By Jack Cumming

Recently, I’ve been shadow shopping senior living. I haven’t tried to deceive, but I haven’t revealed that I’m already a resident either. No two senior living communities approach marketing in the same way, though there are similarities, and they are all proud of what they do. One event, though, in mid-April was the pits.

Unpleasant Surprise

I went to what I thought was a marketing event only to find that there was nothing marketing about it. A handful of prospects were there, me included, but we were completely ignored, as the provider staff chatted among themselves. Eventually, there was an offer of a tour.

But, the site chosen for the event was seedy. I didn’t need a tour to show me how uninviting living there appeared. No wonder they needed to host an event. They must struggle to get people to move into a shared occupancy studio apartment. How could an event be so ineffective?  Here’s the story.

Let’s call the offering operator “Antiqua” to avoid embarrassing anyone. Using that pseudonym, the event was billed as “Antiqua Showcase.”  The suggestion was that all of Antinqua’s local communities, most of them basic assisted living, would be showcased during a two-hour special event. I was interested in a multi-level community which I assumed would be represented on a panel. There never was a “showcase,” only that offer of a tour.

Although they asked for advance registration, it was evident that walk-ins were okay. As a shopper, I don’t want salespeople to pressure me. I came as a walk-in. That was no problem. It was easy to stay anonymous. There were no name tags. There was a reception desk with three salespeople hovering nearby, but all they did was to direct me into an adjacent room where there was a loud hubbub of people drinking wine and eating canapés.

Feeling Alien

The attendees all had permanent Antiqua company name badges. They were gathered at stand-up tables chattering with each other. They all knew each other. I immediately felt out of place. I thought I must have made a mistake. The party clearly wasn’t for anyone elderly. I figured I must have wandered into a management meeting.

I looked for a place where I could sit, and there were a few tables with chairs near the perimeter. I spotted a nice-looking older couple at a table, and as I approached their table a saleswoman suggested I sit with them. Despite that, I asked them if I could join them, and I did. Like me, they were confused, thinking the event was for prospects not just staff.

The Tour

The couple, he from Brooklyn originally, she from the Philippines, told me they were planning to tour the place. I demurred. I didn’t need to tour a place I wouldn’t put anyone, much less my mother, or myself. It was flat out uninviting. I spoke with the shopping couple for half an hour after which they were summoned for their tour, and I prepared to leave.

At that point, three other people showed up for the tour. Hence there were five people on the tour and, perhaps, 30 much younger working people having a party. As I left, a saleswoman approached, and we conversed. I was still puzzled, so I asked about the event. She confirmed that it was a marketing event for prospects.

It had been widely advertised by eblast and in local newspapers. The young folks of the hubbub were the “showcase.” I have no idea why there was no program during which each Executive Director might have briefly described one of the communities. Instead of presenting they partied and socialized … with each other … while the prospects were ignored. The employees were there, purportedly, to answer prospects’ questions. Who would have guessed?

This confusing experience contrasted with a similar marketing event a couple of days earlier at a nearby CCRC. We’ll cover that in a follow-on article. Takeaway. If you’re trying to attract residents make them, and their families, feel welcome when they show up.