (similar to those used in a job search) had direct application in this process.  They were taught to use the following techniques:  READ MORE:

  1. Establish common ground.
  2. GIVE something of “value”.
  3. Make the contact about THEM.
  4. Have a REASON TO CALL.
  5. Do your RESEARCH.
  6. Ask questions.
  7. Don’t sell.  Listen.
  8. Play Sherlock Holmes.
  9. Plan the Work.
  10. Work the Plan.
  11. Make every contact a QUALITY interaction.
  12. Be Prepared for No Response.
  13. Get away from the trite “Lunch and a Tour”.
  14. Don’t expect to “Close”, but be Ready for the Opportunity.
  15. Never Give Up!

Relentless Follow Thru applies to all levels of the organization, which must present a consistent message from the top-down.  Initial training, weekly sales calls, regional or companywide meetings, and mini-marketing workshops can be effectively utilized to establish targets, monitor performance, and reinforce adherence with the prospect management system.

Ultimately, however, players must be put into the game and empowered to make decisions in order to build their self-confidence.  This will present continuous “coaching” or personalized mentoring opportunities.  Certain individuals need their high-pressure sales instincts to be toned down.  Others need coaxing and hand-holding until they develop their comfort-zone.

Positive reinforcement should be given for “wins” and emotional support for “losses”, with on-the-spot adjustments to procedures and techniques and additional training when necessary.

“HOT” Prospects – the small percentage of prospects who are likely to move-in within the next 90 days – should receive a greater degree and frequency of sales efforts.  An individual can turn hot at any step in the relationship building process – there is no exact formula as to when that will happen.  They may simply say that they’re “ready”, but often some event in their life causes a change in their status.  Examples might include a fall, death of the spouse, or loss of independence.

The key is that relentless follow thru will enable you to know when these events happen and be there to provide support, answer questions and offer a SOLUTION.

A customized strategy should be created for each hot prospect.  Responsibility should be assigned and timing intervals established for facility visits, home visits, phone calls and invitations to activity programs or meals. Determine which features and amenities to highlight, as well as which unit(s) to target as “available”.  Make sure that it’s clearly understood who has the authority to make price concessions to “close” the deal.

It is helpful to notify ALL staff members and expect the unexpected (e.g. prospect showing up when the designated in-house contact is unavailable).  Selecting a resident ambassador(s) and including them in the sales strategy can also be effective.

A Final Observation

Time doesn’t slow down when you retire;


Stuff happens causing a senior’s situation to change drastically overnight.  Don’t lose an OPPORTUNITY by delaying your follow-thru.  Be relentless in pursuing every available means to build a bond with every prospect.


[1] “Good to Great” by Stanford Professor Jim Collins, 2001

[2] Lady Vols Basketball Coach Pat Summitt is the all-time winningest coach in NCAA basketball history, men or women, in any division with 1071 victories and an 84+% win rate at the University of Tennessee from 1974 to current.  She was the first U.S. Olympian to win basketball Gold Medals as both a player and coach.

[3] “Boomers Redefine Retirement Living”, Sally Abrahms, AARP Bulletin, April, 2011

15 Networking Techniques

for Senior Living

The following techniques enable senior living communities to establish strong personal relationships with prospective residents.  These relationships are often critical to the prospect’s move-in decision.

1.  Establish common ground. Build on the prospect’s expressed interest in senior living.  It is often helpful to share aspects of your own life that will appeal to the identified interests of the prospect (e.g. a favorite pet).

2.  GIVE something of “value”. Take a plate of baked goods or other small gift when visiting the prospect in their home.  Begin a phone call by discussing a topic of general interest to seniors (e.g. H1N1 flu shots) including happenings at your facility.  Senior citizens will generally value the time you spend with them.

3. Make the contact about THEM. Tell the person that they are important and show you care about them as an individual – not just as a potential customer.  Be sincere in doing or saying something that will brighten their day.  Respect their time by asking if “this is a convenient time, or should we schedule a specific time tomorrow?”

4. Have a REASON TO CALL.  Of course, you want a move-in, but that is NOT the reason for the contact.  Your PURPOSE might be to invite them to an event or simply to follow-up about something that was going on in their life.  THINK:  Which statement is more likely to receive a favorable response?

“Hi, I’ve got a one bedroom unit open”; or
“Hi, the last time we spoke, you were planning to attend your granddaughter’s wedding – how was it?”

5. Do your RESEARCH. If everyone has recorded notes after each interaction, a wealth of information before contacting the prospect.  Identify potential topics of conversation by reviewing information about the spouse (living or dead), children’s and pet’s names, where the family goes to church, likes and dislikes, what they did before they retired, and clubs they’re interested in (e.g. “Red Hatters”).

6. Ask questions. The elderly are ignored by many people in our society who fail to show the dignity and respect they have earned for their life accomplishments.  By inquiring about their life, you demonstrate appreciation and help them to feel “worthwhile”.  You will be amazed at what you’ll learn and may even find that you really LIKE the senior.  In turn, this friendship will provide you a competitive advantage when it becomes time to move into a facility.

7. Don’t sell.  Listen. This is probably the biggest mistake made by new managers / sales people.  They are so concerned about listing all of their features and amenities that they forget to listen to what the prospect is trying to tell them.  THEN, and only then, will they know which points to emphasize in subsequent contacts.

8. Play Sherlock Holmes. The vast majority of residents don’t move into an independent or assisted living setting unless they have a NEED and have experienced a fairly recent LOSS.  Interestingly, couples frequently make the first inquiry, but only the surviving spouse will move-in.  Seniors are often reticent about disclosing their concerns.  Yet, by discovering their unmet need(s) and presenting your services as a solution, you can generate a move-in.

9. Plan the Work. Getting move-ins is a numbers game.  Successful buildings will have 5 to 15 prospects (depending on the level of care) for each unit.  Different members of the sales team should be assigned a specific target of contacts (i.e. phone calls, personal visits, tours, etc.) for each day / week.  Goals should be set for “contacts made” and not just attempts – it may take 5 or more attempts for each successful contact.

10. Work the Plan. Your sales efforts must be a PRIORITY.  Set your target and then follow your plan every dayThis is what relentless follow-up is all about. There will always be a reason why you can’t get out of the building for a home visit or make all of the assigned phone calls.  You must be self-disciplined to not accept these excuses and find a way to meet your targets.

11. Make every contact a QUALITY interaction. Remember that the ultimate goal is to “score” a move-in. Making calls in which you fail to “connect” with the prospect is simply wasting time.  Instead of padding your statistics by mailing the activity calendar to everyone, select a handful of prospects to invite for a specific program that your research shows would interest them.  Then follow-up.

12. Be Prepared for No Response. Have a customized message ready to leave on voice mail or a hand-written note to leave on the door if the prospect doesn’t answer the call or “knock”.  Include a “hook” to prompt a return call.

13. Get away from the trite “Lunch and a Tour”. It’s formality lacks warmth and sincerity. Because everyone does it doesn’t mean it’s the best approach.  It says “I want to make a sales pitch” with a structured agenda on my schedule.  INSTEAD, invite them for a friendly “visit” and focus on their wishes.  After chatting for a while, you will probably still get around to a tour – likely in response to some point or question raised by the visitor.  It also becomes perfectly natural to ask them to stay for a meal.

14. Don’t expect to “Close”, but be Ready for the Opportunity. This is a major LIFE DECISION for the prospective resident.  It usually takes time, so don’t put undue pressure on yourself or try to force the issue with a “hard sell” approach.  It’s okay to ASK, but the prospect will generally let you know when “they’re ready”.

15. Never Give Up! At times, it seems as though you’re struggling up a mountain because of the lengthy sales cycle.  Relentless Follow Thru will insure that YOU are there when the prospect is ready to make that move-in decision.  Like the little blue engine in this adaptation of Watty Piper’s “The Little Engine That Could”, you should maintain a positive attitude and keep chugging!


A Process


An Event!

Click on the following link to preview a PowerPoint Training Session that highlights frequent steps in a Move-in Process.

Move-in Process


“Disney makes you wait on line for a ride even if the park is empty.”[1] Seth Godin uses this example because of the recognized marketing genius of Walt Disney and his organization.  He goes on to point out that “a full restaurant is more fun than an empty one”[2] as he emphasizes that creating demand is a complex process – because humans are complex individuals.

These concepts have several direct applications to the senior living industry.  But, first, a word about the placebo effect.  The past couple of years have delivered many marketing – as well as operating – challenges; and it is easy to slip into a negative attitude about the futility of your marketing efforts.  Of course, this can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. On the other hand, Seth observes that just as a placebo often produces positive results: “If we believe we’re going to get better, perform better, make the sale, etc., it often occurs that we do.”[3]

If you are the sales person (the individual interacting with a prospect), you must believe in your product and approach the tour, discussion, etc. on the basis that it WILL close!  We know that the sales cycle is a process, but you have to approach each contact as though “this is the one”; otherwise, human nature will lead to just going through the motions and neither you nor the customer will be satisfied with the interaction.

But, this goes further than just the attitude of the tour guide.  The attitude permeates the entire organization.  A classic example is whether to set all of the tables in the dining room for every meal, even when the building has multiple vacancies.  A cost-conscious manager will say to set only enough tables to seat the number of expected residents and guests for the upcoming meal.  They’ll point out that the residents will spread out to all the tables causing more effort in serving the meal and requiring additional staff time in clearing and sanitizing tables and cleaning unused table settings.  So, it’s certainly tempting to save time and money by setting only the minimum number of tables and place settings.

Now, let’s look at the same situation from a marketing / customer service viewpoint:

  • Wouldn’t the current residents be happier having the freedom to sit anywhere they want in the dining room?
  • Shouldn’t the building be TOUR READY every day?  Wouldn’t you prefer to have a table already set and ready if you have guests that you would like to invite for the meal?
  • Shouldn’t management convey optimism that guests will show up for a “tour and a meal” and be ready for them?  Maybe, that attitude will carry through to other staff members and encourage them to demonstrate “pride of ownership” in the building.
  • WHY ADVERTISE THE FACT THAT YOU’VE GOT A LOT OF VACANCIES by showcasing a “half-empty” dining room?

It’s human nature to assume something’s wrong with the choice that isn’t in demand.  Think about it. When one ride at Disney World has a line and another has none, don’t you wonder what’s wrong with the one without a line?  Is that the one your kids are going to want to ride? Probably not.

You create that same question in the mind of your prospective resident and their family when they see a dining room that looks empty.  So, don’t shoot yourself in the foot; create a positive atmosphere and be ready to be full today.

[1] Seth Godin’s blog article:  “Ethical placebos (stunning, but not actually surprising)”

[2] ibid

[3] ibid

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?


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]

The Bobby-sox Generation

a Target Rich Environment for Senior Living

The first members of the “bobby-sox” generation (born 1935 – 1945) will turn 76 in 2011.  As discussed in “Do Senior Living Communities Need a Wake-up Call?” and “Do not go gentle into that good night[i], this generation will be more demanding and EXPECT many amenities (considered options today) to be included in the standard package in the future.  The bobby-soxers will be less willing to compromise their independence for the “one-size-fits-all” approach utilized in many of today’s senior living facilities.

Recognizing and understanding the desires of the customer is essential in any business.  In senior living, we need to revise our mental images of the stereotypical resident if we are to successfully market to this generation.  Because of the preponderance of celluloid images that keep our heroes forever young, it’s hard to imagine that ELVIS would be 76 this month if he were still alive.  Do we really believe that this generation whose icon flew his entourage in a private jet from Memphis to Las Vegas just to get a “PBJ”[ii] will be satisfied with a set menu at set times in a set place as is common in many communities today?

Is it reasonable to assume that the generation that fostered the 20th Century success of higher end hotel companies (e.g. Marriott, Hyatt and Four Seasons) – with concierge floors, lounges, suites, king-size beds, etc. – will accept 200 – 300 square feet of personal living space?  Will they be prepared to “give up” their home to move into a space that’s probably smaller than their current bedroom?

Will the members of this generation who have been used to success, affluence and independence be prepared to turn over control of all their daily activities to facility staff with programs such as arts & crafts – see “Summer Camp for Seniors” – as their only daily stimulation?

This Bobby-sox generation is often overlooked as it is sandwiched between the “Greatest Generation” – which includes the World War II veterans – and the huge numbers of “Baby Boomers”.  Yet, there are over 20 million bobby-soxers in the U.S. today, accounting for approximately 7% of the total population.  This group accounts for over 50% of the 65+ population (Medicare eligible) in the country and there are now 15% more living members of the Bobby-sox generation (10 year group) than all prior generations.[iii]

The following pictures depict a sampling of well-known Bobby-soxers from business, government/political, sports and entertainment industries.  Although these celebrities are more recognizable, each represents many other everyday members of the generation from all aspects of society.

See which, if any, of these individuals come to mind when you think of 65 – 75 year olds.   And then, THINK AGAIN because they are rapidly becoming your TARGET DEMOGRAPHIC.



Frankie Avalon (1940) and Annette Funicello (1942) – Singers, actors & former teen idols; she was the favorite Mousketeer

Alan Alda – Captain Hawkeye Pierce on M.A.S.H.  (1936)

Tom Brokaw – TV News Anchor & Author of “The Greatest Generation” (1940)

Bill Cosby – Comedian & Actor(1937)

Neil Diamond – Singer/Songwriter (1941)

Elizabeth Dole – U.S. Senator & Cabinet Member; head of American Red Cross & wife of Presidential nominee Bob Dole (1936)

Mike Ditka – Pro Football Player, Coach & TV Commentator (1939)

Michael Eisner – Disney CEO (1942)

Jane Fonda – Actress & Political Activist (1937)        

Harrison Ford – “Indiana Jones” Actor (1942)

Morgan Freeman – Actor (1937)

Louis Gerstner  CEO of IBM (1942)

Joe Gibbs Hall of Fame Pro Football Coach  with the Washington Redskins (1940)

John Kerry – US Senator & Presidential Candidate (1943)

Sandy Koufax – Major League Baseball Pitcher & Hall of Famer (1935)

Ralph Lauren – Fashion Designer (1939)

George Lucas – Creator of “Star Wars” (1943)

John Madden – NFL Coach & TV Announcer (1936)

John McCain – Retired Navy Captain, Senator & Presidential Candidate (1936)

Mary Tyler Moore – Actress (1936)

Joe Namath – New York Jets Quarterback & Super Bowl Champ (1943)

Jack Nicholson – Actor (1937)

Al Pacino – Actor  (1940)

Colin Powell  Retired General (US Army), Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, & Secretary of State (1937)

Paul Prudhomme – Chef (1940)

Robert Redford – Actor & Producer (1936)

Pete Rose – Professional Baseball Player (1941)

Diana Ross of the Supremes (1944)

Jay Rockefeller – U.S. Senator and former West Virginia Governor (1937)

Barbra Streisand – Singer & Actress (1942)

Ted Turner Entrepreneur & Media Mogul (1938)

Tina Turner – Entertainer (1939)

Jack Welch – G.E. Chairman/CEO (1935)

Raquel Welch – Actress (1940)

Jerry West – NBA Icon (1938)


to describe a BOBBY-SOXER who represents this generation [They don’t have to be well known like the people above].

PLEASE discuss ways in which their personality, needs and demands will be different than the “Greatest Generation” and/or individuals currently residing in senior living communities.

[i] Both published by Art Carr on the Progressive Retirement Lifestyles BLOG.  Go to and respectively.

[ii] Peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

[iii] 2010 projections are from: Table 12. Projections of the Population by Age and Sex for the United States: 2010 to 2050 (NP2008-T12), Population Division, U.S. Census Bureau; Release Date: August 14, 2008

Building the NEW Aging Continuum

The following presentation was presented during the “Aging and Technology Industry Webinar”  hosted by GrandCare Systems and sponsored by Dakim Brain Fitness on September 9, 2010.  The PowerPoint presentation may be viewed by clicking here: Building the New Aging Continuum[i].

Participants in the WEBINAR stated that it was “fantastic, always learning”, “so true”, “Great presentation”,  “I love this image”, “This is resident centered care writ [sic] large”, and “Terrific presentation!!!”.  One commented, “I have been waiting for existing senior living communities to actively reach out to the greater community”, while another said, “This all helps take away the dark scary thoughts of ‘retirement living’.”

In addition, the host stated that the presentation “put into words the value of aging technologies to care providers and the NEW continuum of care. Many  in the aging & technology industry have been struggling to express this, especially to our aging service colleagues.”

THE COMPLETE SCRIPT FOR THIS WEBINAR may be accessed below. (more…)

Beyond “DEATH and Dying” – Part 4


The previous installment[i] introduced the concept of hope as a key to managing grief and assisting the individual to move from ANGER into the BARGAINING stage. This segment will expand beyond the concepts discussed by Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in “On Death and Dying”.  With her focus on terminally ill patients, she talks about “entering into some sort of an agreement which may postpone the inevitable”.[ii] She states that these “bargains” are generally made with their God and goes on to give examples of  mothers that want to live long enough to see their daughter married, or new grandchild born, etc.

There is a further opportunity for those providing services for seniors who have already suffered losses.  They may utilize the natural desire/need to bargain by presenting realistic options as positive alternatives for current or future residents. Success is achieved when the senior begins to approach each new day with HOPE for positive experiences instead of focusing only on their “losses”.

The following guidelines should be considered when negotiating a bargain and building hope for these seniors:

  • We can’t replace their loss – DON’T TRY!

Think of the parent who buys a new puppy to relieve their child’s sorrow over the death of a pet.  The child may initially reject the new pet feeling that paying attention to the new puppy is disloyal to the memory of their “friend”.  Ultimately, the child will learn to love the new pet – not as a replacement – but because of its own unique qualities.

  • Don’t minimize the loss; no one else can determine the relative importance of a particular loss to the individual.

How often have you heard someone say (well-meaning, of course), “Oh, it’s not that important; you’re spending too much time thinking about that”, etc.?  Whether the senior lost a favorite piece of jewelry, a loved one, or the ability to drive their own car, that loss is real to them.

  • BARGAIN = COMPROMISE.  The secret is to demonstrate enough value to be gained by your proposal that will offset what the senior believes they are giving up.

For instance, older adults who are asked to give up their personal residence will seldom see enough value to offset the loss of the home by simply emphasizing the “real estate” aspects of the senior living community.  As Jason Popko observes:  a HOUSE is an “object that can be bought and sold” while a HOME has “meaning and attachment to … personal living space” that can’t be “bought or sold”.

The new building may even be better, safer, etc. than the original, but the individual won’t/can’t hear that at this stage.  Smart marketers will focus on lifestyle, the benefits of socialization, interactive activity programs, etc.

  • Don’t create false hopes with unrealistic expectations.

It is tempting to make promises, especially when trying to convince a prospect to move in, but make sure you can deliver what you promise.  Otherwise, the short-term gain will be far offset by the negative reputation that will be generated.

  • Grieving is a complex emotional process, but don’t be afraid to try and help.  Understand that it’s natural for the person to slip backwards into DENIAL and ANGER. Don’t take it personally.

Remember that HOPE is the KEY and TRY AGAIN!

  • Begin building relationships in the marketing process.  Then draw upon the knowledge gained to generate attractive options as the resident experiences the inevitable losses that come with aging.

The ability to convey compassion, show support, communicate an understanding of the grief process and present creative options will facilitate move-ins and reduce move-outs.

  • ALWAYS, treat the senior with dignity and respect and don’t insult their intelligence.

There is a tendency by some in the industry to “talk down” to the residents and treat them somewhat like children:  “Now, honey, you don’t want to do that…”   Respect their ability to understand the significance of their loss and the value of the proposed alternatives.

CASE STUDY: Jim lost his wife Tammy a little over a year ago.  He has been in declining health for a number of years with deteriorating eyesight (in fact, he is “legally” blind), but his wife had always promised him that she would take care of him and that he would never have to go into a nursing home.

Jim was a successful sales executive who used to be the “life of the party”, was active in his church, and attended all his college’s home games.  Due to his eyesight, he had to forgo these activities and retrofitted his 2-story colonial with a first floor bedroom.

Jim’s son Dale and his family moved in to take care of Jim.  But, both Dale and his wife work and Jim is often left at home with little to do all day.   Jim’s upset because Tammy often sat and had an afternoon “toddy” with him, but now everyone seems to have their own priorities with little time for him.

Some days Jim tries to do the things he “used to do”; this often causes additional problems (e.g. he fell and broke several lamps). Other days, he is angry with the grandchildren for being too loud, leaving their “stuff” in the way, etc. He is frustrated because he no longer seems in control of his “own home”.

Dale has come to you for help.  He has confided that several other communities stated that Jim seems like too much of a problem and they either want too much money for “specialized care” or said they aren’t interested in him as a potential resident; one even suggested that Dale contact a nursing home.

How would YOU handle this situation?

Please CLICK HERE to post your comments and suggestions.

[i]Beyond ‘DEATH and Dying’ – Part 3   Anger

[ii] “On Death and Dying”, Chapter V, by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, M.D., originally published in 1969

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!


[i] “Seniors embrace aging in place”, Jean Patteson, Orlando Sentinel, July 9, 2010.

[ii] Americans with Disabilities Act

[iii] International Council on Active Aging


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