Senior Living Providers Gear Up for Holiday Shopping Season

The senior housing market may not exactly have a “Black Friday,” but historically, it sees a huge surge of interest from potential residents and their families around the holiday season.

Some senior housing lead providers report spikes as high as 50% greater interest in the weeks following Christmas versus the weeks leading up to the holiday. Due to the uptick in inquiries, marketers and senior housing providers are gearing up for the onslaught of holiday “shoppers.” And, they recognize that those seeking information around the holidays may be a slightly different kind of consumer.

Families Often Recognize Long-Term Care Needs During the Holidays

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“After every holiday we see a spike,” says Chris Rodde, CEO of Seniorhomes.com, which recorded a 58% increase in inquiry volume following December 25, 2011. “When families get together, adult children may have a greater realization at those holidays that mom or dad need some help. Christmas seems to be the most pronounced in terms of seasonality.”

The trend in those going online to seek senior housing solutions translates into more tours for providers and higher move-ins in the first quarter of 2012. Providers should prepare and react to the surge, Rodde says, to best serve the needs of potential residents.

“Providers should be following best practices for how to handle inquiries into their communities,” he says. “There are simple things like being staffed and ready to respond quickly. We know people who inquire on the Web have a short timeline. They don’t want to wait two days; they want to hear back in a couple of hours or less.”

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The trend is a consistent one. Other online information resources report a post-holiday surge, with Seniors for Living recording a pre-holiday downturn followed by a first-quarter recovery of 15%-25% and Care.com seeing a 68% increase in housing-related inquiries from December 2011 to January 2012.

Providers, in turn, see the impact in requests for community tours in December and January.

Preparing Communities for the Holiday Surge

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For Atlanta, Georgia-based The Arbor Company, post-holidays is a time of many community tours. Its Arbor Terrace at Crabapple community saw a 15%-25% uptick in the number of tours in January 2011 and January 2012.

“We don’t ramp up staffing necessarily, but we have advanced notice so we have an opportunity to address staffing in a timely manner,” says Lee Mohler, senior care counselor for Arbor.

The holidays can be a particularly good time for tours, especially because out-of-town family can visit along with potential residents.

“We reached to our advisors to ask them how they feel about the holidays. They said the holidays are a great time to move to a community because there are so many activities and events going on. It’s a good time to meet people, make friends and become a part of that community,” says Sean Kell, CEO of A Place for Mom. “It’s a wonderful time for new residents to join a community.”

Lead providers say there’s little difference in the time it takes to make a decision on the part of the resident and his or her family, but it is important to recognize the situation may be slightly different in the case of holiday shoppers.

“The caregiving needs that families are contacting us about during the holiday season are the same caregiving needs throughout the year,” says Jody Gastfriend, VP of Senior Care Services at Care.com. “The difference is that these family members may not see their loved ones as often to recognize the changes and potential struggles they’re facing.”

Often, those who shop around the holidays live far away from their adult children and it may be the first time a need for help becomes clear. Thus, the decision making process starts at the holidays, although it may not end until several weeks or months later.

“My theory would be: they are starting a conversation around the holidays but it’s not a need-driven decision [at that point],” says Doug Johnson, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Seniors for Living.

Providing Information to Holiday Shoppers

Knowing that many people do wait until the busy holiday time to address these decisions for the first time, providers can direct their marketing efforts toward getting information sooner, Mohler says.

“We try to give people enough information for when they are spending time with family over the holidays so they can make their own informal assessment,” she says. “Typically, the adult child isn’t spending more than a few minutes on the phone, or they are stopping by. We encourage families to use that time together and pay attention to their parent.”

The holiday surge, however, is a sure thing year in and year out, so senior living communities are best served in being prepared, regardless of their proactive efforts. Because it falls during the time of year when many employees seek time off to spend with family, it can cause an extra burden for some companies. It may mean creating a time-off incentive to work holidays, for example.

“The challenging thing for the providers is that this is often when their employees take time off,” Rodde says. “It’s a really consistent trend. We see it every year.”

Written by Elizabeth Ecker

This article is sponsored by the Assisted Living Federation of America (ALFA) as part of its efforts to advance excellence and explore topics impacting the future of senior living. For more information about ALFA, visit www.alfa.org.

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