Entrepreneurs, an opportunity looms. An estimated 17 million baby boomers will be 65 years or older as of 2030. According to Forbes, “The so-called longevity economy, which serves the needs of Americans over 50, is currently a $7.1 trillion market and composes 46% of the US economy, according to Oxford Economics. As baby boomers continue to age, the market is forecasted to grow to more than $13.5 trillion by 2032.” That would be trillion, with a T.
The pending 2020 census data will add additional insight into this market, including household income, education levels, and where the population lives. Even without that data, it’s possible to anticipate changes to the business landscape that include innovations for healthy aging and shifts in service needs for this demographic.
Why Age in Place?
Aging in place, also known as growing older at home, has advantages. Home is familiar. It may be less expensive than moving into a senior community. It eliminates the “end of the road” mentality that can occur when a person moves out of their lifelong home. It reduces the risk of catching a contagious virus like the common cold, the seasonal flu, or COVID-19. No doubt the coronavirus pandemic has prompted conversations about the advantages of aging in place. Barron’s predicts: “The daily news of tragedies at nursing homes and stories of families unable to visit loved ones because of quarantines are going to leave a mark on the industry.”
But that’s not to say there aren’t downsides to aging in place. Isolation can set in, especially if a person isn’t mobile or fears leaving the house. Houses, or even apartments, require maintenance ranging from yard work to replacing light bulbs. And aging in place does not always mean 100% independent living—physical or medical assistance may be needed. These challenges are business opportunities for enterprising entrepreneurs.
Services for the Aging Population
Each aging individual will have different needs that change over time. A retired computer programmer probably won’t need help setting up her smartphone but might need help walking the dog on icy days. One person may require assistance with daily living, while another person may only need occasional help. The NIH planning list for aging in place includes categories that businesses could use for ideas on how to service this population.
Cooking for 1 can be a bother. Toss in dietary restrictions like diabetes or low-sodium requirements and it can be overwhelming. Many seniors qualify for Meals on Wheels, but the menu gets repetitive. A restaurant or ghost kitchen could offer pre-packaged heat-to-serve menus targeting specific dietary needs. Collaboration with a government program may be an option. For example, California launched “Great Plates Delivered” to deliver meals to seniors while giving local restaurants a boost during the coronavirus pandemic.
Aging in place doesn’t mean staying at home all the time—doctor visits, errands, and visiting grandkids require transit. But driverless cars aren’t mainstream yet, and options for public transportation or shared-ride services are non-existent in most rural areas. A segment of the older population can’t drive, while others will be reluctant to drive in bad weather or after dark. Thus services to transport people or act as an errand runner (like dropping off packages at the post office) will be needed.
Remember the frustration you’ve experienced with setting up a new laptop? Multiply that aggravation 10-fold and that will be the future for the senior population. Aging in place will include smart sensors that monitor a home to alert caregivers to anomalies (e.g., the coffee maker wasn’t used at its normal time, which might indicate a mobility issue). The Internet of Things will require installation, integration, and maintenance.
Telehealth is on the rise, but inexperience with technology or physical disabilities could prevent some seniors from accessing telehealth options. For example, smart pill dispensers are evolving into devices that also take a patient’s vital signs and transmit that data to medical staff. A boon to aging in place? Sure. But only if there are service providers to help get that device set up and the patient trained on how to use it.
A personal assistant, virtual or in-person, can help navigate the chores of daily living. Which form is required for insurance reimbursement? The dryer quit working—does that require a dryer repair technician or an electrician? Even coordinating appointments has value. For example, setting up a vetting appointment with a social worker for services can be delayed if the senior doesn’t use the internet and forgets to keep a cell phone charged.
At some point, standing on a kitchen chair to remove cobwebs or balancing on the edge of a handrail to string up holiday decorations becomes dicey. Eventually, a home reconfiguration may be required to remain there. For example, a handle needs to be installed in the shower, or the steps from the garage need to be replaced with a ramp. Businesses that provide repair, cleaning, or ad hoc physical labor services will be in demand.
Zoom calls can’t replace all face-to-face interaction. Chatting over a cup of tea, retrieving the magazine that fell behind the counter, or walking around the neighborhood can only be done in person. The aging-in-place population will require company, and some of that will be hired-in.
Marketing to Seniors
Now that you have a business idea, how do you market your service or product to this demographic? The older demographic has a few unique marketing challenges, including:
- Cost: Fixed income can cause price-sensitivity. Non-routine purchases (e.g., replacing a roof) can cause sticker-shock.
- Slippery slope: Hiring out tasks can trigger a feeling that independence is slipping away.
- Overwhelmed: Figuring out who/what/when/why can cause “I’ll get to it later” syndrome to kick in.
- Safety: Permitting strangers to enter a home can be perceived as a personal safety risk.
- Peer reviews: Google reviews can’t hold a candle to the impact of word-of-mouth in the senior community. One negative verbal review can run like wildfire through the senior network.
There are possible workarounds for these resistance points:
- Contact your local senior center to be placed on their ‘vetted’ list.
- Offer loyalty programs and referral bonuses to increase referrals.
- Spend marketing dollars to educate potential clients. According to Search Engine Journal, “…the older audience requires added explanation, clarity, and general guidance throughout the information seeking and buying process.”
- Find what motivates your target market to move from the research phase to the buy phase. As one senior described the decision to hire a personal assistant, “Words only go so far with people our age. At some point. you have to put a boot up our you-know-what.”
As you do your business research on the longevity economy, keep your eyes open for “data mashups” that show unique needs within the aging market. One size won’t fit all, which translates to opportunity for freelancers and new businesses.