Jackie Stone, Author at Varsity Branding

Author: Jackie Stone

With “Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue Zones” coming out recently on Netflix, there is a renewed interest in the research and concept of Blue Zones®, areas around the world where people live much longer than average, with the highest rates of living centenarians.

In 2004, author Dan Buettner teamed up with National Geographic and the world’s best longevity researchers to identify pockets around the world where people live measurably longer and better lives, and to see what commonalities there might be in their behaviors, practices and lifestyles that might result in this longer lifespan. They discovered five locations where people reach age 100 at a rate 10 times greater than the average in the United States: Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Ikaria, Greece; Nicoya, Costa Rica; and Loma Linda, California. When pinpointing these locations on a world map, Dan circled them in blue, and therefore called them Blue Zones®.

Researchers found that the lifestyles of all Blue Zones’ residents shared nine commonalities, which they called the Blue Zones Power 9®: Lifestyle Habits of the World’s Healthiest, Longest-Lived People. These behaviors are grouped into categories: Move Naturally, Right Outlook, Eat Wisely and Connect.

Those of us in the senior living space would love for our residents to live longer, healthier, happier lives, so the question is, “Can we replicate this philosophy and these practices in our communities?” We already offer healthy meal options, fitness and exercise opportunities, and a sense of belonging, but how do we get residents to buy into it?

Some Varsity clients have modeled their wellness programs after the Blue Zones practices. We’ve hosted marketing events to educate people on the Blue Zones philosophy and its importance related to longevity, and then four smaller events dedicated to Moving Naturally (yoga, stretching), Right Outlook (meditation, mindfulness), Eating Wisely (Chef cooking demonstration with Mediterranean diet with wine pairing) and Connection (practicing good communication skills and technology). Some communities even code the events on their activities calendars with icons representing the Blue Zones practices.

While both residents and prospects enjoy the events and agree with the concepts in theory, it’s a pretty heavy lift to get people to adhere to a lifestyle that may be foreign to them. It’s a huge culture shift that may be difficult for some to achieve. Case in point, I recall one resident that I joined for breakfast who told me that her doctor recommended she eat more fruits and vegetables, so she ordered a cherry Danish instead of her usual cheese Danish. True story.

While we would like our residents to “live better, longer,” all we can do is offer the options to do so. The choice is obviously theirs to make, and perhaps having that autonomy is more important.




Many times we are asked by clients to mystery shop their competitors to find out current pricing, occupancy and incentives. While these things are important to know, what’s even more important from a sales perspective is to find out about the customer experience. We want to engage in the sales process, see things from the customer’s point of view and come away with impressions and observations that help us assist our clients in creating a unique experience for their customers. Our evaluation includes things like: Were we made to feel welcome? What kinds of questions were asked? Was the presentation of the community tailored to what’s important to me or was it a generic “tour”? Was there any follow-up after the meeting? What we find, fairly consistently, is that the initial call and tour of the community are not handled well at all. 

Overwhelmingly, sales counselors are not dedicating time and attention to discovering what prospects value in life, and then demonstrating how the community can deliver on those desired experiences. With few exceptions, we get the standard tour of common areas, are shown the model apartment, then are sent on our way with a packet chock-full of information, some of which is not pertinent to a decision. On my first visit to the community, I do not need to know the extension numbers of department heads or when my trash will be picked up.

Some other common pitfalls identified during mystery shopping are as follows, along with absolutely true examples of each, which you may find shocking, or, at the very least, amusing.

Pitfall 1: Talking too much about yourself. I have learned way too much unnecessary personal information about some of the sales counselors I’ve encountered. Some examples:

  • “I am one of 11 children. My mother wasn’t expected to be able to conceive and then she had two sets of triplets, two sets of twins and my brother. I’m a triplet. I’m used to sharing and cooking.”
  • “According to the state, I only have four dogs, but in reality I have seven dogs and too many cats to count. Our house is in a dumping area for animals and I can’t turn them away. I have such a heart for animals.”
  • “I live in an apartment here in the community. I have two cups of coffee in my apartment, then come down to my office and have another two cups. That’s it for the day unless I start to doze off at my desk.”

It’s one thing to share your experiences if they match up to those of your prospect, demonstrating that you have something in common or are in agreement about something, but these statements were unsolicited and not in response to anything I said. Please shut up, ask good questions and listen. It might help to role-play your presentation so you are more comfortable.                       

Pitfall 2: Answering unasked questions, sharing too much information or airing dirty laundry. This may be due to lack of training, nervousness or not being prepared.   

  • “The residents in memory care are primarily vagrants who were dumped off here by the sheriff.” (When I asked if my forgetful mother would qualify for assisted living or memory care)
  • “We had a terrible mold problem last year but it has since been corrected.” (The thought hadn’t occurred to me but now I’m worried about breathing.)
  • “It doesn’t usually smell this bad here.” (Skilled nursing tour)
  • “Just a heads up, it smells like raw sewage in the model cottage and we haven’t identified the cause yet.” (We toured it anyway instead of seeing another cottage.)

Even though these statements were true, they certainly didn’t make me want my mother to live there! Don’t feel the need to say something just to fill dead air. Ask questions instead of just saying whatever pops into your mind to break the silence. And plan your appointments beforehand so you don’t walk into an unfortunate situation.

Pitfall 3: Not listening and/or not recording notes in the CRM. If the sales counselor is doing all the talking, it doesn’t leave time for listening, and certainly doesn’t make the prospect feel special or understood. Examples:             

  • “Your daughter can stay in our guest apartment when she visits you.” (I had stated earlier that my daughter lives near the community and I wanted to relocate to that town in order to be near her.)
  • Repeated voicemails asking, “When can you come and tour our community?” (I had already been there and had a tour.)

Take good notes on what your prospect is saying to you. What’s important to them should be important to you. And make sure to add your notes into the CRM so you, or your successor, can review them prior to your next interaction with the prospect and show your sincere interest in their life and situation.     

Pitfall 4: Not closing on the next step. On many community tours, I was not brought to a closing area to go over prices, availability, questions, etc., but rather sent on my way with a packet and the parting words:

  • “I hope you come live with us.”
  • “Have a nice rest of your day.”
  • “We strive for great reviews. Would you please go on Google and give me a positive review, mentioning me by name?”

Closing is not difficult to do. It is proposing an action that the prospect either accepts or rejects, such as, “May I call you on Tuesday to see if you have any questions?” or “Let’s set up a day for you to come in for lunch.”

Mystery shopping has really opened my eyes as to what our prospects experience when they tour our communities. Unfortunately, a bad experience at one community can shed a negative light on us all. Treat each and every prospect as if they are the most important person to you … because they are!

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.



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