Seniorize your business
If you plan for your business to be around in 10 years and you don't have a "youth-only" product line, you might want to consider how well seniors do in your place of business. If you are an average merchant, your customers over age 50, probably don't do as well as you think they might.
Since seniors are already an affluent age group and this market will be doubling in the next 20 years while younger markets decline, perhaps you should take a look around. You probably need to seniorize a few things.
Seniors are loyal customers and appreciate it when companies go the extra mile to make their visit more convenient and comfortable.
Some suggestions are about things that are more noticeable when they are there while others are more noticeable when you don't provide them. Common sense rules the day and just do what you can and what is appropriate for your business. Here are a few suggestions starting with the parking lot and moving inside:
The parking lot
Handicapped parking - Add a couple more spaces than the law requires and/or police the ones that you do have. All it takes is a few days per week of writing tickets and those young athletes that take up the handicapped parking spaces won't do it anymore. Keep the shopping carts and other things out of the handicapped parking. If carts are sitting in your handicapped spaces, you don't have handicapped parking.
If possible, don't put your handicapped parking areas on the far side of your busiest driveway. Seniors who need the handicapped parking don't feel like being chased across a driveway by an impatient youngster who doesn't want to wait 20 seconds to let someone cross the road. When properly planned, parking can be provided right in front of the building and seniors won't have to cross the traffic to get into your store.
Another parking suggestion is to install senior-only spaces. Many seniors would like something closer than the farthest end of your parking lot, but they have to much respect to take up a handicapped parking spot. You've probably seen parking for expectant mothers... make parking available for only those 65 and up and you will find tons of grateful new clients.
Close senior parking means that they don't have to walk quite as far or dodge as much traffic. The only problem that you will have with this is that there is no way to legally enforce "senior-only" parking. and it will certainly be abused from time to time by thoughtless and selfish people. For the most part, most people will appreciate your thoughtfulness and respect the intention.
On the way in
Have one of your service representatives or greeters stand near the entrance to help seniors with anything they need. Many seniors won't need this but a few who are frail may have a hard time separating your shopping carts or want a little help in pointing the right direction. It also doesn't hurt to have someone close by that will just say hi. Friendliness is never out of fashion
This sounds like a big-store suggestion but many smaller stores can make a few efforts in this area including having someone who just keeps an eye on the front door. Some stores have umbrella people for rainy days. These people run out to share a golf umbrella with seniors and help them inside.
Consider installing an automatic or at least a push-button door opener. Commercial doors often have closure springs that make the door heavy, and many are hard for seniors to open. These closure springs can pull the door closed too fast or too hard and people get caught in the crunch.
Sure, automatic door openers are expensive. So is not having seniors come into your business. But if you make it easy for seniors and let them know that you appreciate them, they will be back and tell their friends about you too.
Between arthritis and loss of bone and muscle mass, many seniors have no more strength than a 6-7 year old child. If you've noticed that kids have a hard time with your doors, so can some seniors.
Watch slippery areas near doors, especially when it is raining or snowing. Wet floors are dangerous and putting up a little yellow caution sign is not a substitute for good traction. Add traction mats if you need to.
Linoleum flooring is not only the most durable and cheapest flooring that you can find, it is also the safest if it is maintained properly and no slip finishes are applied. It must be kept dry and free of debris or it can be as slippery as ice. Someone with poor eyesight or even who just isn't paying attention may not realize that there is a hazard on your linoleum floor. Also make sure that broken tiles are fixed. It is not only unattractive in your store, it can catch a shoe heel or toe.
Carpeting can catch heels, runs leave strings, and carpet tears or buckles will surely cause people to trip. If carpeting is more ideal for your business type, make sure that it is well-maintained and you look for problem areas regularly.
This is probably one of the biggest danger areas in most establishments. In an effort to reduce costs or to produce ambiance, light quality is diminished to the functional level of most younger people's eyes. Senior eyes can be great, but many seniors can also suffer from a reduction in visibility due to cataracts, degenerative eye diseases, or just age. In some cases, seniors may only see half as much light as someone who is younger.
Improper lighting can cause shadows, glare, or cause eyestrain. To anyone with poor vision, a shadow can contain many dangers or at least is the cause of much uncertainty.
For most businesses, restrooms are considered a necessary evil. They don't add directly to the profit, they cost time and money, and it must be provided as a completely free service. To top it off, they can quickly go from being clean to filthy when inconsiderate people use them inappropriately.
However, they are a necessary part of your store function and if you do not maintain them well, your customers will leave quickly and possibly not come back. Customers cringe when they walk into any commercial restroom because of so many poor past experiences. A well-maintained facility is your key to impressing your customers.
A dark restroom looks dirty, even if it is immaculate. Provide plenty of fluorescent lighting including directly over stalls. This is critical for navigation for people with poor vision. If you are building or rebuilding, allow a few more inches on each side than you would have to, in order to be comfortable.
Above all else, install handrails in every stall, not just the handicapped ones. Handle bars help people navigate around a stall and help them sit down without falling down. Bad knees or hips are a big problem for many seniors and they can give out easily when sitting down.
Put inside clothes hooks inside the stall door. Both men and women use them to hang their coats on and women often hang a purse on the hook as well. But place them no higher than eye level. A strap for a heavy purse is hard to push over your head.
Consider adding more than one handicapped stall. Yes, they are more expensive and take up more space. But if you are in need of a handicapped stall and the only one that is there is foul or otherwise indisposed, you have a problem. Finding someone and waiting for the problem to be resolved might not be possible.
Make sure that floors remain clean and as dry as possible. The availability of water and paper products can make this hard to do but one wrong slip can cause a bunch of trouble.
Who do you hire? Do they understand senior needs or are they more likely to treat older customers as an inconvenience because they can't reach the top shelf or they are a bit slow walking through the isles. Learn more about hiring senior employees.
- We know that you need to replace products on shelving and that sometimes it means that you have to pull a cart out and put boxes of product on the floor.
But try to keep it to a minimum, get the boxes out fast, take the time to fold and stack the boxes so that customers don't have to navigate around them, immediately stop and pick up small pieces of tape, cardboard, or paper (and dispose of it), and always check the isle for any product that may remain or have been spilled including water.
- We also recommend that you supply each cart with a dust mop so that employees can sweep up after stocking each location. Small pieces of debris may remain and some boxes have coatings that are slippery and come off on the floor.
Cardboard shavings from a dull box opener leave a micro-fine confetti material on the floor that is dry, highly polished, almost invisible, and VERY slippery.
- Make isles wide enough to get a cart past a walker, plus at least a foot on each side. Sure this may take one row out of your store. But if it gets people into your store and they want to stay longer because they are less crowded, aren't they likely to buy more?
- Add service personnel. Nobody likes it if they cannot get service. Seniors want customer service and don't want to have to walk your entire store to find someone, and then have to wait 15 minutes for the right someone to get off from break. Service personnel are needed to help find things, make recommendations, and pull things down from shelves that are too high.
- Watch how high you put things. Many older seniors have a hard time reaching above their head. Arthritis and bone loss can result in movement limitations. Having to look up and stretch can also cause a loss of balance.
- Minimize or eliminate music and watch the style. It can hurt ears and it is annoying even to younger adults. Add a hearing aid to the problem and some types of music become intolerable.
- Get rid of or fix your poor shopping carts that wiggle, stall, or try to go the wrong way. Many seniors stow the cane and use your cart for stability. A cart that is a smooth and steady can be trusted. A cart that shakes, moves every sort of direction can cause a fall.
- Add checkout lanes to reduce wait time. Standing in line for a long time on hard floors can be troublesome.
- Some stores are opening early for senior citizen hour when everything carries a senior discount price. Stores are not crowded, extra staff is available, and seniors save money.
- Use price tags that are large print
- Add sitting benches and especially by doors where people sometimes wait. The bigger the store, the more you use. It can be tiring going through your store. If given a few moments rest, the shopping trip can continue. This is especially nice for seniors who are only accompanying a friend or spouse and would like to wait while someone else is trying something on.
- Use helpers to get product out to the car. It can be hard to manage a walking cane, a purse, and multiple shopping bags across a parking lot.
- Install grab rails in dressing rooms. Many seniors avoid trying on new clothes because the have a hard time in your dressing rooms. With nothing to hang onto besides the hook on the wall, it is easy to lose your balance and it may be hard to sit down unless there is a handrail.
- Have someone at the dressing room that can help to remove pins and clips on garments. Arthritic hands have trouble with these seemingly small things. With pins and clips removed, seniors are also more likely to buy your product because they don't have to mess with them at home.
- Supply diabetic content on menus - you can probably increase your senior clients (as well as dieters) within days. Many diabetics have to be very careful, others just want to know what they are eating.
- Large print menus - especially important if the lighting in your facility is low. You would probably be surprised at the number of people that cannot read the food descriptions.
- Provide diabetic meals - Ask any person with diabetes and you will find that going to an average restaurant requires picking and choosing among very few items on a menu... and forget about dessert. Offer sugar free options and you will win some big fans.
- Use large handled utensils for easy grip - Thin utensil handles are hard to hold onto for anyone with arthritis. Some restaurants are going to the large handle utensils for everyone. Also consider making a large grip rubber handle steak knife available. Stabbing food with a fork is one thing. Maintaining a grip while applying pressure and sawing through a steak is another. Using a regular steak knife can be hard for anyone with severe arthritis.
- Watch steps - if you have steps in your restaurant, consider installing a ramp instead. Whether it is steps or a ramp, consider edge lighting to illuminate the path or at least highlight the edges.
These are tough for seniors. Between walking on hard floors, navigating through crowds, dizzying heights on escalators, and the natural echo of sound off the glass, concrete, and metal, malls are not very friendly places for seniors.
Check out the hard wooden benches throughout your mall and you will note that most of them are filled with seniors who would like to keep shopping. So help them out! Double up on your seating capacity and put out comfy chairs and couches with cushions on them.
Better yet, use one of those small storefronts that nobody will rent and make a nice lounge out of it. Consider:
- Sound absorbent panels on the walls and ceilings
- Comfortable couches and over-stuffed chairs
- Reading materials
- Classical music
- Free ice-water
Air filtration with an attached ionizer does more than keep the air clean. It adds negative ions to the air, similar to that which you find near a waterfall or after a thunderstorm. It is invigorating and makes you feel good.
And above all else, employ a hostess to that room to keep things under control, teens out, and keep the place clean.
Many banks, especially the branch banks are doing much better with adding a more relaxed feel. But consider having someone meet people at the door and offering to show them to a table while their deposits are made. Even a glass of ice-water can be refreshing.