5 Senior Businesses to Start
Grow Your Business, Not Your Inbox
The good news about the senior market is boundless opportunities exist for entrepreneurs wise enough to think ahead. In a recent white paper on marketing to seniors, Neil Lichtman notes that the big opportunities in the seniors market are still 10 to 15 years away, as this group-and its offspring-are still in the process of segmenting into two groups: 1) Those whose bodies have not changed enough that they need new products and services, and 2) Those whose bodies have changed considerably and are in need of products and services to help them maintain active lifestyles.
"When you think about changing taste buds, curved spines, shaky hands and limited mobility-not just poor hearing and diminished sight-the vast majority of consumer product categories are open to new product development [for seniors], as are many services," notes Lichtman, managing director and chief strategy officer of Maddock Douglas, a Chicago-area ad agency specializing in new product development.
That's where tech training, online dating, senior transportation, concierge and adult day care come in-all businesses that could be great all on their own but could also work well as add-ons to existing businesses. These opportunities are just beginning to hatch-and will become increasingly popular as tomorrow's seniors find ways to spend the estimated $5,000 of annual disposable income that Lichtman and other experts reckon they'll have on hand. These seniors will have no trouble spending their cash on those services that make their lives easier and more enjoyable.
The challenge in the senior transportation business, experts agree, is finding ways to provide seniors who can no longer drive with the ability to get where they want to be-and get there in style. Losing the ability to drive can be devastating, but entrepreneurs who find ways to make the ride enjoyable will cash in.
"When someone [can't drive], you take their world away," says Stella Henry, founder and director of Vista Del Sol Health Care Services, a nursing home and assisted living facility in Culver City, California, and a longtime expert on seniors and aging. "There's a huge market for coming up with solutions to this problem. When this life-altering experience happens, how are you going to help them?"
Thus far, the options for seniors have been slim, with transportation generally coming in the form of an impersonal ride in the back of a van provided by a senior center or a community-based service. Neil Lichtman predicts, however, the emergence of various individual and pooled transportation alternatives that make for a pleasant ride. For the wealthiest seniors, "specially outfitted limos could replace the local taxi," says Lichtman. "For [seniors] who cluster in small towns or parts of cities, special jitneys would emerge"-that is, small buses that would transport passengers on a flexible schedule.
The need for transportation services is certainly there, agrees Generational-Targeted Marketing's Fishman, particularly if you don't limit your service to daytime activities. "Car services that pick you up, drop you off and return you-after a party, a dinner, the symphony-are great for entrepreneurial endeavors," she says. "This group is still as active as it can be."
Here's another business idea where you're only limited by your imagination. A concierge service for seniors could both provide escorted transportation and bring services into the home, depending on what the client requests. Think beautician services, dry cleaning, mobile vets, domestic help-again, anything that makes seniors' lives easier and also makes use of their disposable income.
"Many people of this age need their errands run, groceries picked up, laundry and tailoring taken care of. Just imagine if you couldn't drive-what would you need done for yourself?" says Ann A. Fishman, president of market research consulting firm Generational-Targeted Marketing Corp. in New Orleans and an adjunct professor at New York University's The Center for Marketing. "Some are without family nearby, and although they don't need companions, it's nice to have someone take you to the doctor and wait for you."
That's just what Dick Padgett had in mind when he started Five Star Concierge. Though a small one-man operation, the San Diego company represents the kind of seed-stage opportunity set to explode within the next decade. "The senior market needs a reliable source of transportation and care," says Padgett, 54, who offers escorted transportation, personal shopping and errands, technical consulting and training, handyman services and more. "They need someone they can call who is dependable and honest. I am the substitute son."
Adult Day Care
Representing another idea still in its formative stages, adult day care is more often than not a service provided by existing senior communities. That's the case with Jonathan Howard's Charlotte, North Carolina-based Resources for Senior Living, a group of senior living communities that added adult day care at its communities in Charlotte, North Carolina, in 2003.
"The primary purpose of adult day care is to provide caregivers, who are usually the spouse or an adult child, with relief," says Howard, 49, who projects overall revenues of $30 million for 2004, of which a small fraction is attributable to adult day care. "Knowing their loved ones are in a safe, stimulating place for the day, caregivers can run errands and even enjoy a little free time."
The rise in adult day-care services is a sign of the times, says Howard:. "This area is growing rapidly because as the population ages, other trends-such as two-career households, smaller families and adult children living far from their parents-are putting even more pressure on caregivers' time and energy."
What's more, adult day care offers seniors the ability to socialize with their peers and engage in activities that they might not otherwise have an opportunity to do. Offering a twist on the idea of getting seniors out of the house, Los Angeles entrepreneur Gregg Steiner came up with 866-8EL-DERS, a Los Angeles company that was set to launch at press time. The company will offer field trips, day care and entertainment for seniors who either live in a senior facility or live at home but can't drive. "[Seniors may be] stuck in a horrible environment with no means to get out and no access to any culture or real entertainment," says Steiner, 34. "Their children don't have the time to visit enough, let alone take them out for a half-day each week to be entertained somewhere."
Surfing isn't just for young whippersnappers: The percentage of seniors online jumped by 47 percent between 2000 and 2004-that's 22 percent of 65-plusers-according to a 2004 Pew Internet & American Life Project study.
And while 22 percent isn't bad, it's not enough for people like Don Dinnerville, who offers one-on-one computer coaching via his Dallas-based Well Don, founded in 2002. About one-third of his coaching is with seniors, most of whom know of Well Don through taking one of Dinnerville's computer classes at nearby Richland College.
Why the interest in high tech? "Seniors long to maintain their independence in as many areas of life as possible," says 33-year-old Dinnerville, who just recently began tracking his sales. "The first day of each of my classes, I ask my students why they're [there]. I often hear, 'I want to stop calling my son, daughter and grandkids every time I have a question about my computer.'"
Helping seniors feel successful is key to luring the other 78 percent of seniors who, due to lack of access, lack of skills or intimidation, have yet to make use of Internet technology. Says Tobey Gordon Dichter, who offers a free online tutorial in basic skills like Internet and e-mail use via her nonprofit, Philadelphia-based Generations on Line, available at more than a thousand sites in 46 states: "These services are critical to help seniors who have been left off the information [super]highway."
Tech-savvy seniors aren't stopping at e-mail: Online dating is getting its share of attention, too. It didn't take long after founding Friend Finder Inc. in 1996 for Andrew Conru to realize that adding a senior component to his personals website was "a natural"-and in 1998, there came SeniorFriendFinder.com.
Seeking everything from companionship to relationships, the 600,000-plus members of SeniorFriendFinder-and "a lot of money" spent on advertising-help Conru stay competitive. "You need at least 100,000 people actively using your site to compete," says Conru.
You'll also need around $10,000 to $20,000 in hardware, says Conru, and it couldn't hurt to get some investor money. "But another solution is co-brands," says the Palo Alto, California, entrepreneur. "You get a domain you like, and SeniorFriendFinder will create it, using [our] members as the back end."
Providing traditional matchmaking services is another option. Carol Morganstarted her Boca Raton, Florida, matchmaking service, HeartHunters Inc., in 1988 after successfully playing matchmaker for her elderly widowed father. She's since tripled her sales volume. "Seniors, like the rest of society, are seeking a comfortable way to rediscover love," says the entrepreneur. "The concept of a matchmaking service, run professionally and personally dedicated to their individual needs, is a welcome service to them."