John O'Connor
John O’Connor

A good friend holds a contrarian view on senior living’s next big opportunity. Or at least, contrarian when compared with the prevailing wisdom generally now in play.

But first, some context: When the major industry conferences get kick-started this fall, it’s pretty apparent that serving the middle market will be one hot topic. We’ll be privy to sessions on matters such as reducing brick-and-mortar costs, tapping third-party funding streams and economizing on space — and more. Those sessions will be conducted in the spirit of making senior living options more affordable. Or as the political like to say, expanding the tent.

Which is fine, as far as it goes. After all, the need here is quite real. Besides, you know what they say about building better mousetraps.

Which brings me to my friend, a.k.a. Mr. Opposite. His view is that this field actually needs more high-end options. Or to be more precise, more high-end options that are better tailored to the high-end crowd.

Sounds a bit out of step, right? Then again, consider some of his supporting evidence. For starters, there’s the fact that there are a lot of really, really wealthy people in this country. How many? Well, by some estimates, 1.4 million households in the United States have a net worth in excess of $10 million.

That’s pretty impressive, right? But the mere deca-millionaires among us are pikers when compared with centi-millionaires, or those with assets north of $100 million. And this club has more than 55,000 members. Moreover, it’s probably a safe bet that a considerable amount of people in both categories need senior living services, or soon will.

But it also should be noted that as a general rule, the uber rich have some, shall we say, distinguishing characteristics. Let’s start with the obvious: many have spent a lifetime enjoying a lifestyle that might best be described as lavish. That tends to work hand in hand with expectations that are well above the norm.

Those are not the kinds of people who usually are found in long lines at the currency exchange. To this crowd, roughing it means sacrificing along the lines of flying business class.

What they will want, and more likely will demand, is a senior living experience that does not amount to stepping down.

My friend’s view is that few operators have been willing to make the investment necessary to keep these campers happy — not that they go camping very often. He also believes that those willing to commit to this category are likely to reap a tidy payoff in return. 

So why focus on a relatively small cohort when the hoi polloi might fill many more fill units? I guess you could say there are millions of reasons.