Hey Coach! Connecting Boomers and Universal Design

by Louis Tenanbaum, CAPS, Independent Living Specialist and member of the ASID Aging-in-Place Council

Turns out universal design and boomers go together like a hand and glove. As boomers become mature consumers, universal design becomes a perfect fit. This is good news for all parties. The design and building/remodeling industry is well positioned to serve this huge population bubble.

Things have been written about boomers being selfish, “‘me”-oriented, stamp their feet consumers. That may seem true if you view your customers as a mark or pain in the neck. Boomers can’t be hoodwinked or “sold a bill of goods.” Boomers like information. They prepare for spending. They make wise and thoughtful purchases.

View this desire for information as an opportunity to act professionally. Work with boomers as their coach. Give context—small, medium and large—for their consideration. Make it relevant for their situation and their future. Share your knowledge. Give superior service by having not just the information but the experience and reasons to help make decisions. Lead them to the right conclusions. They will be happy to pay for the value you add to their purchase.  I will describe four ways this is true.

1. Take skylights, for example. Like all sales really, skylight decisions are not about money. Skylight selection is about important issues (e.g., leak resistance, warranty and energy efficiency). You are a much better source of guidance than the Internet, where so much information is available but all is suspect. Raising these issues and explaining the criteria wins the customer’s attention and trust. The information and experience you add to their study empowers them to make a good decision. Your approach is totally authentic. This earns you loyal clients for life.

Many boomers know that life throws you curves, that change is constant, and that responsibilities may change but never disappear. Think sandwich generation, telecommuting, the bursting tech bubble, career changes as jobs are outsourced and global warming. Universal design is a bigger picture than the skylight example and a bigger opportunity to educate and inform clients how to get good value. Coach them about the potential for good ideas and better design. Flexibility, one universal design principle, is just what boomers want to get lasting value for an uncertain future.

2. Another way boomers are matched to universal design follows the way decision making changes as we mature. As leading edge boomers reach their sixties, they are purchasing a home not to secure a roof over their heads or to strut their success. Now it is about personal fulfillment. Is the new space about exercise, spa, meditation, art, writing, starting a new business or working from home? The space is a vehicle, your home a gateway for the experience you hope to have. Decisions are about the feeling they evoke for the client’s life. It is not about a desire you share with everyone, but about your own personal desires—not something specific, but the potential of your own dreams. Think comfort, convenience, ease of use. Help them to consider how they feel with natural light all around or the day they play too much tennis to climb the stairs. That is universal design. Conveniently, it is boomers, too. Coach your clients to recognize that all they want to be is inherent in a space that is prepared for anything.

3. Boomers want to preserve their independence. They want to make their own decisions, darn it! (See foot stomping in paragraph two.) Independence means controlling your home, your day, your life. Universal design reduces the risk of needing to rely on your kids or others. Universal design is a best bet for a home that helps you age with dignity and respect. That is aging in place. Coach them to see peace of mind, universal design, aging in place and independence as different sides of the same coin. That holistic, long term view is good planning and fits the boomer psyche.

4.  Altruism is another way universal design is right for boomers and other mature consumers. My mom bought her airline tickets from a travel agent that supported a non-profit she appreciated. She felt she was doing good with every trip she took. People do not buy a Toyota Prius to save money. They buy it to tie their purchase to something large than themselves. The older we get, the more we want to have a lasting impact at every opportunity. Universal design has long term value for our housing stock. Legacy purchases, so to speak, can almost be seen as gifts to our grandchildren. To have lasting impact in the same purchase that improves our every day lives is a double win. Sell it. Coach your clients to see the connection, to realize that good design gives value beyond their needs.

A coach-like relationship helps boomers trust you. Help them see that universal design is a good match for their ideals and dreams. That is good service and good business. Boomers and universal design combine for a perfect storm. Stir the breeze. Everyone wins.

(For more information on this topic, consult Ageless Marketing: Strategies for Reaching the Hearts and Minds of the New Customer Majority by David B. Wolfe.)