Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Here comes the bandwagon

It's been a very busy summer for us at In Your Home and I haven't posted for awhile. Lots of new customers, we've grown our crew, business is about double last year. While we like to believe this has a lot to do with how we run our business, it is partly a reflection of the growing demand for services to support folks choosing to "age in place."

This growing demand for services has been noted in a variety of recent industry reports and news stories. Combined with the slump in new home construction, lots of people are targeting residential remodeling and especially "aging in place" as a more robust segment of the housing market. All the attention is good because it will hopefully lead not only to better solutions but greater awareness and willingness throughout the population of how modifications can improve our lives as we age. But there is also a big risk in this goldrush mentality. Here are a few examples:

  • Untested products. Over the summer we discovered a new walk-in tub that had some nice features making it a great solution for a particular client. It was offered by a reputable company so we decided to give it a try. A week after the order was scheduled to ship, we were informed that something had gone wrong with the manufacturer relationship and the product could not be delivered as promised. We had to go to plan B, delaying the project for nearly a month, an inconvenience for our customer. But at least it was discovered before we had a situation with a faulty product. As more and more people target these sorts of solutions, we are likely to have many products that do not work or can't be delivered as advertised--experience and the remodeler's willingness to stand behind the work will be very important.
  • Supportive business practices. It's one thing to know how to replace a tub with a shower, it is another to have the work practices that protect the customer in other ways. For example, we currently have two customers experiencing the onset of Alzheimers. They have tried to hide our supplies and give away their belongings to our crew--things that we are accustomed to and have strict policies regarding. This is just one example where a true aging-in-place specialist will have the experience and work practices that meet the needs of this customer base, beyond basic remodeling skills.
  • Real Focus. It is increasingly easy for remodelers to say they do aging-in-place projects, but how many do they really do? I've spoken with CAPS designees who admit that aging-in-place work is only a small percentage of the work they do. Admittedly, we are doing more and more projects that are outside the aging-in-place marketspace--family members who want us to do work on their home, referrals from Angies List just looking for someone they can trust, etc. But our focus and the core of our business is on the senior population and it creates a very different reality for our team than for someone who doesn't focus there.
  • Informed solutions. Not focusing on this market space can also impact the quality of the solution--we sell as many or more aluminum ramps as we build wood ones because in many cases they are the better solution. One of our customers couldn't find a contractor who knew anything about accessible shower pans--they had designed a ground floor bathroom and living space with the idea that it would be accessible for visiting relatives, but everyone they dealt with kept trying to install a traditional shower pan because that is all they knew. A true specialist can address the full range of solutions and won't force fit inadequate ones.

These are a few examples that underscore the need to people to be aware of what it really takes to be a viable resource for senior homeowners.