Why Demographics and ‘Gut Feeling’ Won’t Cut it in Senior Living

Demographics are one thing; data is another. Whether for senior housing, hospitality, retail or restaurants, companies operating in each business segment rely on data tracking to drive operations and boost profits. Though differing in the clientele they serve, the common thread that runs through each sector: the importance of keeping tabs on clientele.

Here is where senior housing can make an impact, say operations executives who spoke during a recent panel discussion at the National Executive Forum hosted by Revista, a data analytics firm for the medical real estate industry.

“In seniors housing, we’ve been seeing an increase in the transparency of data that’s available,” said Beth Burnham Mace, chief economist for the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care (NIC). “Market transparency is important for investors to move into the sector.”

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Long-recognized as one of the leading sources for data and analytics within senior housing, NIC tracks a variety of different metrics across metros nationwide. The organization tracks characteristics like the balance between supply and demand, penetration rates, absorption, construction activity and occupancy within a certain geographic area, to name just a few.

For senior housing investors considering possible markets to enter, analyzing all of those metrics could prove futile if they don’t consider the operator with whom they’re looking to partner.

“Seniors housing is an operating business,” Mace said. “If you don’t take into account the operator, a great location may not work out.”

Beyond the demographics

As with all data, tracking metrics within a business is one thing, but what happens with that data will be the measure of success.

“Big data is worthless by itself. It’s what you do with the data that’s important in enabling you to make better decisions and with confidence,” said Bill Stinneford, senior vice president of sales and account management at Buxton, a firm that provides customer analytics to the healthcare, retail and restaurant industries, among others.

That’s what retailers have been doing for the better part of the last decade, he added, in that they’re using data to unlock the best attributes of their best customers. And it goes way further analyzing demographic data.

“Customer analytics help you understand who’s a good customer and who is not,” Stinneford said. “You have to go beyond just demographics today. You can have two people with the same age, ethnicity and income, but they can be different people in how they live their lives and how they spend their money.”

Hospitality tracking

The same is true for the hospitality industry in going beyond tracking the basics of metrics like occupancy, demand and average daily rate. While those may help drive revenue, and ultimately ROI, they are but one side of the equation.

“We have the luxury of having a wealth of data at our fingertips,” said Payal Gandhi, CFA, director of feasibility and development with Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc. (NYSE: HOT).

One of the tasks Starwood has undertaken is building a predictive model that can show the company where the next hotel-to-be can reside in the next three to five years’ time. Part of this involves building a database on guest preferences, leveraging technology to look at guests’ usage patterns with mobile technology, Gandhi said.

This year, Starwood—which owns brands like Sheraton, W and Westin—began mapping the features of all its rooms across 1,200 properties, having employees take note of each room’s key attributes, such as the type of fridge, workspace within the room, whether the room has one or two beds, entertainment system, proximity to the elevator and ice machine, scenic view and whether it has connecting doors, etc.

A smartphone app takes all of this information into account, enabling guests to customize their stays at a Starwood property by choosing attributes that they prefer in for their lodging.

Earlier this month, Starwood launched its most recent product, SPG Keyless, a mobile entry system that allows guests to use their smartphone as a room key. The company rolled out the new tech at its Aloft, Element and W hotel brands around the world.

Using patterns of these guest preference systems could be tracked and noted by Starwood during one’s stay, translating to even more innovative products and services to improve guest satisfaction, Gandhi said.

“By better using internal systems to gather data offered openly by guests themselves, Starwood is constantly striving to better personalize services to the guest,” Gandhi told SHN in an email.

Regardless of industry, the executives agreed that the number one data point that’s most powerful is data on their customers, guests, patients and residents.

“It starts with the customer, customer, customer,” said Stinneford. “If you don’t have enough of the right customers in the right proximity, you don’t have anything. Using demographics and that gut feeling might work 75% of the time, but it’s that other 25% that kills you.”

Written by Jason Oliva

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