For years we’ve been reading about the impending impact of aging baby boomers on our society. Today those futuristic discussions have been replaced with questions about how to meet boomer retirement needs now. For starters, review some important info about boomers:
- 78 million American boomers were born between 1946 and 1964
- 1 out of every 21 people in the U.S. today is a baby boomer
- 70% of the nation’s wealth is in the hands of baby boomers
- The age segment 50-65 will grow in size by 70% over the next 15 years
- Women outnumber men and influence as much as 80% of household purchase decisions
- Baby boomers do not think of themselves as old
Not Business as Usual Baby boomers are changing the face of retirement and embracing the lifestyle changes showcased in the book Successful Aging, by John W. Rowe, M.D. and Robert L.Kahn, Ph.D. To paraphrase, those changes include: physical health, social connections and support networks, and life long learning. Senior housing organizations need to evaluate whether they include these lifestyle changes, and make certain they do now.
Change How You Operate How does your organization fit into the successful aging approach? Are you organized around what Rowe and Kahn call the six myths? 1) To be old is to be sick. 2) You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. 3) The horse is out of the barn. 4) The secret to successful aging is to choose your parents wisely. 5) The light may be on, but the voltage is low. 6) The elderly don’t pull their own weight. If you see your organization’s operations in these myths change now.
Are there ways you can extend your organization’s brand around health, emotional support, social networks and life long learning? Replace the fitness room with a wellness program. How can your community take advantage of the boomer’s desire to travel? Partner with travel services to offer fun, stimulating destination packages. How does your organization plan to fit with the notion that boomers see reinventing careers as a desirable goal? Join with area colleges, universities or vocational schools to offer classes. What does your web site look like and is it user friendly? Boomers are sophisticated web surfers. Ask the adult children of your current residents to look at and give feedback about your site. These same adult children could very well be your next customers. Engage them in conversation and listen to what they have to say. Boomer women are likely to outlive their husbands by 6-9 years and live 19 years into retirement. As a result they’ll have to manage money. How does your organization help? Find credible financial experts and businesses to join you in creating programs to address their needs.
Boomers Are Not Their Parents Boomers have learned from their parents’ experiences. Mom moved from home to retirement community to hospital to assisted living to skilled nursing. They do not want to live these experiences. These new customers want to be active, keep learning and seek engaging experiences and relationships. They see activities at senior housing communities today as appropriate for their parents, but of little interest to them. Many boomers don’t want the traditional housing configuration of living room, dining room, bed room. Their lifestyles are more comfortable with a kitchen-dining-living space, bedroom and media room.
Effective Messages Boomers want to “see” what their retirement lives will look like if they choose your community, so using language that tells a story in which they see themselves is critical. Messages that work are those that connect to youthful attitudes, embracing age, wisdom from experience, emotional relevance, vitality and inner beauty.
Housing means less to boomers than the sense of “community.” Connection with the spirit of community is more important than luxurious amenities. Be prepared to spend more one-on-one time with boomers. They put a premium on relationships formed, rather than advertising features or amenities. That being said, an organization’s attention to customer service and customer relations will be more important than ever.
The organizational challenge is to continue to meet the needs of current residents while changing to meet the needs of boomers. Congratulations if your organization already has a plan, and if you don’t, get one. In either case put your plan into action now the Baby Boomers are here.