What Senior Living Can Learn from an Iconic American Brand

The 21st Century Senior Living Community is a series brought to you by CDW, a provider of technology solutions and services focused exclusively on serving the healthcare marketplace. The series takes a clear-eyed look at how leading providers and their partners are creating the next generation of senior living communities by raising the bar on services, design, and technology.

When it comes to technology implementation, the senior housing industry may be able to learn a great deal from a famous brand of shatter-resistant cookware.

That’s according to Ginna Baik, a strategic business development executive at CDW Healthcare. At first, her assertion may seem like a bit of a stretch—but if senior housing operators nationwide can use technology to adapt to a changing society as Corning Inc. did, the industry will likely thrive for years to come.

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Lessons from Corning Ware

So, what famous brand of dishes should senior housing operators strive to emulate? Corning Ware.

The once-unique brand of dishwasher-safe cookware, which was especially popular in the mid-20th century, can be removed from the freezer or refrigerator and placed directly in the microwave, on the stovetop or in an oven, and it’s guaranteed not to break.

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Years ago, “every single home had Corning Ware,” Baik said during a July 13 presentation at the 2017 Senior Housing News Summit in Chicago. Corning Ware’s U.S. domination naturally didn’t last forever, though.

“Paper plates and all kinds of other dishes were kind of replacing Corning Ware,” Baik explained. To stay relevant, and afloat, “their business had to evolve.”

The material that Corning Ware is made out of is “super durable,” and over the years the company realized that its uses could span much more than simply plates and bowls.

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Now, Corning Ware “take[s] the technology that they put in [their] dishes, [and] it’s actually the Gorilla Glass behind every iPhone,” Baik said. The company, in other words, realized that there wasn’t much of a market for its older products anymore, so it listened to what newer consumers wanted and changed its product offerings accordingly.

The senior housing industry, in many ways, resembles the Corning Ware of yesteryear.

The industry has been using the same metaphorical “dishes”—or operating communities without technology—“over and over” because it seems like a “practical” thing to do, Baik explained.

But today’s senior living customer—in particular residents’ adult daughters—aren’t going to necessarily want to buy the same technologically-challenged product as their parents. They, in other words, do not want Corning Ware—most at least want paper plates, while others already want scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass.

“[The senior housing industry] needs to evolve, we can’t continue to do the same thing over and over again,” Baik said.

Need for change

Some senior housing operators may be putting off technology implementation because their current residents don’t see the appeal.

[“[They might think] ‘right now, it’s not really that big of a need,’” Baik said. “But the reality is it’s shifting, and it’s shifting very fast.”

The iPhone, for instance, was created 10 years ago—and now “everyone” owns a smartphone,” she said. The shift from absolutely no one having a smartphone to their wide use today serves as an indication of how quickly different technologies are catching on among all age groups.

Many of today’s senior living residents—and those expected years from now—also love to use the Internet to shop, read the news and “search WebMD,” Baik said. Plus, many senior housing residents have grandchildren, and they’re particularly interested in connecting with them using technology, she noted.

“There is a statistic that showed that 50% of grandparents and grandkids are separated by 100 miles or more,” she said. Seniors, once taught, can use email or videochat to connect with their loved ones who live far away.

Even if an operator’s current senior living residents seem uninterested in technology like community-wide WiFi, their disinterest is probably not going to last much longer. To stay relevant, senior housing communities all over the country need to adapt to their residents’ changing needs—including where technology is concerned.

Written by Mary Kate Nelson

Photo source: “Corning Ware Country Festival” by Gerrilynn Nunley, CC BY 2.0

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