To Attract Boomers, Senior Living Providers Should Think More Like Retailers

As baby boomers and their adult children begin to make senior living purchasing decisions in the coming years, those designing and developing the communities will need to prepare for a new consumer.

And with the new consumer comes a new approach for providers: They should be thinking more like brick-and-mortar retailers than like traditional senior housing operators.

“We are going from an industry where people were pushed into something versus something we are going to pull people into,” says Gaurie Rodman, director of planning services at Direct Supply Aptura, based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. “It’s a different mindset. We need to look at senior living like retailers do—like Starbucks, or Gap [would look at their potential customers].


This change in the mindset of the senior housing consumer and the operator hinges on several areas that senior housing providers can target as they are experiencing this major shift, Rodman said during a recent presentation before attendees of the 2018 Argentum Senior Living Executive Conference in San Diego, California. There are some actionable ways providers can build specifically for the baby boomer generation with a retail approach in mind—even well in advance of the coming era when they will become the primary residents.

Selling based on want vs. need

In the early days of assisted living, the move for most residents was primarily driven by a need for assistance, whether as the result of a health event, or the loss of some independent function such as driving or cooking. Today’s consumers are much more driven by their wants, just as they are when making other purchase decisions, from financial products to restaurant spending.


“There’s a lot more want- versus needs-based decision making,” Rodman said. “Rather than asking someone: ‘what is the matter with you?’ Ask: ‘what matters to you?’”

Realigning with the wants of baby boomers as they age, rather than strictly aligning with their needs, will help encourage prospective residents as well as their family members. This underscores the mindset shift.

“Let’s decide if we are a right fit for each other,” Rodman says, noting the the decision making process should be a dialogue rather than a one-way street.

Approaching technology … as needed

With the rise of technology available to help both residents and staff, providers need to be selective about how they are incorporating technology and how their prospective residents are likely to respond.

There has been much debate among industry participants about whether technology can automate the care process and how consumers and their family members respond to technology that takes the place of human touch.

“Where is touch necessary versus where can I automate things?” Rodman asks.

A secondary function of technology is its ability to collect and analyze consumer behaviors, preferences and outcomes, especially as they relate to health care. As a critical component of the post-acute care landscape, technology is rising as an essential care management tool in that it can collect and analyze data to help direct care plans based on an individual’s medical history, or the experiences of many with similar conditions.

“The data will help us make better smarter choices,” Rodman says.

‘Retooling’ for variety and experiences on-demand

While there are current uncertainties about the preferences of the incoming boomer population, there are some best practices that can be implemented even now, as a means to deliver an experience—or a series of experiences—that today’s consumer wants. That starts with flexible communities, Rodman says.

Rather than a large, outward-facing nurse station as was common in the past, the nurse station can be incorporated into the fabric of the building, for example.

Spaces can also offer different purposes depending on time of day to cater to individual wants and needs of residents, who increasingly demand choice and convenience akin to the immediate response retailers like Amazon deliver.

“One space can serve four [purposes],” Rodman said. “In the evening, the lights go down, in the morning, it’s a coffee bar, during the day there is a grab-and-go market tucked away, with an ice cream station and a TV for watching games.” The same space Rodman described, which was recently designed by Direct Supply, also has both high and low seating, as well as a piano.

“When you create spaces in the same footprint, think about different settings,” Rodman says. “Offer flexible space and choices. Grandchildren can come in to do their homework.”

Written by Elizabeth Ecker

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