Universal Design: Selling "Aging in Place" Without Turning Clients Off

Universal Design: Selling "Aging in Place" Without Turning Clients Off

"Aging in Place" may not be the best marketing term. No one wants to age, let alone age in place. Most people envision gallivanting about the globe with their significant other in their golden years. The Caribbean cruises, the guided tours of Rome-all dressed in white linen with silver streaks in their hair and looking as good as a Boniva commercial.

The term "aging in place" can be positively depressing to potential clients. They want a cool home theater, lighting control, a sexy hidden flat-panel, and maybe a few practical features like security or climate control. Mention aging in place and you may turn the mood from fun to funereal.

According to Anika Ruff, account manager at Electronic Systems Design, Inc. in Orlando and CEDIA Outreach Instructor, a more positive term is "Universal Design."

"Most people won't even say they are having a birthday, so the only person 'Aging in Place' really appeals to is people in their 70s. And there are not a lot of people in the housing market that strikes a chord with," says Ruff.

Points to Consider

Luckily, the weapons you need to market the concept to anyone are already in your arsenal. Unlike Aging in Place, Universal Design attracts several different markets. For example, lighting design is appealing to everyone. A small child and a person in a wheelchair both need keypads mounted low, and both the elderly and the young can benefit from, say, pathway lighting controllable from that keypad.

"The elderly have vastly different sleeping patterns than the rest of us," says Ruff. "They get up several times during the night and may need pathway lighting to get to the kitchen for a snack. Similarly, a small child who has had a bad dream can hit a button and pathway lighting to the parent's room is activated."

Lighting is also one of the most immediate lines of defense against burglars, which makes it appealing to anyone who wants to protect their home and family. Hit one button on the keypad, and you can make the exterior lights strobe on and off to scare away intruders. Lighting even has an emotional return on investment: Imagine artwork lit properly at night or the dramatic effect of a wonderfully lit fountain.

According to Ruff, zoning control is also a universal concept, as in the case of a multigenerational home in which musical tastes would differ drastically. "When you have a situation like this, the grandparent's lifestyle is completely separate from the younger family. The grandparent might not be able to sleep and may want to watch TV at 3 am. They also get up very early," says Ruff. "With zoning control, like music and video distribution, you have the flexibility to account for various lifestyles."

Likewise, security cameras can be used to monitor the nursery, a play area, or the quarters of a client's elderly mother or father. You can also use the camera to see who is at the gate or front door, monitor the house while away, and so on.

"Again, security for surveillance is for the young and old alike, as well as what they are calling the 'sandwich' generation-the generation that is responsible for both an elderly parent and young children. The sandwich generation has two types of people to care for, and they aren't much different in terms of their needs," says Ruff.

Of course, universal design doesn't apply to technology alone. While the home technology professional might be responsible for the control and lighting functionality, the interior designer, builder, and architect would be concerned with things like easy-to-open doors and hardware, microwave drawers, lower countertops or cabinets, and wider hallways. This allows the home technology professional to work closely with architects, builders and interior designers to present a holistic overview of a home's Universal Design philosophy.

"Unlike 'Aging in Place' the term Universal Design might make a client say, 'OK, I want to be cool, let's do it.' People want to do things in their Home that will appeal to everyone," says Ruff.

That's why, when you are interviewing a client about their long-term needs, it's important to ask them how long they plan to be in their home. "That's a question not asked very often in the consumer electronics industry, but it's an important one," says Ruff. "This will help you determine what kind of options to present to your customers."

How to Execute

While the opportunity is there, how and when to suggest these features may not be so clear. According to Ruff, as with other technology, it's crucial to present Universal Design concepts early on, during the blueprint stage.

"If I throw these options out there for clients late in the game, or worse, someone else tells my client about them, then I look bad. The last thing I want is someone asking, 'Why didn't you tell me about such-and-such?' As a consultant, I try to avoid change orders!" says Ruff.

After the initial consultation, it's up to the client to decide whether they are interested. Even if they are not, by offering these choices, you have presented yourself as a well-rounded vendor to your client.

"I don't install elevators, but it is in my conversational repertoire. This type of knowledge makes you a lot more credible and valuable to your client," says Ruff.

It is also very clear that the potential of this marketplace is huge.

"Baby boomers, also now known as Gen B, are the largest population. And that generation is aging. We are growing old and we are living a lot longer than we used to, because we are taking better care of ourselves," says Ruff.

According to Ruff, clients will often manipulate the budget to make it work if they find that Universal Design is something they suddenly can't live without. And with a little sales finesse, you can convince potential clients that this convenient, future-proof and universally appealing technology is just that.

From the Fall 2011 issue of Electronic Lifestyles® magazine.

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