It would be fair to say that Margaret Wylde, the founder and President/CEO of ProMatura, is one of the serious thought leaders in the senior living industry. ProMatura is a market research and advisory firm that specializes in the 50+ market space. Their specific focuses include age-qualfied housing, consumer products, customer service and marketing and sales.

She is a frequent speaker at regional and national senior living conferences and you will always find her sessions packed with people who want to learn from her research and insights. A few weeks ago I got a chance to visit with Margaret about how she sees the senior living industry today and where the opportunities are in the future.

Core Beliefs & Understandings

Margaret and I spent considerable time talking about her core beliefs and understandings about seniors and senior living:

  • Senior living, as it is today, is selling a product that most seniors don’t want. This does not particularly mean there is something wrong with senior living, it is just that adults who have been their own boss are generally comfortable in their homes and do not want to change their lifestyle. They want to stay in the place that is familiar to them; the place where all their stuff is; the place where many of their memories live.
  • The paradox: Many of those prospects who vigorously resist moving into senior living communities would, in fact, be much better off if they were to make the move. The buildings, services and amenities within the vast majority of communities are outstanding. People who move to either independent or assisted living would have opportunities to be close to other people, would get rid of the requirements of keeping up their home and its never-ending maintenance, and have opportunities to dine with or just get together with people when they want.
  • In the industry today, however, the building, amenities, services and group programming have become more important than supporting the lifestyle of the individual.

The Challenge – Not Like Home

A number of months ago I was touring a CCRC with the executive director and we were talking about resident life. She said something that I have only heard come out of the mouth of a senior living leader that one time.

“This is not like home!”

This is a hugely important insight because, with this as a starting proposition, it becomes much easier to think about how to make it look and feel like home. Here are some of the challenges Margaret talked about:

  • Only about 13% of all of our independent living customers are really into the congregate living thing. These are the people who are gregarious and outgoing, who look for, attend and look forward to almost every activity. For these individuals independent living is like a dream come true. It could very well be the best time of their lives.
  • It is not that for the rest of the adult market or the anti-social. They just prefer more casual, more intimate relationships. They would prefer to sit and talk about families and current events with friends they choose, at times they choose and with people they choose. The current model of life enrichment and building design does not do much to meet these needs.
  • Three meals a day, every day means having to dress up three times a day, seven days per week in order to eat. This is most problematic for breakfast (I say this as I sit here eating breakfast on my back patio in grubby shorts and t-shirt. something I would never wear to breakfast in a senior living community).

Dressing for dinner, occasionally would be nice, but everyday???  I’m happy to see many communities putting in alternative dining venues. Now, if we could have carry-out, quick-order cafes, that would even be better.

Today most developers and operators look to the hospitality industry for new ideas to better serve customers for age-qualified housing and which leads to bigger, grander amenities likely to have a bigger wow factor during a tour. But these do not automatically translate into a better experience for residents and families. People want to live in a place where they feel at home.

In fact they may ultimately end up distracting and detracting from the way people really want to live.

What do you think?

Steve Moran

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