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Age-Targeting Marketing Can Put Builders at Risk

Clubhouses Moving Over for Active Adult Retail

The traditional clubhouse is on its way out as a marketing strategy for selling active adult housing, and a “casual, cozy and convenient” retail district providing products and services targeted to the aging baby boomer is on its way in, Rick Abelson, of William Hezmalhalch Architects, told NAHB’s “Building for Boomers and Beyond” housing symposium earlier this spring in Phoenix.

Bringing the retail and residential worlds together in a way that supports “how active adults live in their daily lives,” Abelson said, “just feels right.” His company has created a brand — Active Adult Retail® — as a prototype for what will grab buyers in age-targeted, age-restricted or aging-in-place communities, and the clubhouse as it is used today is not on the agenda.

“With its unprogrammed activity rooms, token retail, high operating costs and nonexistent revenue,” Abelson said, today’s clubhouse “no longer leverages new home marketing strategies. The upgraded version offers more amenities, requires more staff, generates insignificant revenue and takes up to 14 years to show a return.”

Abelson noted that 10,000 boomers a day are now hitting the age of 60 and after retiring, many are working and up to 80%, according to a Merrill Lynch New Retirement Survey conducted last year, are self employed. “They want the permanence, routine and security of everyday home life, the tools to fulfill work life and the respite, play and indulgence of traditional retirement, and they want to merge the resort and residential lifestyle,” according to Abelson.

Of the many things that buyers are looking for in adult communities, retail and restaurants on-site or nearby are the hardest to find.

“Property owners can put retail in tomorrow,” Abelson said, but “retailers need to understand the brand and how it relates to active adults”; they are looking for retail that is value-based, convenient and provides a psychological lift. The retail area should also provide a place for hanging out and socializing, and to that end he recommended making services deliveries from the front and not the back of stores.

“Shopping now is very disconnected,” he said. “Each shop only has one thing you need and there is a lot of wasted time.” The challenge for the developer is to “cherry pick the services and products that active adults need and position it for the community.”

While the clubhouse can be transformed to serve this purpose, Abelson has his sights on a retail village on 11-19 acres, about the size of a conventional strip center. A minimum population base is needed to support the retail center, he added, and developers should be looking for sites on the edges of existing adult communities.

Brokers are of key importance, he said: “the leasing guy wants to bring you Lowe’s for 200,000 square feet,” but what the broker should be doing is trying to get a successful mix. Depending upon what else is already in the existing neighborhood, a good mix might be 40% retail, 30% food and entertainment and 30% health, finance and education, he said.

Possibilities for the retail center include:

  • A department or general store, about 15,000 square feet, or one-third the size of a typical grocery store. By focusing on the needs of older adults, roughly two-thirds of the goods normally found in this type of store can be eliminated, Abelson said.

  • An active adult pharmacy, roughly 8,000 square feet. For the elderly, seeing a doctor can be a problem, “and doctors themselves are getting old,” so a self-check diagnostic room makes sense, he said. Herbal and international medicines may also gain more prominence in the future, and the elderly will be developing closer relationships with their pharmacies.

  • Three small bank branches.

  • Ground-level special retail can fit into 2,000-square-foot shops. A cooking and kitchen store and a pet store and hospital are two of the possibilities. A bestseller bookstore such as what you see at airports can get by with as little as 400 square feet. On the innovative side of the street, a smart acoustical equipment store can target aging boomers whose hearing faculties aren’t as acute as they used to be.

  • Dating services are a viable business for this age group.

  • A bed and breakfast is also an option, providing a place where friends visiting from out of town can stay.

  • A dinner and movie club can provide an alternative to the standard Cineplex. Two or three restaurants and a coffee shop can round out the mix.

“Rethink how parking lots work,” Abelson said. For a start, they need to be broken up and shaded, and alternative lighting needs to be used.

Find Out What the 55+ Market Wants

Boomers on the Horizon,” available through BuilderBooks.com, can help you better build and market homes to this age group. Capitalize on the niches, needs and opportunities of this rapidly growing market by learning their preferences.

To view or purchase this publication online, click here, or call 800-223-2665.

Save the Date: 50+ Housing Symposium

Mark your calendars to attend the 50+ Housing Symposium in Denver on May 30-June 1, 2007. The conference will include property tours, educational sessions on the latest 50+ issues and networking opportunities.

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