I recently visited a beautiful continuing care retirement community (CCRC, or life plan community) in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and was struck by how very attractive and welcoming it was. After staying overnight in a comfortable guest suite, I woke up to take a sunrise jog. There was a walking/jogging trail that winded around the community, over several creeks, and around a beautiful fishing pond. The fog was drifting over the water with the sun rising in the background. There were free-standing independent living cottages with beautiful architecture. In the clubhouse, there was a cozy pub (where I am standing in the photo to the right) next to a library and game room, complete with pool table. I asked myself why in the world wouldn’t everyone want to live here?
On the prior day, on the plane ride into Tulsa, I sat by a retired couple who asked where I was headed. It turns out they live in Tulsa and were very familiar with the community I was visiting. In fact, they had visited there several times and are on the mailing list. They commented on how nice the community is and how they’ll likely give it serious consideration in the future. But, as I hear from so many people, they said they are simply “not ready yet.” Translation: They don’t think they’re old enough to move to a retirement community yet. So the question is, can CCRCs and younger retirees be a good fit?
CCRCs and younger retirees: time for a paradigm shift?
As I sat in the café of this beautiful community waiting for my breakfast, I looked around and wondered why many CCRCs find it a challenge to attract a younger base of residents. (It should be noted that this issue isn’t limited to CCRCs, but it tends to have a bigger impact on CCRCs because of the unique business model). As I pondered this question, I couldn’t help but wonder if there isn’t a long overdue need for more creative thinking and innovation on the part of the industry when it comes to marketing their “product,” not just in terms of physical design but with overall approach to selling the CCRC concept.
For example, think about the planned activities for CCRC residents. Perhaps the very offering of planned activities gives the impression that residents need help living active lives, furthering the image of a place for the old and frail. When many people think of activities for seniors, they think of assisted living and nursing homes. Maybe there needs to be a major paradigm shift in the industry’s mentality. Imagine for a moment that someone visits a retirement community and asks the staff what types of planned activities there are for residents to which the staff member answers:
“Our residents plan all of their own activities and daily lives just like they would if they were living anywhere else. After all, why should it be any different here? We offer an outstanding concierge service to support our residents in their plans, but we don’t plan activities for them.”
The concept of scheduled bus or van transportation also falls into this same line of thinking. Think about it for a moment: The next generation of retirees are people that many advertising materials feature riding motorcycles or surfing! How attractive is a group activity bus going to be to these people? Understandably, many vibrant seniors see such a bus around town and think, “I’m not old enough for that community; I still drive.” In fact, just last week I was visiting another retirement community when a prospective resident described to me how he and his wife enjoy cooking and still drive to the grocery store, so, he explained, they’re probably a few years away from making a move.
This isn’t to suggest that CCRCs and other retirement communities shouldn’t have transportation options available for residents who, over time, are no longer able to safely drive. But in the age of the so-called sharing economy, scheduled van transportation feels a bit, well, old. I’m so glad to see ride share programs like Lyft, GoGoGrandparent, and Arrive that are running pilots at select retirement communities; here’s a recent article on how ridesharing helps seniors. I wonder what other creative ideas communities could come up with for resident transportation. For those who may not yet be comfortable with ride-sharing, maybe there is a combination of alternatives, including resident volunteer drivers.
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Also, could it be that the reason some retirees say they are not old enough to move to a retirement community is because there are never any younger people, aside from staff, on site? If the industry wants to attract younger residents wouldn’t it make sense to have younger people around more often?
Some retirement communities already offer things like on-site tutoring for area students or collaborative projects with local youth programs, which have proven to be highly beneficial to all participants, but maybe there are some really unconventional ideas that could completely change the public’s perception of a community. For example, maybe there are certain amenities that could be opened up to area families and working professionals at little or no cost, such as conference rooms, the fitness center and pool, coffee shops, or pubs? Or what about offering to host popular bootcamp-style fitness groups on the community’s property, such as this one that I’ve participated in over the years. These types of groups are always looking for open areas and trails. (Would that be great PR for a CCRC or what!) There may be legal implications to some of these types of ideas but the point is that brainstorming new and creative ideas can lead to positive change.
Finally, to attract younger retirees, I think it’s important to think about what younger retirees really like to do. For example, the early- to-mid-retirement years afford many people the freedom to travel without as many obligations and responsibilities. I wonder how many retirement communities have considered partnering with a travel group to offer special travel benefits or exclusive membership programs to residents. Other ideas might include a concert series package available only to residents. Again, the ideas are endless. The best thing is that many of these types of ideas cost the community little or no money. To the extent that they are an expense, the hope is that it would be minimal compared to the benefit for residents.
Website first impressions
I am always surprised by the number of CCRC websites I visit that emphasize healthcare by having pictures of nurses sitting with residents or tout their recognition by U.S. News and World Report as one of the top-ranked nursing homes. Please don’t misunderstand me: I know that high-quality healthcare is very important for CCRCs. But if these are the types of images people first see on the website, then it is no wonder they feel like they’re not old enough yet! After all, who wants to move to a nursing home?
I’ve also seen a number of websites with pictures of activities that people generally associate with “retirement homes.” As an alternative, wouldn’t it be much better to have pictures of residents (not stock photos) doing the types of things that active retirees might enjoy—hopefully resident-led activities such as wine tastings, fitness, lecture courses, and cooking. As I mentioned above, the man I met recently felt that he and his wife aren’t ready to move to a CCRC because they still cook. It stands to reason, then, that pictures of residents cooking would be helpful.
New ideas for a new generation of prospects
The ideas proposed above are just examples, which may or may not be completely practical. But I think it’s time to take the lid off of conventional thinking when it comes to selling the CCRC concept to younger new residents.
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