By Steve Moran

I was in Florida the week before Thanksgiving for a Culture 2100 Inner Circle gathering where we spent 3 hours with one of the founders of the Ritz Carlton plus other team members who gave us so many practical lessons that I wish every reader had been there.

I used my time to tour several senior living communities. I want to start by saying that this process has gotten a lot better. It used to be that at least half of the time it was a complete disaster and today that is rarely the case.

At the same time . . . most of the experiences are not terrific.


Both visits took place on a Friday afternoon around 3 pm. The approach I took was that I was just hoping to learn a little more about assisted living. I am nearing that benchmark 65th birthday and look more or less my age, so I am finding that I become this huge puzzle for the people I talk to. Am I a prospective resident or a family member looking for a loved one? I get it, they don’t want to offend.

Upscale Senior Living

It started terrifically, I was immediately greeted by the receptionist who was super friendly. She immediately went to get the office manager to come give me a tour since the sales director was not in. She also offered to give me the sales director’s business card.

When the business manager came out to give me a tour she was friendly, took me to the dining room, and showed me an empty apartment. She said there were a number of empty units and that they had about 95 residents out of a potential for around 120. She told me she was not allowed to give me pricing, but did tell me that meals and lodging were included but that care was extra.

The Big Money Question

I have a new big money question that I like to ask when touring a community. I am not quite sure why this question never really occurred to me before.

Why should I choose your community over the other communities in the area?

This is actually a really critical question that every single senior living consumer should ask at every single community. Providing a bit of grace, the person who was touring me was not the salesperson, but the answer was a total fail. She simply had no answer except that they have the highest level of licensure the state of Florida offered.

I probed about price and location and she thought maybe those would be decent reasons. The person giving the tour had the sense that she had not given me the best answer but was at a total loss for what the right answer might be.

Modest Senior Living

The second community was an older assisted living community that could only be described as age-worn. Yet I had a terrific tour and the marketing director made me feel so welcome. She pointed out they were lower cost and that their rate was all-inclusive, meaning no care charges. She showed me some basic but very nice model units and she took the time to introduce me to several residents. Really more than that, she gave me the chance to engage with several residents. They were effusive about their home.

I asked her the same big question and she had no trouble giving a list of why their community is better than others in the area.

How We Do What We Do

We have fallen into this trap of thinking we have to be selling features and amenities, which makes selling really hard the moment a newer more luxurious community opens down the street.

But it is a curious thing.

We all ultimately do the same thing, our differentiation is how we do it. This is true for Starbucks, Zappos, Amazon, and Southwest Airlines. Senior living, at the most fundamental, is exactly the same: housing, food, and the same services as the guy down the street.

So when I see senior living organizations chasing the discounts of the competition I feel they are really saying,”We are no better than they are,” and I am not sure that is a very compelling sales pitch.

Do you know what makes you better than the competition?

Does your staff?