Jackie Stone, Author at Varsity Branding

Author: Jackie Stone

Recently, a colleague forwarded an email to me that arrived in his inbox from the Harvard Business Review. The headline read, “Today’s Tip: Pressuring Your Sales Team Can Be Counterproductive.”

Wow, did that statement ever resonate with me. My colleague’s accompanying note said, “Doesn’t that suit your sales philosophy to a T, Jackie?” And he was 100 percent right.

In my long-standing work training and coaching sales staff at senior living communities, I have absolutely found that turning up the pressure to get team members to “make the numbers” doesn’t help, and in fact, is often seriously detrimental. As the Harvard Business Review article went on to explain, it’s not about closing sales at any cost; it’s about training and coaching salespeople to sell more effectively, not harder. Get the process right, and the sales flow from there.

Selling Isn’t Like the Movies

Perhaps it’s movies about high-pressure sales environments — “Jerry Maguire,” “Glengarry Glen Ross,” “Boiler Room” and the list goes on — that add to the impression that the most effective way to make salespeople reach sales goals is to crank up the heat and dangle money in front of them. But I’ve found that pressuring people and setting impossible goals for them doesn’t work well. In fact, pressure adds stress and anxiety, which hinders productivity, and setting unrealistic goals, no matter what the reward, demotivates people because they feel that success is unattainable.

Another unfortunate side effect of pressuring your salespeople is that they tend to turn around and pressure prospects, and when you become aggressive and push prospects to make a decision, they push back. In a category where the sales funnel to a decision can require an average of 24 touches and potentially two years to reach that decision, it’s much more important to build a relationship of trust with your prospects and lead them through the sales journey than to strong-arm them.

Same Team

When I train and coach sales staff, I put myself on their team. I work alongside them, get to know their selling style and where they might need additional training and support. Do they need help in selling the appointment over the phone? Or are their conversion rates of getting the appointments good, but their closing rate on getting deposits needs to improve?

I find out what I need to do to support salespeople in reaching their goals and being successful. I also help them understand that selling, especially in high-dollar and highly emotional sales, is about communicating and connecting with that unique individual sitting across from you. How I do that, and how I train others to do that, is by asking the right questions and really listening to learn what the person values; what his or her fears, hopes and dreams are; and how he or she makes decisions. When people feel understood, acknowledged and accepted, rapport is built, and they will follow you. This goes for salespeople as well as prospects.

If you were to ask any senior living sales and marketing professional who their greatest competition is, you’ll probably get one answer pretty consistently – “their own home.”

Even from the surface level, it makes perfect sense. If a person is comfortable in the home that they are already living in, and perhaps own, why would they undertake a major move to a retirement community? Usually, the impetus for a move often isn’t a choice, but rather a need, such as health concerns, inability to keep up with regular maintenance, or rising taxes. When these “pain points” become too much to bear, a person may start to look at other options.

There is, however, a new trend surfacing in the aging services space that purports to help people in these situations. Savvy marketers are pivoting their products and services to appeal to individuals who would much rather stay at home than make the move. If these products and services can keep you in your own home longer, at a fraction of the cost, why wouldn’t you consider them? This tactic has become the new marketing sweet spot for a very specific subset of companies – home bathroom remodelers.

One of the biggest hurdles people face as they age is maintaining their lifestyle in a space built for a younger person. Where once the bathtub ridge was easily negotiable, now it is a tripping hazard. In your 30’s, you don’t care if a shower has a seat or a grab bar, but when you are in your 80’s, these are important additions. Also, as human beings, when we are feeling unwell, we gravitate to two rooms in particular – the bedroom and the bathroom. Bedrooms can be pretty easy to rearrange and refurnish since they are just an empty box with a closet until furniture is brought in. But, a bathroom is a different story.

A recent survey of 1,100 homeowners aged 55 and older found that more than half are in the midst of or are considering a bathroom remodeling project. Let that sink in for a minute. More than half of the key demographic for senior living marketers are taking steps to stay in their current home longer, rather than to look at other housing options. The average bathroom remodel costs around $7,000. Even without specific data, we can take an educated guess that someone who spends a significant amount of money in remodeling their home, with accessibility in mind, is far less likely to consider making a big move to a senior living campus.

Accessibility is the true goal in a majority of these remodels. Nearly half of those doing bathroom remodels (47%) are changing their bathroom layout entirely, and a third of all remodels results in the removal of the bathtub. 84% of remodels result in substantially upgraded features, such as showers and vanities. Oh, and these aren’t DIY renovations; 83% of people hire a professional contractor for their projects (although this number does appear to be shrinking.)

While all of these facts and figures are useful, what does it really mean to senior living marketing professionals? Of course, the home a person is already in remains our biggest competition. But, now is the time to start thinking outside of the box on your marketing messages. “Why spend thousands remodeling your bathroom when you can move into a brand new home today?” Targeting ads to Boomers who are considering renovations could be an interesting tactic that few people are considering. In this way, digital marketing could be especially fruitful, because you could present ads to people who are of the right age and who are looking for remodels. This might be your chance to change their mind and entice them to your community!

As you look towards 2019, and even beyond that, how are you going to adapt your marketing message to appeal to these kinds of Boomers? Those that figure it out will certainly end up winning in our space – and forging what senior living is going to look like for the next several decades.




A couple of weeks ago, we wrote about how some historically faith-based communities are reevaluating their market positioning as it relates to their faith affiliations. While some organizations are distancing themselves from their faith-based roots, others are doubling down on their heritage. From our experience, this choice often boils down to perceptions around inclusivity. Marketers are trying to strike a balance between showing that their community is “open to all” while at the same time remaining loyal to their strong base of consumers that might strongly value a faith connection. The perceptions around inclusivity and exclusivity drive many of these marketing decisions, yet there is a trend within senior living to create communities that are selectively exclusive — and they are gaining traction.

Topic published a piece profiling the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital. Located about 20 miles north of Los Angeles, a stone’s throw from Mulholland Drive, this community attracts exactly who you would expect: individuals who have retired from the entertainment industry. According to the article, the community has 230 residents living in a mix of residential options, from cottages to apartments to higher levels of care. If you look at the names of the streets and buildings, you’re likely to notice several that you might know — Spielberg Drive, the Jodie Foster Aquatic Pavilion and the Louis B. Mayer Theatre all top the list. The Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital is one of those communities that is, at its core, selectively exclusive. By this, we mean that the individuals who choose to move to the community value its connection to the arts & entertainment and want to be immersed in that world. Individuals who don’t care for those interests aren’t likely to make such a move. Thus, through self-choice, the community creates an exclusive atmosphere that attracts a specific niche in the market. In short, the community may be open to everyone, but it isn’t trying to be the best fit for everyone.

Another great example of this trend is Margaritaville. When this community was announced in 2017, it created an incredible buzz around the senior living space. Developed by Latitude, there are now three Margaritaville properties from which to choose — all demonstrating an incredible attention to detail. Choosing to move to one of these communities is like living your life in a Jimmy Buffett song. While some might call this paradise, others aren’t so enamored. Just as with the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital, the residents of these communities are self-selecting to spend time with other like-minded people. They don’t want the community to appeal to the broadest possible audience; rather, they just want it to appeal to individuals who hold the same values and lifestyles that they do. If you can’t enjoy a cheeseburger in paradise with them, then Margaritaville isn’t for you.

To round out our examples, we also need to share the story of Legends Landing. Currently under development on the campus of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, this community has been specifically designed to support the needs of retired professional football players, coaches, officials and administrators. Included with this development is the Player Care Center, which provides a range of health care services and includes 143 independent living, assisted living and memory care accommodations. Surely, the future of this community looks bright, as the NFL is one of the most important brands in America today. It’s only a matter of time before NFL superfans will want to reside at this community, surrounded by players and in an atmosphere that lives and breathes the sport of football. If that’s not your cup of tea, then Legends Landing probably isn’t your preferred retirement destination.

All of this is to say that niche retirement communities that fully embrace their brands are having a sort of renaissance. At one time, these niches revolved around memberships in churches and community organizations. As those groups have dwindled, the communities they built have had to open their doors wider to keep census high. Meanwhile, affinity communities — such as those based on careers and hobbies — are seeing an uptick in interest. In a way, these communities are no more inclusive than some of the faith-based communities of a hundred years ago. If you don’t have a personal affiliation or affinity with the brand, the cultural fit just isn’t going to be there.

As senior living marketers, we’re keeping an eye on these trends because we believe that there is much to be learned from them. Could pivoting an existing community to appeal to a specific affinity group make it a more desirable retirement destination? Or do these types of communities only work if they are developed from the ground up? And, we certainly don’t know if communities like these are going to be able to continue their attraction in the long term. The affinity groups that appeal to today’s potential residents may fall flat with the next generation. Only time will tell.



Like many Americans, I took time out of my schedule to watch the recent hearings on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. And I’m sure that many of you are growing as weary as I am with the whole process. It seems that every media outlet has been constantly covering the political theater that has unfolded. To me, it’s felt nearly inescapable. Recently, I came across an interesting news article that relates the current political situation with the work that I do.

According to an article on readsludge.com, there has been a concerted effort by politically motivated groups to target female Baby Boomers, just like me, with Facebook ads that are opposed to the Kavanaugh nomination. In reviewing two days’ worth of new Facebook ads that mention Kavanaugh, nearly 37 percent of those ads were targeted at women over the age of 55. But why target Boomer women?

It has to do with the era in which they came of age — the late 1960s and the early 1970s. This was the time of women’s empowerment, the hippie movement and the Roe v. Wade case. Positive societal changes for women occurred at a rate previously unseen. At the forefront of those changes were young women in their teens and 20s. Now those same Baby Boomer women are becoming part of the debate about women’s rights in our modern age.

The Facebook ads that are targeting these women demonstrate the power of social media marketing. One political organization is spending $110 million on more than 100 different Facebook campaigns. If you are an American woman over the age of 55 who uses Facebook, you’re probably going to see one of these ads. This demographic also happens to be one of the fastest-growing and most-engaged groups on the platform. It’s a perfect storm for politicos, marketers and unknowing Boomer women.

As aging services marketers, what can we learn from this? First, the power of social media to market directly to Baby Boomer women is immense. We know that these women are the ones who will likely make health care and housing decisions in the next two decades. They also control a large amount of personal wealth in the form of homes, retirement accounts and pensions. Woe to the providers who do not keep up with the services and options that this consumer group desires. There is no doubt that they have an unprecedented ability to make or break senior living communities across the country.

Facebook offers a great way to provide targeted marketing to this demographic, but it has to be done in a way that is unobtrusive, intuitive and that provides value. In our daily work, the Varsity team specializes in deploying tactical social media marketing initiatives that reach the same consumers that these political ads are going after — and we only expect that to rise in the coming weeks prior to the mid-term elections. We are eager to see what kind of impact these political ads will have on female Boomer behavior and whether that will reverberate into our marketing efforts on behalf of our clients.

In 1945, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists recommended that America protect itself from a nuclear attack by decentralizing and dispersing the population. Essentially, it advocated for moving people out of densely packed cities into more sprawling suburbs. Many of America’s city planners took this recommendation to heart, building the network of interconnected suburbs that have become the fabric of modern America.

These urban planners were backed up by financial institutions that subsidized suburban mortgages for veterans; meanwhile, manufacturers also did their duty by building large, suburban facilities for the production of goods. Ultimately, this led to the construction of our modern interstate road system, which further enabled decentralized living. This was the world today’s Baby Boomers grew up in. Sprawling suburbs were the ideal, while densely packed cities were shunned as unsafe and dirty.

Today, those Baby Boomers are retiring. The values that they have grown up with — and held throughout their lives — will absolutely shape their buying decisions when it comes to senior living. Senior living communities, that might have been traditionally apartment based, have worked to expand their offerings to single-family dwellings on streets that look suspiciously suburban. Boomers don’t want to downsize, so we’ve adopted euphemisms like “right-sizing” to make the process of moving into a smaller abode more palatable. Heck, some Boomers are moving into retirement residences that are the same size or bigger than their current house!

For many Boomers, one of the biggest selling points for retirement communities is that they can have the idyllic suburban life without all of the work. Gone are the days of home maintenance, snow shoveling and lawn care. Instead, they can enjoy a full slate of “life enrichment” activities without worrying about the everyday hassles life might throw at them. In short, for the Boomers that can afford it, they have achieved the perfect model of suburban living that was designed and propagated in their youth.

But what comes next? In 20 years, when Gen-Xers are retiring, and the first wave of Millennials are calculating when they can quit working, will aging services organizations have the options they are looking for? We are already seeing a trend of Millennials who desire and seek out urban living. Will manicured streets full of stylishly similar cottages appeal to their desires?

As senior living marketers, our job is to fill our communities today. At Varsity, we often wonder what the future will hold. The Boomer wave is crashing at our shores, so we are adapting to meet the tides. Once that wave recedes, however, we may be looking at a very different landscape — one full of underutilized cottages that don’t appeal to the next generation of retirees.

Who would have thought that the reverberations of World War II would still be felt in retirement communities nearly 80 years later? The successful aging services providers of tomorrow will be the ones that can anticipate the needs of post-Boomer consumers and pivot flawlessly in between the generations.

At Varsity, we often get asked, “What’s the next big thing in senior living?” One trend that we keep hearing about is the “hybrid home.” After seeing the growth of this model over the last year or so, we believe that it’s going to become a part of the product mix for many communities over the next decade. Now’s the time to learn about this innovation in home design and find a way to work it into your next community expansion or remodeling!

Hybrid homes are generally three- to five-story structures. On the ground floor is a covered parking area for the vehicles of the residents and a larger community room for the whole building. The remaining upper floors provide residences. Each floor contains four or more units, with a central shared common area. The units are spacious and designed so that each has a corner, with plenty of windows and sunlight. The shared central area becomes a community gathering spot, where neighbors can socialize, hold parties, watch the big game and more. The design does not include any corridors, making it feel much less like a traditional apartment community. In this way, hybrid homes provide the best of both apartment and cottage living, making them an attractive addition to many campuses.

The hybrid home concept has been championed by RLPS Architects of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, which is continuing to have success with these units. Currently, the company has at least seven projects that are utilizing the hybrid home concept, with more on the horizon. Just this month, the residents will be moving into their new hybrid homes at The Langford at College Station in Texas. As this unit type becomes more ubiquitous in our space, we fully expect the demand for them to rise. Those communities that adopt these models early will be well-placed for future success.

This also leads us to wonder why hybrid homes have proven so popular so quickly. In our minds, it reinforces one of the major selling points of retirement living: community. Senior living sales professionals know that lifestyle and community are the most important factors in making a sale. While potential residents may fuss about amenities, floor plans and price, we know that if a person is sold on the spirit of the community, he or she will adjust his or her desires. Hybrid homes offer a new way to establish an “esprit de corps” for senior living providers, making it a very attractive and easy-to-sell option.

We took this question to Jodi Kreider, one of the partners at RLPS. Her thoughts definitely mirrored our own:

While the key ingredients of a hybrid home, like outdoor connections and small-scale community, are consistent, the final design solution is unique to each project based on community vernacular, site densities and consumer expectations in a particular market.

Many of our clients have turned to hybrid homes, not only to provide a new housing option on their campus, but also because they work well for incremental growth. These buildings are smaller than a traditional apartment, so there’s less marketing time and more financing options, allowing them to be phased in as they sell.

We definitely encourage you and your organization to review the hybrid home concept and see if there is a way to make it work for your organization. Capital construction projects come few and far between for most communities. Plan now to include hybrid homes in your future projects so that you aren’t left behind when your competitors do.

Photos courtesy of RLPS.



In recent weeks, we’ve written about how “Roseanne” opened up a new dialogue around aging. In reading these pieces, I was struck by how another show has also been portraying the aging process — the dramedy, “Grace and Frankie,” available on Netflix.

For those unfamiliar with the show, it stars some big names that many Boomers will immediately recognize: Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, Sam Waterston and Martin Sheen. Fonda stars as Grace, while Tomlin portrays Frankie, the title characters in the series. Grace is a retired cosmetics mogul, while Frankie is an aging art teacher. They become best friends and roommates after their husbands Robert (Sheen) and Sol (Waterston) announce that they are gay, in love and plan to get married. While this is a stressful situation for everyone, the quartet tries to remain friendly and work through their feelings and struggles. In a way, it’s a “Golden Girls” for the modern age.

The show is now in its fourth season and has started featuring storylines on aging. Grace and Frankie are vibrant, independent and have been operating their own business, but some of their behaviors have begun to cause concern for their children — with good reason. Incidents include driving a scooter while under the influence and hitting a police car in the process; getting lost on the road and following a truck on a whim, with an infant granddaughter in the backseat; and being swindled out of a large sum of money by a contractor. The culmination of these circumstances results in Grace and Frankie being pressured by their children to move into an assisted living community. The children know that they won’t go willingly, so they use duplicitous reasoning to get them to agree. Grace is told that Frankie needs the care of an assisted living community but won’t go without her friend. Alternately, Frankie is told that Grace is in need of greater care but won’t make the transition without Frankie. For this reason, they both agree because their care and concern for one another is tantamount.

As one can imagine, these two independent and vital women are not mentally or emotionally ready to move to such a community. The characters struggle with life in their new home, feeling like they just don’t belong there. After all, how can you possibly make frozen margaritas when your blender and every other small appliance has been confiscated and locked up in a storage room? When friends come to visit, they feel even more depressed because their peers have remained in their homes, with active lives, while they have to rush off to the dining room at 4:30 so they don’t miss dinner. The season ends with Grace and Frankie “breaking out” of their community and trying to return home, only to find a “sold” sign in the front yard, creating a cliff-hanger ending for the fourth season.

While “Roseanne” has dealt with the day-to-day issues of blue-collar aging, “Grace and Frankie” has dialed in on a different part of the process: the decision to move to a senior living community and how family and friends can influence that decision.

These interactions are great fodder for comedic plotlines and may be a bit exaggerated, but they are rooted in real-life challenges that people are faced with every day. Senior living sales & marketing professionals can all tell a story about pushy family members trying to get their loved one to move to a community before he or she is ready. They can also speak to individuals who do need the assistance a community can provide, but who move in kicking and screaming — sometimes literally. A move to a community can be a traumatic experience if not properly planned and handled appropriately — and if control is taken out of the person’s hands. “Grace and Frankie” finds a way to depict in a humanistic light, with a touch of humor, that this is the reality that many aging services providers face today.

We, at Varsity, applaud “Grace and Frankie” for taking a look at how families make decisions regarding their aging relatives. It’s a topic that is hard to portray accurately and in a way that doesn’t feel overly dramatized. While we don’t agree with the methods used by the children to get Grace and Frankie to make the move, the emotional toll it takes on the characters is realistic.

I encourage you to check out “Grace and Frankie” if you haven’t already. It’s an excellent show that looks at aging from a fresh perspective — just how we like it.

If you perform a Google search for articles relating to the positive effects of pet ownership as we age, you’ll be served up just under 3.4 million results. Obviously, we have significant evidence that pet ownership can have an impact on our health and well-being, no matter how old we are. Yet, for a variety of reasons, many aging services communities don’t allow pets of any sort, or place severe restrictions on pet ownership. This made us curious — what’s the impact of not allowing pets on a community’s marketing efforts and occupancy?

During our Google search, we came across an article from pawsperouspets.com titled, “Retiring with Your Pet — Are Pets Allowed in Retirement Communities?” In the article, the author lists several hoops that retiring pet owners may face when trying to move to a community. Restrictions on the size of the pet and its age are fairly common; communities usually prefer smaller pets that are a bit older. Also, most communities require an additional financial deposit. But what really caught our eye was requiring a social screening of pets, including trial periods.

Trial periods and social screenings are a great idea. By having all current residents meet the pet, and having a professional screen the animal, you are creating a policy that should help to weed out potential issues. But what kind of marketing message is this sending? We think it’s both positive and negative.

On the positive side, by having a well-established and written pet policy, you can prevent any anxiety that residents and potential residents may have around animals in the community. Not everyone likes cats, dogs, birds, rodents or lizards. Thus, establishing a clear policy and guidelines helps to keep everyone on the same level. However, there can be a downside to these policies as well.

Discriminating against pet owners could be costing you sales. According to the American Humane Society, the average income of pet owners is higher than non-pet owners — and we all know how important income qualification is for retirement communities! Also noted is that the average length of occupancy for pet owner is more than twice that of non-pet owners. Obviously, those are some good reasons to encourage pet ownership, as it could have a positive effect on your bottom line.

Let’s face the facts: The chances that someone is going to voluntarily give up a beloved family pet to move to your community is pretty slim. If his or her dog is 35 pounds, and you only allow pets up to 25 pounds, that puts the potential resident in a predicament. In fact, the American Humane Society reports that 50 percent of all dogs in the U.S. are over 25 pounds, the common weight restriction found in rental contracts. These kinds of situations generally end one of three ways — with you losing a sale, a couple being forced to give up an animal, or someone fibbing about a pet’s weight. It’s reasonable to say that none of these options are win-win outcomes. With divorce among Boomers increasing, we’ve seen firsthand that someone may leave their spouse, but they will not leave their pet just to move to your community. So, what can you do?

With this problem in mind, the American Humane Society rolled out a campaign aimed at helping pet owners and property managers find some common middle ground. We, at Varsity, especially appreciate the detailed list of common misconceptions about pets and their owners. It’s a great resource for aging services communities — and one that you should check out.

Click here to read the article.

If you haven’t reevaluated your pet policy in awhile, now is a great time to do so — especially with the summer sales season quickly approaching. Contact our team today, and we’ll be happy to share with you some best practices for pets and discuss how adjustments in your policy could help you increase occupancy — and maybe even fill those tough-to-sell floor plans.



The senior living field is unique for many reasons. The product being marketed is not only very costly, but also one that brings about dramatic life changes. Retirement communities are not selling “widgets”; they’re selling a way of life, safety, security and more. Thus, the sales funnel for a retirement community is one of the deepest around. One estimate places the number of “touches” a potential resident needs at 20-25 before a sale is completed. That’s certainly more than your average electronic device or impulse buy at the grocery store!
However, there’s one additional catch to that sales funnel: You’re not only working the potential resident through the sales process, but in many cases his/her/their family members. This is especially true if the potential resident needs higher levels of care or is battling a specific or chronic illness. Now not only do you have to help this person see the benefits of moving to your community, but their family as well — and, let’s face it, the family can often be the tougher critic.

It all has to start at one place: a conversation.

Whether that first conversation happens between spouses looking at a community or between a prospect and his or her family, it is one fraught with concern, fear and the best interests of the potential resident in mind. Often, several family members are gathered together to have this conversation, offering advice and input from different angles. That conversation is absolutely critical for the loved ones involved and is usually the starting place for the hunt for a retirement community. The discussion is most likely to happen three times throughout the year — Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter.

Why are those three holidays so important? Simply, they are most likely to gather families together. Also, in many cases, major holidays happen at the house of the patriarch/matriarch of the family. This usually gives children and loved ones insight into how a person is living. Are they taking care of the home as they always have? Is something amiss with his or her daily routine? Are they just ignoring problems rather than fixing them? These are the first telltale signs that a loved one might need more services or assistance than he or she is currently receiving.

As a marketer for such communities, it’s our job to find a way to make your community and services a part of those talks. Optimally, we want the potential resident and family to think of you as their community of choice and to reach out to one of your sales professionals. However, we recognize that you may also have a broader mission. Sure, at the end of the day, you want to make a sale, but it’s also important that you provide quality, honest resources about what senior living services are available to them. You should be happy to assist potential residents with identifying challenges and offering solutions, from addressing financial concerns to whether or not a favorite credenza will fit into the new apartment.

Leading a potential resident and his or her family through the sales funnel is hard work, but it’s also rewarding. In a way, it’s a process many marketing professionals wish they had, because the “customer” can be tracked through each step — from initial contact all the way to move-in day (and beyond). Yes, it’s a challenge, and it’s one that keeps us working to be part of those crucial conversations around the family dinner table.

Recently, Derek Dunham, vice president of client services, discussed the 90% census plateau that many communities face. This week, Jackie Stone, vice president of sales consulting, provides some strategies for filling that remaining 10%.

Those of us involved with communities know that there’s an issue when occupancy dips below a certain number. But when we’re at 90 percent occupancy, it’s easy to think everything’s fine. However, we cannot be complacent — we must always strive for full occupancy and keep building a quality waiting list. As the community ages, so do its residents, and attrition increases. And there are some units that tend to stay empty for a range of reasons. For instance, filling smaller apartments has become a challenge. Prospects want more living and storage space and will stay where they are rather than agreeing to a one-bedroom apartment.

Here are some ideas for selling that remaining 10 percent — the ones that fill up last due to size, location or other perceived weaknesses.

1. Brainstorm positive features

Naturally, as salespeople, we sell the best first and may not be as excited about the remaining inventory. When we repeatedly hear from prospects that an apartment or cottage doesn’t have a nice view or is too far from the action, we may begin to believe it ourselves. If you believe a particular residence is undesirable, you won’t be able to sell it. Take your team into that residence and brainstorm all the positive features of the style, layout, location, view, etc. Practicing verbalizing those positive aspects will prepare you to communicate them better when sharing with prospects. (I actually had a situation like this in a community in central Massachusetts. One apartment was referred to as a “dog” and was never going to be sold. Our team went through this brainstorming exercise, and on my drive back home to Connecticut, the marketing director called and said they had sold that apartment that same day.)

2. Explore big ideas about small apartments

  • Is it financially feasible to combine two adjacent one-bedroom apartments to create a larger two-bedroom apartment? (If so, do this sparingly, as we always need an inventory of one-bedrooms for their price point and for current residents who decide to downsize.)
  • If you can’t create a larger apartment, make a smaller one seem larger. Can your galley kitchen be reconfigured to create an open concept? If so, use the same flooring from the threshold to the exterior wall, preferably wood or laminate, with the lines going lengthwise to make the rooms appear longer. Eliminate soffits, and bring kitchen cupboards up to the ceiling to make the ceiling appear higher.
  • Purchase a mailing list of single households that would feel very comfortable in a one-bedroom apartment, and focus your efforts on this niche.
  • Host events, such as “Small Living, Big Life,” and feature the breadth of your cultural arts programming. Have current residents share how they live a big life at your community.

3. Be creative with policies

If you have strict policies, loosening them could help fill more units:

  • Rent apartments to snowbirds. When they no longer migrate seasonally, they could become permanent residents.
  • Does your community allow pets? Or is there a current policy dictating that pets need to be under 25 pounds and live on the first floor only? A 10-year-old golden retriever will sleep all day and not bother anyone. People will not get rid of their furry companion to live at your community! Forget about the one-bedroom with den, and market a one-bedroom with dog!

4. Get back to the basics

We can all fall into a routine and give the same canned presentation to everyone we meet, with little results. Dust off the sales training manuals, and follow their advice:

  • Improve your discovery skills so that you are getting to what the prospect truly values in life.
  • Present your community in a way that connects with those personal values.
  • Practice solving commonly heard objections.
  • Always ask for a commitment, whether it be a decision on the apartment, lunch next Thursday or a call in two weeks. Get the prospect to say, “Yes”!

We hope that these strategies help you fill that last 10 percent! If you have questions about your community’s specific occupancy challenges, I’d be happy to help. Please contact me at .

In the fall of 2017, a new phrase entered the American lexicon — “Swedish Death Cleaning.”

Suddenly, articles about this trend were everywhere, and some senior living communities were talking about the benefits of this extreme decluttering practice. However, the term certainly doesn’t provide a warm and fuzzy feeling, especially in relation to making a move to an aging services community. We wanted to dig into the hype and give a fresh perspective on this new fad.

The idea originates from the Swedish word, “döstädning.” Translated to English, it conveys the idea of slowly and steadily decluttering your life as you age. For the Swedes, this process may begin in a person’s 50s and continue right up until death. Margareta Magnusson, Swedish author and octogenarian, is credited with establishing the English phrase with her book, “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family From a Lifetime of Clutter.”

Magnusson certainly knows something about clutter and moving. She’s reportedly relocated 17 times during her life. Now she wants to share the tips and tricks she has learned over the years to help others who are facing similar challenges. These ideas are especially pertinent to aging services organizations.

For example, I once met a couple that was in the process of downsizing so that they could make the move to a community. The wife was working hard to clear her home of unnecessary items. She began listing furniture, appliances and other major items on internet sales websites. To her dismay, she would get low-ball offers (or no offers at all). She was stunned! In her mind, all of these items had value, but the world was harsh, and she was forced to come to grips with the idea that the family silver that she loved so much wasn’t worth much more than the scrap value of the metal. This left her feeling not only the pinch in her pocketbook, but also in her heart, as she took it very personally. If the items that she loved didn’t have value, what did that say about her?

Deciding which items to retain, which to sell, and which to give to family and friends (or even to throw out) can be difficult. Magnusson understands this and advises that the first items to go be the ones without any sentimental value, such as unworn clothes, never-used gifts and the seemingly endless pile of kitchen utensils and gadgets we all accumulate as we age. In contrast, she recommends keeping personally cherished objects that stir memories, such as photographs, letters and other ephemera.

Confronting one’s own personal decline is hard, but taking the time to sort through your personal belongings can help to refocus your attention on what is important — not just to you, but to your family. For instance, another of Magnusson’s suggestions is the “throwaway box.” In this container, you’d place items that have meaning to you, but not to your friends and family. Included in the box should be a note explaining what the box contains and why it’s okay for it to be discarded after your death.

Obviously, there are some major benefits to engaging in Swedish Death Cleaning, especially for families that have to deal with an estate after the death of a loved one; however, there are important health benefits for the person doing the cleaning as well. Studies have shown, on multiple occasions, that clutter around the home increases stress, decreases productivity and impacts how restful we feel in our downtime. Thus, the process of freeing ourselves from these items can lead to a sense of liberation.

The most important point to remember is that “Swedish Death Cleaning” isn’t a weekend-long project; it’s a way of life for people as they age. Start early, curtail shopping and use available funds for the creation of memories (such as trips and experiences) instead of objects. Before you know it, you’ll be living a clutter-free life, rich with memories. Plus, your family will thank you when the time comes to handle your estate.





In a crowded aging services marketplace, retirement communities are working around the clock to find ways to differentiate themselves from their competitors. These tactics often include new amenities, varied dining experiences, and ever more involved life enrichment programs. While these upgrades are nice, and may help sway some new residents to sign on the proverbial dotted line, they often aren’t the deciding factor in choosing a community. We all know that location and culture trump granite countertops, lobster dinners, and symphony tickets.

So, let’s be honest with ourselves for a second, shall we? Most retirement communities are the same.

This is a blasphemous statement, I know! But, in a world populated by tens of thousands of communities, they just aren’t all that different when you get right down to it. Nonprofit communities all have a mission that involves caring for and supporting their residents to enable them to live their best life. The words might vary, but the intention is often very similar. So, naturally, these communities try to differentiate themselves from their competitors through physical amenities, unique programs, and better marketing.

Yet, as we opened with, these items usually don’t completely explain why someone chooses one community over another; they are supplemental factors to location and culture. Of course, you can’t change your location, but you can change your culture in a way that will make your community truly unique and quickly make you stand out from your competitors, attracting better leads and more new residents in the process. Here are three ways that you can grow your community culture and attract new residents.


SAGE is a non-profit organization dedicated to assisting an overlooked and growing portion of the senior market. They advocate and provide services to older people who are GLBT. People in this market have special needs and wants when it comes to senior living and they can easily feel out of place at even the most “welcoming” community. Through their sagecare program, SAGE offers education courses for senior living leaders, managers, and front line employees. This education culminates in a credential provided by the organization denoting the level of training received (bronze, silver, gold.) By training staff in working with the GLBT population and implementing a culture of inclusiveness, you can quickly differentiate yourself from surrounding communities and have an inside track with a market that your competitors are probably ignoring.


Thanks to their strong marketing campaigns, you’ve probably heard of SeniorAdvisor. As an independent senior living review site, SeniorAdvisor has shown strong growth in the past few years. Unlike some other Senior Living referral sites, SeniorAdvisor doesn’t cost your community a dime and it performs two very important functions. First, it offers a forum for individuals to rate and review your community, independent of your digital presence. Of course, this doesn’t preclude you from asking your residents to review you on the site and leave feedback. By doing so, you can create a pool of positive reviews that demonstrates the culture of your community and provides a resource for potential residents who would like to know more about your community. Plus, the listings on SeniorAdvisor can create excellent backlinks, boosting your SEO in the process.

Also, SeniorAdvisor.com awards an annual “Best of” recognition to those communities who have had a sufficient number of positive reviews in the previous twelve months. This is a great credential to earn and includes both digital badges for your website and physical awards for your sales office. You should never underestimate the power of an independent review and recognition from an outside organization!

Find your niche.

This one is a little bit harder to articulate, as it’s not a certification or award, but rather a holistic piece of your culture that you must decide on. At one time, nearly every non-profit retirement was designed to service a niche in the local community. This is why we have organizations affiliated with various religious denominations, community organizations, and fraternal groups. They cater to these once large populations with a culture that was directly influenced by the common bond of membership. However, as membership in these groups has dwindled, so has interest in their retirement communities, forcing these nonprofits to go looking elsewhere for residents. Yet, the idea of a niche is still important; you just have to think about it in a different way.

Do you have a strong resident club that plays to a certain interest – perhaps the environment, organic gardening, or philanthropy? Find those niches and embrace them. While you probably can’t focus your entire community on a single niche (although some new communities are doing just that), you can use the interests of your current residents to connect with potential residents and help them see that the culture of your community lines up well with what they are looking for.

Knowing the culture of your community, and who that culture appeals to, can help you better market to future residents that are more likely to move in. While physical amenities can help sway a decision, a strong culture that attracts a broad range of residents can have a greater impact on your occupancy rates than any new restaurant or upgraded kitchen!


Regardless of industry, the goal and function of sales departments don’t change much. Sales professionals work with marketing to generate leads through a plethora of different means. Once the sales person has a name and contact information for someone interested in the product, he or she begins to guide the person through the decision-making process of purchasing the product, with the end goal of closing the deal.

However, marketing to Boomers and seniors requires a different approach — especially when your product is a major investment, like moving to a retirement community. How a salesperson engages with his or her leads and guides them to the final sale is an art that takes time to learn, and everyone can always use a refresher.

Marketing and sales professionals deal in information. The more information they have about a lead, the better equipped they are to pitch their product. Thus, it’s to be expected that they want to gather a great amount of information in a short period of time. The best example of this is the web form.

Web forms offer a great way to capture information to create a lead. Obviously, sales associates hope to get as much detail about a prospect as they can — name, address, phone number, etc. — but trying to get too much information in one shot will not only decrease your form completions, but potentially alienate customers. Your forms should capture the minimum amount of information possible for a salesperson to begin building a relationship.

Think about it from your own point of view. How much information are you willing to give an organization with which you haven’t had any experience? You don’t really know it or trust it. Naturally, you only want to provide the minimum amount of information needed to learn about the product or service being offered. Once you’ve determined that the group can be trusted, and its product is something that you want, you’re willing to open up more.  A simple web-started sales funnel may look something like this:

  • SEO/SEM (get the person to your website)
  • Contact Us form on the website (asking for only a name and an email address)
  • Follow-up e-blast (asking for an address to send information)
  • Mailer sent to lead (asking the person to call to register for an event, where he or she gives a phone number)
  • Attendance at an event (where the salesperson meets the lead in person)
  • Follow-up contact (via phone and email to schedule a tour)
  • Personal tour (second salesperson meeting, builds trust)
  • Additional meetings or tours (dependent on lead)
  • Closing of sale
  • Asking for reviews and recommendations

As you can see, this isn’t a quick process! The average lead will have at least 20 interactions with your community before the sale is complete — and may have many, many more, depending on his or her needs! Understanding how to nurture the lead through the sales funnel, step by step, instead of trying to go “all-in” on early stage information-gathering is critical.

Every retirement community has its own unique challenges with this process, and variations abound. At Varsity, we have become very adept at assisting communities in identifying the type of leads they are generating now and the type of leads they want to gather in the future, creating a sales process that will help increase their census for years to come.

Retirement communities often operate on tight budgets, with a goal of reducing overhead costs. Executives and administrators hawkishly watch financials, looking for any avenues where dollars can be saved. Human Resources is forced to cut benefits, while purchasing tries new products to save costs on cleaning and operating supplies. However, sometimes, saving money in the long run costs some in the short. Working with your maintenance division to convert systems to more environmentally friendly options may incur costs today that will save you thousands in years to come.

The easiest and most well-known method of savings is converting lights to LED bulbs. One community in upstate New York was recently profiled for doing just this. The community replaced 2,750 bulbs, at a cost of about $1,500. The result? A projected yearly savings of $144,000! In roughly 10 days, the community had recouped its investment and was on the path to saving money for years to come. LED bulbs are getting cheaper and brighter, in addition to having longer lives and being less harmful to the environment. Every community should be looking at a full light bulb replacement, if they haven’t done so already.

We all know that some of the biggest energy hogs in our own homes are our washers and dryers. Retirement communities are no different, spending tens of thousands of dollars every year on laundering linens and clothes. One may think that the process of doing laundry hasn’t really changed that much in the last 50 years; one machine uses hot water and soap to wash the linens, and another dries them; however, there is another way to do laundry that has been on the market for longer than you may realize — ozone washing machines. Rather than using hot water and soap, these machines use gasses and cold water (and much less of it). Rather than using detergent, the water is treated with ozone, causing dirt and stains to break down while linens remain vibrant and strong. It’s a complicated process, to be sure, which is why the machines have always been so expensive. Now, with advances in manufacturing and production technology, they are becoming more affordable, enabling communities to convert to their use, saving on energy, water and sewer costs while becoming more environmentally friendly in the process.

On the higher cost end of the spectrum, we find advanced smart home systems that include the Nest thermostat and similar devices. These products adjust home temperature based on user preference and patterns, such as lowering the temperature while the resident is asleep and at work, and raising it while the resident is at home — all automatically. Think of the energy savings that your community could yield by just turning down the thermostats by three degrees for 12 hours a day in every home. It seems like a small change, but the savings could be huge! As this technology grows, it’s being added to complete smart home systems, where community managers can monitor usage in real time, allowing them to look for areas to proactively save on energy costs by including their residents in the decision-making process.

The old adage, “It takes money to make money,” remains true today. It can also be said that “it takes money to save money.” By investing wisely in eco-friendly and efficient systems, your community could be seeing both greener trees and greener wallets.





As we ring in the New Year, the phone is also ringing at retirement communities. Often, adult children notice a change in a parent during a holiday visit, which can lead to a post-holiday spike in inquiries. But is your community dropping the ball?

Let me tell you about the experience my friend Pam had. She, her two siblings and their families visited with mom over the holidays and noticed signs that she is not okay to live alone…not eating well, clutter piling up when mom had always been a fastidious housekeeper, unsteadiness on her feet, signs that the comfy chair in front of the TV is the hub of her daily life. These observations were a wake-up call they couldn’t ignore. Pam’s sister prolonged her stay with mom, while Pam got on the phone to find resources, contacting home health agencies and several senior living communities.

Unfortunately, when Pam called and visited the communities, the reception she received didn’t leave her feeling very confident. She was confronted with unskilled staff who didn’t know the answers to her questions, unreturned phone calls and general disinterest in helping during a situation that, to her, was a crisis. Here are five resolutions you can make to ensure that your community makes a positive first impression that can convert inquiries to move-ins.

#1:  Answer the phone and/or return calls promptly. Even though Pam contacted communities during business hours, the phone would ring and ring, or her call went to voicemail. More often than not, she called back rather than waiting a day or more for a return call.

#2: Be welcoming. Often, when Pam finally reached a live person, it was a receptionist who seemed almost surprised at her inquiry (during the holidays when everyone was off) and didn’t seem to know what to say. Train front line staff to enthusiastically greet the caller, ask the right questions, be empathetic and reassure the caller that the appropriate person will return their call that same day.

#3: Know the facts. The person on the phone often gave inaccurate information, such as saying the community provided “Life Care” when it was not a Life Care community in its true definition. Educate all staff on what your community offers and the benefits of living there. Craft a positioning statement that clearly conveys your community’s unique brand in the market and require everyone that works at your community to learn it and be able to recite it.

#4: Meet everyone’s needs. During community visits, make sure that you address the needs and questions of both the adult child and parent. Sometimes an adult child might be doing all the talking for mom or dad, either because he or she is trying to be helpful, has a controlling personality, or is overcompensating for a parent that may have some memory impairment. Always direct questions to both the child and the parent to make sure everyone is heard, all questions are answered and all wishes are being met.

#5: Don’t be pushy.  When you push people, they naturally push back. Instead of making statements like, “You need…”, ask questions of both the potential resident and the adult child that get them to state their own challenges, issues and needs. It’s much more impactful to have them come to realizations about their situation themselves rather than have someone else tell them what they need to do. Some questions you might ask the person who says they’re not ready: “What would have to happen in order for you to feel like you’re ready?” “Do you think it will be easier or harder to make a move a year from now?”

Keep these New Year’s resolutions, and make sure that post-holiday spike in inquiries leads to lots of move-ins. If you’d like to talk more about selling strategies, email me at .

Events are extremely important to the senior living sales process and should be a key component of every marketing plan. Seminars and special events create a forum for prospects to experience your community and receive information in a nonthreatening environment where they don’t feel pressured to buy. If a prospect objects to coming in for a personal presentation, have an event in your back pocket as an alternative.

Here are some key tips to ensure a successful and effective event:

  • Serve food. Food is very important to our prospects, so wine and dine them, and show off your culinary expertise. An event that includes a meal will also draw a higher response. Yes, we all have the “frequent flyers” that show up every time for the free food with no intention of ever moving in. But consider this: The cost of feeding these regulars is minimal in comparison to the positive PR that they provide by telling friends about your engaging programs and delicious food. And, if these people are qualified, they will choose your community when they are “ready” because they are already familiar and comfortable with it.
  • Designate resident ambassadors. Include hand-picked resident ambassadors at every event, and strategically place them at each table. They will tell prospects who “aren’t ready yet” how they once felt the same way and now wish they had moved in 10 years sooner. They are your best spokespeople and carry more credibility than a salesperson. Make sure to reward ambassadors for their time and effort with tokens of appreciation, such as the floral centerpiece from their table at the event or a gift card to a popular local spot.
  • Plan parking. One of the most common objections I hear about hosting events is that the community doesn’t have enough parking. Every problem has a solution: Ask staff to park off-site, shuttle attendees back and forth to their cars, and/or hire a valet company to park cars.
  • Follow up. Always follow up with all attendees after an event and ask 1) how they enjoyed it; 2) if there are other topics they might be interested in learning about in the future; and 3) if they would like to come in for a personal tour of the community to get their questions answered. You should always have a reason to call prospects, and this is the perfect opportunity to reach out.

Have event ideas and tips to share? Email them to .

In today’s senior living marketing environment, the timeline from initial inquiry to move-in is longer than ever before, and it takes many touches along that timeline to convert an inquiry to a sale. These touches must be consistent, meaningful and varied in order to effectively move the prospect forward in the sales process. Some of these points of contact include events, which are an essential part of a strategic marketing plan.

The key word here is “strategic.” What are your objectives for each event? Do you want to educate, entertain or demonstrate lifestyle? Generate new leads for your pipeline? Close sales? Here are some key points to consider:

  • New lead generation. If you are looking to generate new leads that are truly interested in finding out more about your community, purchase a qualified mailing list and invite its members to information sessions about your community and the concept of senior living.
  • Lifestyle events. Quality speakers and special events show that the community offers interesting, engaging programs and demonstrates the lifestyle that people will experience there. Topics such as healthy aging can showcase the community’s approach to wellness.
  • Addressing common objections. We know that the most common objections really boil down to fear, cost or lack of urgency due to prospects being satisfied with their current situation. Topics such as Dispelling the Myths of Retirement Living (fear), The Value of Life Care (cost) or Why Wait? (I’m Not Ready Yet) can help prospects get beyond some of these objections.
  • Specific inventory to sell. Perhaps you have a number of small one-bedroom apartments that are difficult to sell. Segment your purchased mailing list and lead base by single/widowed women (cue Beyonce’s “All the Single Ladies”) and host a champagne runway show featuring your residents modeling fashions from a popular boutique, followed by tours of your community and a professionally staged one-bedroom apartment. (Tiny homes are all the rage now!)

Seminars and special events can be very effective marketing tools that produce great results. Determine your objectives; define your target audience; choose a topic that relates to both; buy a new outfit (okay, I threw that in because it’s what I would do); and put on your best host/hostess smile!

Stay tuned for more event strategies in a future blog.

Elderly, frail, uneducated and with a lower income? Surprisingly, no. Those most at risk are actually younger, more educated and well off. According to a new study by the Better Business Bureau, 69 percent of scam victims are under 45, and 78 percent are college-educated.

Other surprising facts:

  • Eighty-nine percent of seniors approached by a scammer recognized the scam in time, and only 11 percent lost money.
  • Three times as many 18‒24-year-olds failed to recognize a scam, and 34 percent reported losing money.

A few reasons for this:

  • Younger people think they’re invulnerable to scams.
  • They are more likely to shop online.
  • Seniors are more scam-savvy.

Another stereotype about age debunked.

We’re all vulnerable to scams, at any age. Find tips on protecting yourself here.

1. Ensure that your marketing messages and images are not furthering the misperception that retirement communities are little more than nursing homes.
2. Implement an event strategy that brings prospects on campus to see for themselves what life could be like,.
3. Ensure your employees are knowledgeable and are delivering your brand each and every day to everyone they encounter including one another.
4. Emphasize your mission and residents who are living a mission-focused lifestyle.
5. Spend sufficient time educating prospects on the many benefits of having care available should they need it

For more insights on drawing prospects to your community, order a free copy of our latest white paper.

From Ikaria, Greece, to Sardinia, Italy, people who live longer follow a wide variety of diets. What’s the one thing their eating habits all have in common? A “plant slant” — fruits and vegetables are at the center of their diets.

Back in the U.S, some communities are already incorporating the nine healthy principles followed in the world’s longevity hotspots, including “plant slant” (#5). Wellmark has found a way to take advantage of this trend through its Blue Zones sponsorship. We can learn from this sponsorship and see how other industries — from produce to wine — can also benefit from the growing trend. 

In our past few posts, we covered the first five principles: (Move Naturally, Know Your Purpose, Downshift, 80% Rule and Plant Slant.) Learn about the other four at bluezones.com.

Even if you pack your diet with super foods like blueberries and broccoli, you could still be shortening your life if you’re not following the 80% rule. Why does this simple rule help you live longer?

Because it means eating only 80% of the food on your plate, which is one of nine healthy practices shared by people in longevity hot spots around the world. In fact, researchers found that in Okinawa, Japan (aka The Island of the Immortals), residents say “Hara Hachi Bu” before every meal. This phrase, which translates to “belly 80% full,” is their reminder to stop eating when their stomachs are 80% full.

We may not see an influx of 100-year-olds walking the earth, but the growing interest in leading a longer, happier life is a mature market trend we should all keep an eye on.

Next week, we’ll reveal what you should be eating.

It’s something we should all try, because it’s one of the 9 practices shared by residents of longevity hot spots around the world. Why is this habit so important?

Because research has found that habit #3, “downshift” (finding ways to relieve stress), can help you live longer and lower your risk of heart disease. For long-lived residents of Ikaria, Greece, downshifting means an afternoon nap. Why not join them? Happy snoozing!

Check back next week to hear about #4: the 80% rule.

You’ll find it in Blue Zones, places around the world where people live to 100 at rates ten times greater than in the U.S. They share nine healthy traits. And #2 has nothing to do with diet and exercise. It’s “Know Your Purpose,” which means knowing why you wake up in the morning – and it can add an extra seven years to your life expectancy.

Blue Zones researchers found that sense of purpose in places like Okinawa, Japan. They learned that Okinawans have clear feelings of being needed well into their 100s.

Think about ways to incorporate “Know Your Purpose” and the other 9 principles into marketing your products or services. One way: hold a “Purpose” workshop at your community to help residents explore their life dreams.

Next week, get ready to Downshift (#3).

Baby Boomers are about to do something undesirable yet inevitable — they’re going to start getting old. Will these years be filled with vitality or chronic disease?

Boomers can learn from those who live in Blue Zones, pockets around the world where people live measurably longer and better, reaching 100 years of age at rates 10 times greater than in the U.S.

Studies by Dan Buettner and a team of researchers found that the lifestyles of residents in these Blue Zones — Ikaria, Greece; Loma Linda, Calif.; Sardinia, Italy; Okinawa, Japan; and Nicoya, Costa Rica — shared nine principles:

  1. Move naturally
  2. Know your purpose
  3. Downshift
  4. 80 percent rule
  5. Plant slant
  6. Wine @ 5
  7. Family first
  8. Belong
  9. Right tribe

Challenge your team to think about ways to incorporate these principles into marketing your products or services. We’ll help by discussing one each week in this blog. Let’s start with #1: Move naturally.

Moving naturally simply means finding ways to move more in your everyday life, so you burn more calories without even thinking about it. Some easy suggestions: Keep a garden, walk to a friend’s house, park at the far end of the lot, take the stairs. What other ways can you encourage your customers to move more?

Next week, we’ll cover #2: Know your purpose.

We joke about it at the office: ”Oh, I’ll be paying off those student loans for the rest of my life.” But, for some people, it’s actually true.

According to the Government Accountability Office, 706,000 of households headed by people over 65 have outstanding student debt. They owed a collective $18.2 billion in 2013, up from $2.8 billion in 2005. Worse yet, people over 65 default on their loans at a much higher rate than younger people, and can have part of their social security benefits garnished to offset their debt.

Those stats strike close to home here at Varsity. A number of employees here are paying off student loans. One woman chose a 15-year loan period with a $600 monthly payment. “I wanted them gone,” she said. “I don’t want to be in my 60s and paying them off.” As it is, she’ll pay a total of $30,000 in interest. (Her friends who chose 30-year loan periods will be paying for a long, long time.) Another co-worker has an 8.75 percent interest rate. “It’s crazy that you can get a house at a lower interest rate than a student loan,” he said.

Student loan debt is becoming such a huge issue that it’s a hot topic on the presidential campaign trail. Learn where each politician stands here.

It’s not an Olympic-size pool or walk-in-closet. It’s something even more appealing: driverless transportation.

Every retiree dreads giving up the keys. Some people even put off getting a checkup out of fear their doctor will tell them they need to stop driving. Moving to a retirement community can be a partial solution, with a shuttle to shopping and errands.  And now, senior living transportation is about to move forward—with the driverless vehicle.

Although Google and others are working to get the driverless car on the road, strict government regulations are putting up roadblocks. Meanwhile, a startup called Auro is moving more quickly, targeting universities and retirement communities on private property, where laws are less strict.  According to Technology Review, Auro is testing a prototype at a retirement community this year.

How residents benefit from the new technology: They have more mobility, since driverless shuttles will be able to make on-demand pickups, not just at scheduled times and on set routes. How communities benefit: lower cost. According to Auro, a self-driving shuttle could reduce transportation costs by 40 to 60% because there’s no driver salary.

So forget building that new pool. Draw residents in with the perk of the future: a self-driving shuttle. It’s available for pre-order now.


Music has been shown to enhance brain function, reduce stress and build relationships.

And the more connected people feel to the music, the better. One study found that  seniors who sang along to tunes scored significantly better on cognitive tests than those who just listened.

In LA, a group of seniors has even formed its own band. “The Fifth Dementia” is made up of musicians with degenerative diseases and high school students.  Watch the video to see how they find a common language.

The band is part of Music Mends Minds, Inc., an organization created by Carol and Irwin Rosenstein when Irwin, a musician, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and discovered that music was beneficial to him. The organization’s mission is to use music to help control the progression of cognitive decline in seniors and build support systems for students.

The program has been a huge hit, and more musicians are still needed. Know someone who’s interested? Learn more here.

A team of Varsity researchers brought Project Looking Glass and Project Looking Glass II to the field of aging services. In these nationally recognized studies, researchers moved into two retirement communities for 30 days; there they lived, ate, shopped and socialized alongside residents. We have now launched a third in-depth ethnographic study, called “Project Looking Glass III: From the Outside In.

OutsideIn_Logo_OnWhite (1)

In essence, we are turning the looking glass around to dig more deeply into the decision-making process that prospects go through when choosing a community. We’ll learn what triggers people to start investigating senior living communities; what factors influence potential residents to choose or pass on a community; what their expectations were prior to moving into their new home; and the reality that they find as residents of the community.

We’ll evaluate the decision-making process to see how it may vary in different areas of the country and among different cohorts—the current aging generation of prospects (what we call “the transitional generation”) and Baby Boomers—each of which is at a different stage of investigation into retirement community living.

  • Silent Generation: Born 1910-1925
  • Transitional Generation: Born 1930-1950
  • Baby Boomers: Born 1946-1964

Insights from this study will assist senior living communities in further refining their marketing messages and targeting techniques to make sure they’re not only connecting with the right people, but are also having the most relevant, informed conversations that will lead to positive decisions.

If you are interested in participating in this study by having your prospective residents fill out an online survey and/or in having Varsity conduct focus groups at your community, please contact me at .

Once again, we participated in the LeadingAge PA Annual Conference & Exposition, which was held this June in Hershey, Pa. Key leaders gathered to discuss ideas that will shape the future of senior living.

We wanted to share a few of the inspiring solutions we heard.

Swimming with the sharks. On her sixth attempt, 64-year-old Diane Nyad successfully battled sharks, venomous jellyfish and hypothermia to swim from Cuba to Key West. Her motivating advice for reaching your dreams: build a strong support team, give it your all, learn from your failures and never give up.

Spinning stories into marketing gold. Asbury’s session emphasized the importance of finding the right human interest story and repurposing it in blogs, newsletter articles and social media posts, all linking back to your website. Strategic storytelling can be a gold mine of leads, publicity and brand awareness.

Tapping the independent living middle-income market. As the economic spread continues to grow, creating an affordable community for the “working class” is a concept worth looking at.

The end of advertising. Advertising isn’t going extinct—we just need to rethink it. It’s about finding new ways to have conversations with prospects, so we can discover and meet their needs. The engagement shouldn’t stop once residents move in; they need to be invested in the community so they’ll share their positive feelings with new prospects.

Our team would welcome the opportunity to discuss these insights or to simply begin exploring questions that will lead to solid strategies for your community’s continued success.

Maggie is 87. She lives alone and no longer drives. Her grown children live out of town, and her only regular companion is her grandson Mark who does her grocery shopping and handles her banking. Everyone says how helpful Mark is, but some family members have suspicions.They’ve noticed his new flat screen TV, fancy smartphone and expensive shoes.

When it comes to older people and their relationships, there could be more there than meets the eye. That’s why World Elder Abuse Awareness Day was created. Today, June 15, is a day when people around the world plan activities and wear purple to raise awareness of the abuse, neglect and exploitation of elders.

Here are six facts about elder abuse you may not know:

  1. Over one in 10 elders is affected, but only one in 23 cases are reported.
  2. 90 percent of elder abuse is committed by a family member.
  3. Those over 80 are most likely to be abused.
  4. Risk factors for the abuser include substance abuse, mental health disorders and financial issues.
  5. Financial abuse is the fastest growing form of abuse.
  6. Often, the abuser is the only form of companionship for the abused.

It’s important to raise awareness for this serious problem today by getting involved in World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. But it’s even more important to watch out for the red flags of abuse on the other 364 days of the year. To learn more about elder abuse and how to report it, visit www.ncea.aoa.gov or call 1-800-677-1116.

101 Ways to Follow up:

Salespeople are always asking for more qualified leads. They don’t want to be a nuisance by calling the same people in the lead base over and over again. But since it takes an average of 15-20 touches from initial inquiry to move-in, the existing leads in your database are much farther down the sales pike than the new ones walking in the door. Providing they are qualified, and that they haven’t made a definite yes or no decision, they are active leads that need to be cultivated and advanced through the sales process.

This doesn’t mean just continually calling prospects, especially without an objective or a reason to call. That’s what can make you feel and look like a nuisance. Follow-up does need to be structured, but it also takes creativity and individuality to stand out from your competitors in your prospects’ minds. Make them feel special, understood and cared about, and you will be amazed at the results.

The ideas for following up are limitless. What if you ask a prospect out for coffee at a local coffee shop and then follow up with a thank-you note and a gift card for the coffee shop? Or what if she attends an event at your community with her daughter, and you capture a beautiful photo of the two of them that you frame and drop off for her? Or what if she happens to mention that she likes to watch HGTV, so you pick up an issue of the magazine and mail it to her with a note?

These small gestures do not cost much, and if they further solidify the relationship by showing that you listen and that you care, then they are much more cost-effective than traditional marketing tactics.

Be smart about how you spend your time, effort and money when following up, and let your creative juices flow. You’ll find the follow-up process to be more enjoyable and more effective.

Don’t forget; All of those “I’m not ready yet!” prospects are in your lead base already—and so are your next 5-10 sales.

Looking for creative ways to follow up? Email me at , and I’ll send you my free handout, “101 Ways to Follow up.”


As a seasoned senior living sales professional, have you fallen into the habit of giving a routine “tour” of your community that you could do in your sleep? You know — “Here’s the living room, here’s the dining room, here’s the washer/dryer; the pool is over there” — basically ticking off the features like a real estate agent and maybe throwing in a few benefits here and there. How do you avoid falling into the trap of giving a canned sales pitch that is not very effective in connecting with your prospect and that even bores you?

Persuading someone that moving to your community is the right decision requires a deeper level of communication. He or she may be thinking, “This is the last place I’m going to live.” It’s a very emotional decision, so you need to do more than just provide information. You need to get into that person’s head and learn what he or she values in life, because values guide our judgments, actions and important decisions.

Visual Clues
The process of discovering a prospect’s values can start even before he or she walks in the door of your community. Look out in the parking lot to see what the person is driving. Is the car sturdy and dependable? Is it expensive and possibly a status symbol? Is it sporty and fun? A car can speak volumes about its owner.

Once the prospect walks in, you can continue picking up subtle clues. Observe his or her appearance and dress, listen for words and phrases that reflect his or her values, and watch his or her body language. Take note of whether the person is decisive or indecisive, impulsive or cautious.

Probe to Discover Values
Pose questions that get the person talking, and really listen to the answers. Ask about his or her past or current career, interests and hobbies, family and the decision-making process. I like to ask, “What is a typical day in the life of Jane Doe like?” Or, “If you could do anything you wanted right now, what would it be?” Based on the answer, you may find out that the person is adventurous, intellectually curious, family-oriented, health conscious or a status seeker. And, even more important, are the questions he or she asks you.

Once you’ve gleaned some insights into your prospect’s values, focus on benefits that resonate with him or her, and don’t over-emphasize those that don’t. For instance, don’t go overboard selling the pool, fitness center and personal trainer to someone who doesn’t value health and fitness. He or she might be thinking, “I’m going to pay for something I’ll never use.”

Here are just a few examples of “values” portraits and ways you might connect with each. (Most people are a combination of more than one.)

These are typically women whose career was raising their children and caring for the family home. They feel attached to the home, and leaving it and the memories created there is very emotional for them. They may feel a need to consult their children on the decision. They may also be considering a move to be closer to family.

How to connect: Highlight amenities, such as built-in shelves and wall space for family photos and mementos; a second bedroom for visiting family members to spend the night; and the private dining room for family celebrations. Tell a story that will resonate with their values: “Can you imagine hosting Thanksgiving dinner here in the private dining room, then being able to relax and enjoy coffee and dessert with your family without needing to wash a mound of pots and pans?”

A large subset of the current generation of senior living prospects, they are careful shoppers who value financial security. High entrance fees may give them sticker shock, but if they see value, they will buy.

How to connect: Explain the value of the CCRC model by comparing the costs of home ownership and retirement community living (do this exercise prior to your meeting to ensure that the results are favorable for your community). For communities with a Type A Life Care agreement, share tangible comparisons of costs for skilled care with and without Life Care. Try this: “Do you know what skilled nursing care costs today? Have you ever heard stories of people who spent their life savings in a nursing home? Let me explain how Life Care might prevent that from happening to you.”

This group is attracted to intellectual pursuits, prestige and status. They may be leaders in their own communities, serve on a board of directors, read avidly and travel frequently. They want to maintain their independence and live life on their own terms. They do not have an emotional attachment to their homes—it’s just a place to hang their hats while pursuing their true interests.

How to connect: Mention that your community is “the leader,” “exceptional” or “the best around.” Say things like: “You can just lock the door and go, knowing that your home will be safe while you are away, and nice and clean when you return.” Perhaps see if they have an interest in serving on the resident council.

Next time you have a sales appointment, throw away that canned script, and focus on the person in front of you. Ask probing questions that will uncover his or her life values, so you can present your community in a way that connects with those values.