Small businesses have an opportunity to make their businesses age-friendly. An age-friendly business helps support continuing and thriving trade while improving seniors' quality of life.
What is an Age-Friendly Small Business?
The World Health Organization (WHO) pioneered the concept of age-friendly communities and businesses. An age-friendly small business treats customers with respect regardless of their age or ability. It considers the unique needs of the elderly to make them feel comfortable and safe while shopping.
Advantages of Running an Age-Friendly Small Business
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, over 56 million American adults are 65 and older. By 2030, it's projected that more than 73 million older adults will live in the U.S. This will increase the size of the elderly population to one in every five Americans. If your business is age-friendly, you can attract and retain customers and employees from this growing demographic.
Older adults -- particularly retirees -- have significant spending power. According to 2022 data from the Federal Reserve System, baby boomers now control over 50% of all the wealth in the U.S.
This aging population represents a highly profitable opportunity for a small business, especially one that is age-friendly.
While most older people are independent and healthy, making their shopping experience safer and more comfortable is sure to be noticed. Seniors may be more likely to become loyal customers if they feel comfortable shopping at your place of business. They may also be more likely to spread the word about your small business. Implementing age-friendly practices may help you gain a reputation as a small business that values the community and will, in turn, help grow your customer base.
How Do You Create a More Age-Friendly Small Business?
An age-friendly business focuses on improving four key areas: safety, convenience and comfort, clarity, and age-friendly customer service.
View your company through the eyes of an older person with potential hearing, vision, or mobility challenges. Some areas to consider:
- Are the aisles or general areas free of boxes and other clutter that can cause an elderly customer to fall?
- Does the furniture layout allow for easy movement for all customers, especially those in wheelchairs or using walkers?
- Have you taken all the necessary actions to ensure accessibility that you can reasonably afford, such as installing automatic doors? If that's not feasible, make sure doors are manageable and easy to open.
- Ensure that you have non-slip surfaces in all traffic areas and that mats have slip-resistant backing.
- Clean up any spills promptly.
- Ensure there is enough light throughout your property, especially at entry and exit points and restrooms.
- Are A-boards outside your shopfront or main entrance carefully positioned to avoid impediments to older customers entering your premises?
- Look for potholes, uneven ground, and other obstructions in front of your business and fix them.
- Remove snow early and frequently to keep the sidewalk in front of your premises free of snow and ice.
2. Convenience and Comfort
- Place heavy products on lower or easily reachable shelves and help older people reach items on the higher shelves.
- Think of the noise level in your place of business. Loud music can appeal to the younger generation, but it can be irritating or, at worst, disorienting for seniors who have hearing problems. Consider minimizing loud music to make it appealing to all customers.
- Ensure that every chair has arms so older clients who need to push themselves up can do so easily.
- Verify that your signage, wayfinding signs, and other materials are readable by older customers. Small changes you can make are using large font and strong color contrast. For example, reading white type on a yellow background can be difficult. Make sure receipts are easy to read as well.
- Consider making your signage bilingual, considering the languages spoken in your community.
- If you offer seniors discounts or special pricing during off-peak hours, post this online and in a prominent place by the counter or the entrance.
4. Age-Friendly Customer Service
- Encourage customer-facing employees to be actively welcoming of older people.
- Train staff to be patient when dealing with seniors. We have all witnessed older adults being slow at the cash register. Encourage staff to be empathetic and helpful and avoid being dismissive or displaying overt impatience.
- Help the customer feel comfortable they're getting the right amount of change by using the count-back method or by returning change with coins first, saying the total value of the coins, and then counting the bills on top.
- Ensure staff members take extra care and time when working with senior customers rather than rushing the sale or transaction.
- Above all, conduct training on how to be respectful of senior customers. Training should include avoiding patronizing behaviors such as referring to elderly customers as "dear" or "sweetie" or using fake flattery. Older people can spot these condescending behaviors a mile away.
- Staff training should also include how to handle customers with hearing challenges. For example, when dealing with a person who struggles with hearing, train employees to speak slowly and clearly while avoiding being condescending, like using an unnaturally loud voice or talking too slowly.
- Keep in mind other age-sensitivity training opportunities you could offer employees, such as an online session with Dementia Friends.
- Consider as well asking customers for feedback on your age-friendly program and offering them a convenient way to do so, such as comment cards or an online survey.
Adopting these practices helps create loyal customers by showing older people that you appreciate their business.
How Do You Promote Your Age-Friendly Small Business?
One of the ways to promote that you are an age-friendly small business is to become an age-friendly employer. You can even apply to be recognized as a Certified Age-Friendly Employer.
Given the aging population, attracting skilled older workers is essential for the future success of your business. In 2021, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that the most significant labor force growth in coming years will come from those aged 75 and older as the population ages and more people postpone retirement.
By obtaining age-friendly certification, your small business can further advertise that it's age-friendly. Age-friendly certified businesses include medical offices, coffee shops, bakeries, beauty salons, restaurants, dry cleaners, and a laundromat. Here's how to certify.
Once your certification as an age-friendly business is approved, you'll receive a window decal for your storefront or office. Additionally, you can post signs near the entrance affirming that your business is age-friendly.
Another way to promote your small business as an age-friendly business is to advertise this on your Business Facebook Page or website. Post photos on your site and social media that positively depict older people.
Given the aging population, making your small business age-friendly will keep you ahead of the curve. As the elderly population grows, so does its purchasing power. People have options and will use them by buying from companies that understand their needs. Above all, an age-friendly business appeals to people of all ages. It will benefit your business, your neighborhood, and your elderly customers.