Today about 10% of the seniors who would benefit from Assisted Living actually live in assisted living communities.  The 10% market penetration has not made an appreciable change in the last 10 or 15 years.  If that number were to increase just 1% to 11% (yes I know that it is a 10% improvement) it would provide huge benefits to seniors and operators.

The number of seniors in assisted living would jump 100,000.  It would create more income for operators allowing them to be more innovative in serving seniors.  It would allow more funding for lower income seniors.  It would improve the lives of those 100,000 seniors.

While at ALFA this past week Peter Sheahan, CEO of ChangeLabs, author of the books FlipMaking it Happen and Gen-Y, and amazing speaker, talked about innovation.  The presentation at its purest level was a challenge to dream big, to imagine the impossible.

His presentation focused on two significant barriers to innovation, Industry Norms and Customer Expectations.  These are things that hit at the heart of Senior Housing.  This week I will talk about Industry Norms and next week about Customer Expectations.

Industry Norms

At the risk of offending some big players in the senior housing industry I would offer that when you browse the websites of both major and minor players in senior housing, they will all look pretty much the same.  There will be smiling seniors eating or playing bingo.  There will be smiling care givers and a smiling nurse.  You could extract paragraphs of text from one community or one corporate website and paste it into a competitors website and no one would know the difference (something that would be humorous for a hacker to do).

If you want further proof, all of the studies demonstrate the number one determining factor in the selection of a senior housing community is location.  There is nothing wrong with this . . . . exactly . . . but if we were honest . . . . most of us would be willing to have our mother or father in a community that was ten, fifteen or twenty minutes away if the resident experience were truly amazing.

The goal of most senior housing companies is to meet or very slightly exceed industry norms.  It is just another way of following the axiom that no one ever got fired for buying IBM.

The challenge Peter offered was to not let those industry norms be your handcuffs that prevent you from creating an amazing resident experience.

Today you will find resident units will very slightly in size, and quality.  There will be slight variations, in the amount of common area, the dining experience and featured activities.  As communities compete with each other they all try to be the very best in one or more of these parameters, but there is never a serious effort to create a “blow it out” experience.  There is a perceived, and perhaps even real, danger in going outside the norms.  It will not be safe but it has the potential to be amazing. . .  to be the Apple, or the Google or Facebook of Senior Housing.  It offers the potential of setting the new norm.

Not only do you have the potential of setting the bar, more importantly you have the real potential to move the whole industry into that next 1%.

Next week I will explore the second and equally stifling barrier to innovation in senior housing: Meeting your customer/consumer expectations.  Yep you read that right, I proofed it just to make sure I got it right.

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Finally: If you know anyone who is looking at emergency call systems I would appreciate the opportunity to talk with them about Vigil Health Solutions.