When it comes to senior living communities, nothing gets a more negative response than words like “generic,” “corporate standard,” or, the worst yet, “institutionalized.”

By Susan Saldibar

Leveraging Local Preferences to Build a Better Community

When it comes to senior living communities, nothing gets a more negative response than words like “generic,” “corporate standard,” or, the worst yet, “institutionalized.” When we hear these words, we think of watered-down food, pre-programmed activities, standard exercise programs, and lots of generic furnishings. Not a place anyone would want to put a parent, and not a place any parent would want to be put.

Michael Johnson, VP of Research for ServiceTrac, a Senior Housing Forum partner, regularly consults with senior living communities. He recently conducted a focus group in Alabama for a developer who was planning to build a new senior care community. The purpose of the focus group was to discover the value of using local vendors and adopting more of the local culture in their programs. Michael spoke with me about potential setbacks that can arise as a result of continuing to take a “corporate standards” approach when designing senior living communities.

Local Trumps Corporate

“Sticking to corporate programs and products can get a new senior living community off to a rocky start,” says Michael. “People can sense it the minute they walk through the doors, regardless of how new and clean it is.”

Integrating local preferences into your community will allow you to engage and satisfy your residents, while gaining a strong competitive advantage. Here are some examples that have come out of ServiceTrac’s focus groups:

  • Using local farms: A chef in a community in Iowa made the wise choice to use locally raised pork. Residents loved knowing it was helping local farmers. Bonus point: The chef saved money!

  • Sweet local honey: When residents in a Utah community spotted generic honey on their tables, they inquired about using honey from a popular local beekeeper instead.

  • New England chowder: A senior living community in Massachusetts disliked the corporate recipe for chowder, and requested the use of a local chowder recipe more suited to their region.

  • Appliance preferences: Not everyone loves stainless steel appliances. One senior living community insisted on replacing high-end stainless steel with easy to clean alternatives.

  • Fresh mountain air: Located at the foot of a beautiful mountain range with accessible walking trails, seniors in an outdoors-focused rural area wanted activities that took advantage of their location in the great outdoors.

Do Some Legwork Before You Design and Build

Michael offered up some good advice for all senior care providers, but especially those designing and building new communities:

  • Canvass the community before you build. Find out what types of activities, food, and other local preferences are unique to the community. It may impact not only your community, but also which third party vendors and services you procure.

  • What is the local management style? A smaller community in a rural setting may not be comfortable with the kind of management style more acceptable in a larger, urban community.

“Finally, don’t rely solely on published studies and the Internet to get the input you need,” says Michael. “Get out into the community and find out what’s special about it. Get some qualitative input from actual area residents. It will make all the difference to your community and your bottom line.”  

For more information about focus groups with ServiceTrac, visit their website or contact a survey expert today.