I recently read an interesting article from the online news service Senior Housing News. The title was “‘Way of the Future’: Senior Living Operators Envision Next Generation of Niche Communities”. (You can read the whole article here.) In the article, several CEOs and consultants are interviewed about a trend in retirement communities toward serving certain “niche” constituencies. One consultant put it this way, “You want people who have similar passions or people that are motivated by similar things.”

Three specific examples are described in detail: one community focused on sustainability, one organization developing an intergenerational community, and a new startup aimed at LGBTQ+ residents.

I was already aware of the sustainability-oriented community, Wake Robin, in Burlington, VT. And the organization developing the intergenerational concept is Garden Spot, which Kendal residents know about because of its “aeroponics” greenhouse. The third one, Living Out, was new to me. What all three have in common is that each has a theme that current and prospective residents are passionate about.  

What is a “USP”? The article reminded me of a concept that students encounter in Marketing 101: the “unique selling proposition” (USP). To sell anything, you need to convince a potential customer that your product is uniquely suited to their needs. That’s the USP.

Here’s how the Wikipedia defines it: “A unique selling proposition (USP) refers to the unique benefit exhibited by a company, service, product or brand that enables it to stand out from competitors. … The proposition must be one the competition cannot or does not offer.”

Note that the USP is not just a strength—it is a unique strength. So, if the “product” you want to sell is a retirement community, it is not enough to have great health care or strong finances or friendly staff and residents. Many communities have those. (Let me say in passing that I think most of us residents should be selling Kendal to those we know, if the fit is good. Who knows Kendal’s strengths and weaknesses better than we do? Who can better assess whether a person we know would find life here rewarding?)

Kendal’s USP. That leads to the question: What is Kendal’s USP? Although many of us recognize the uniqueness of Kendal, it can be hard to articulate.

We have very strong finances, excellent health care, and some of the best staff anywhere. Those are all critically important. But, as noted, those don’t really make us unique. For prospects from the local area, being near family and friends is an asset, but it hardly makes us unique. The PA state insurance department lists 86 CCRCs in the greater Philadelphia region (13 in Chester County alone), and there are many more over the state line in Delaware.

It is the unique offerings of Kendal that constitute our USP. Here is a list I put together of the elements that I think make Kendal unique. These might be the ingredients of a USP. (Note that the traditional definition of a USP usually requires a single feature that is unique. I’m not sure any retirement community is unique by that criterion. Kendal’s uniqueness arises from a unique combination of features.)

  • Sustainability and the environment. Kendal has a large, beautiful campus and mature trees. I believe Kendal residents are more active in protecting the natural environment (in removing invasive plants and encouraging native ones, for example) and in helping Kendal move toward carbon neutrality than residents at most other communities.
  • A walking campus. Most retirement communities are either apartment-style and entirely indoors, or they depend on cars. At Kendal, people walk, and they walk outdoors. I think it makes a significant difference in our social interactions and our health.
  • Residents who take responsibility. At Kendal, residents run the gift shop, the arts and crafts programs, the audio/visual equipment, the Zoom service and website, and dozens of other things. Many of these would be staff responsibilities (if they happen at all) at other retirement communities. The Kendal Residents Association raises funds and supports a wide variety of resident-run activities. There is no staff “activities director” for independent-living residents–the residents handle that themselves.
  • Simplicity. Kendal’s Center doesn’t have fancy furnishings and chandeliers. Our cottages are very functional but simple in design. Nobody puts on airs. That’s all part of Kendal’s tradition of simplicity, and it contrasts with the cruise-ship opulence of many retirement facilities.
  • Lives of service.  Some retirement communities cater to residents who just want to be entertained. At Kendal, many residents volunteer in ways that make a positive impact on the rest of the world. They are involved with voter registration, helping immigrants learn English, environmental projects, and much more.
  • Kendal’s values. It is hard to articulate the special values of Kendal. But in some ways, they are the most important differentiating factor of all. They include unusual levels of community and inclusiveness, resident involvement in every important decision, and an emphasis on resolving conflicts through open dialog and (where possible) consensus.

Nothing on this list is totally unique to Kendal; but I would argue that, taking these items in combination, it would be hard to find a comparable community.

Are there other features of Kendal that you would nominate as possible aspects of a USP? Let me know in the comments box, below. Whatever Kendal’s USP may be (and you might come up with a different list than mine) it is critical for prospective residents to know about it. So if you are talking to someone who is interested in Kendal, make sure you let them know what makes Kendal unique.

And as we consider making changes to Kendal, both large and small, we need to be asking whether the changes contribute to our USP (or weaken it).