How to conduct a competitive audit of your senior living design

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Cynthia Warner
Cynthia Warner

One key selling point of a community is its attractive, comfortable and appealing design. After all, who doesn't want to live in a well-designed home or environment? And conversely, who wants to live somewhere outdated, less functional or poorly designed? Interior design affects the way we feel and behave, so it's human nature that we're attracted to a presentable, comfortable living space. 

First impressions and the overall design of your community are factors when residents chose where to live, so it's important to be understand how you stack up compared with competitors. Below are some tips to help you conduct a design audit of your competitors in the senior living space.

Speak with your staff

Just as you network with other senior living professionals, it's likely your staff members do as well. Many staff members are aware of what is going on at other communities via friends and connections in the industry. Take advantage of this pool of knowledge with a survey. Ask your staff members questions related to the design and function of your community in relation what they know of competitors.

Some sample questions and points of feedback:  

  • Please list one to three competitors you believe have attractive, well-designed communities.
  • What do you believe is most attractive about their design (colors, furniture, flooring, lighting, windows, features, trend or functionality, such as rooms designed for specific purposes)?
  • How do you think the design of our community stands in relation to others in the area (poor, neutral, good, great)?

Research local and national trends

Pay attention to local and national senior living publications to see what others in the industry are doing. Articles about national trends will help you understand whether your community is in line with indirect competitors – such as those in different regions. Keeping an eye on local publications will help you keep a pulse on your direct competitors, or those in your vicinity. Is there new construction? Is a competitor undergoing a remodel? Are other communities adopting more modern trends or amenities?

Tour the community

Occasionally, organizations or publications will coordinate tours of communities. Take the opportunity to attend and meet / learn from others in the industry while you experience the design and atmosphere of the location first-hand. Naturally, this is one of the best ways to truly understand and feel what others are doing.

Check out social media

Social media are great places to do a little recon. Visit your competitors' social media channels, such as Facebook and Instagram, and scan through their photos and posts. You likely will find posts of recent events, photos that show of their buildings and more. This effort will give you an idea of the communities' look and feel, as well as how they are using their different facilities and amenities.

Visit websites

Similar to social media research, visiting the websites of your competitors also may give you an idea of interior design, because many communities use it as a selling point. If they aren't showing it off, it might be a clue that it is not one of their strong suits.

Look for photo galleries, pages that discuss and promote design, a blog or other pieces of relevant information.

You also may glean information about upcoming plans of those, for example, if a community is blogging about an upcoming expansion, remodel or redesign.

Request an audit from design firms specializing in senior living

When it's time to call in the experts, reach out to a senior living design firm. Many firms work partially or solely in senior living design and have an in-depth understanding of the current trends in this niche.

At Warner Design Associates, our first step is to do a site tour and see the location first-hand. We understand how certain areas are used, identify what currently does or doesn't work well, and discuss important factors such as first impressions and the functionality of the building beyond just the aesthetics. From the tour and discussion, we're able to give the community feedback based on industry trends and custom recommendations. This feedback from an expert, outside source is a wonderful way to get an idea of how you stack up compared with competitors and what needs to be done to achieve your goals.

A quick annual audit is a great way to ensure that your community is on top of trends and implementing new ways to improve the lives of residents.

Now it's your turn: What other strategies do you use to audit your design?

Cynthia Warner is the co-founder and lead designer at Warner Design Associates in San Mateo, CA.

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