As the nation’s affluent graying population grows, more San Diego-based firms will make products catering to the senior’s health and safety, but without cramping their desire for independence.
With the number of Americans over the age of 65 expected to double to about 71.5 million by 2030, and increase to 86.7 million by 2050 while controlling much of the country’s wealth, there will be fierce competition for the senior market.
Two privately held San Diego-based companies — GreatCall Inc., maker of the Jitterbug phone; and Senior Resource Group LLC, a developer of independent and assisted-living communities — already target America’s fastest growing population with products and services that provide greater safety and better health while fostering socialization and independent living.
Michael Grust, president of privately owned San Diego-based Senior Resource Group LLC, a developer and owner-operator of independent and assisted-living communities in California, Arizona, Oregon and Nebraska, offers seniors a range of options in retirement living.
“We are real estate, hospitality and health care bundled together,” Grust said. The rental communities offer residents a continuum of care from basic help with daily living activities to a higher level of care without them ever having to move.
Demand Will Grow
Demand for assisted-living and retirement facilities is expected to grow significantly in the next two decades as baby boomers retire and the incidence of progressive illnesses like Alzheimer’s disease increases. Independent living rentals make up 70 percent of Senior Resource Group’s portfolio with the average age of residents being 80 years old.
However, the faltering economy changed the decision-making process for many Americans. Many have delayed moving into retirement communities or moved in with family members, which has put the brakes on construction and rentals of senior communities.
“There are many people who have retired, but they’re waiting for housing prices to go back up before they sell their homes and move into these communities,” Anna Son, a retirement care industry analyst for IBISWorld in Santa Monica told the San Diego Business Journal last August.
Grust considers the retiree’s existing home his biggest competitor.
“Over the last few years, people have held off making a decision based on selling their home, because they couldn’t get what their house is worth,” he said. Grust feels that the pendulum is swinging back now with such states as Arizona and Florida taking the lead.
A major driver for people to move into senior living communities is the types of programs, such as wellness and fitness, and the various amenities they can provide.
Needs Are Reassessed
Grust operates two rental properties in San Diego — La Vida Del Mar, a 105-unit apartment in Solana Beach; and La Vida Real, a 353-unit property in Rancho San Diego.
Room costs start at about $3,000 a month for independent living with a one-year lease, which includes two meals a day, transportation and housekeeping. For roughly $4,000 a month, residents get three meals a day and a certain base level of care like bathing, dressing, and medication reminders.
Grust said that the level of care is constantly reassessed based on residents’ changing needs.
Other rivals in town include La Jolla Village Towers, where residents pay an upfront free and a monthly service fee, Grust said.
He feels that the industry is constantly evolving according to seniors’ changing demands. With more of the aging population wanting to stay active and healthy and looking for greater choices from food to fitness and learning opportunities, vibrant communities continue to be in high demand. Those who don’t cater to the aging market are missing out, he said.
“With the fastest growing segment being over 75 years of age, clearly the market share opportunities are only getting greater,” said Grust, whose company has been in business for 25 years.
GreatCall’s Jitterbug phone, first introduced in 2006, draws seniors’ attention with its simple, user-friendly design. It features large numbers on the screen, a loud clear speaker menu, so people with hearing problems can hear clearly, and a menu that allows users to turn off unwanted or confusing features.
The smartphone also offers pay services that don’t require added technology, such as a medical alert system, access to a nurse or a wellness coach, and reminder calls to tell people when to take their medicine.
“Everything we make has to be easy to see, easy to hear, easy to hold and easy to use,” said David Inns, CEO and president of GreatCall, a privately held mobile services firm with headquarters in Del Mar. Inns said the typical Jitterbug phone user is a 70-year-old female who is interested in simplicity, but also wants someone to care about her safety and health.
In its inaugural year in 2006, GreatCall sold more than 100,000 devices nationwide. Since then, sales have grown “at a respectful rate,” Inns said. He declined to give exact sales figures, citing competitive reasons. He expects the ballooning of the graying population — with people ages 50 and up expected to represent 45 percent of the U.S. population by 2015 — will open up marketing opportunities for similar products to be in the billions of dollars.
Unlike other smartphones, the Jitterbug phone isn’t generating revenues with tech savvy, but with pay services that make people feel better and safer. For instance, Urgent Care (formerly named LiveNurse), connects users to a live nurse who is prepared to answer questions and can have a doctor get back to the caller within 30 minutes. Another feature, MedCoach, lets callers record their quality of sleep, appetite, and how they feel on a particular day to create a “wellness index over time.”
“Urgent Care is the most popular, because people understand it and relate to it,” Inns said. “People can speak to a live nurse, which provides value and is a powerful concept,” he said.
The Jitterbug phone runs on the Verizon Wireless network, but callers only interact with GreatCall, he said. The phone is sold at major retailers like BestBuy, Walmart, Sears and on GreatCall’s website and doesn’t require a contract.
Rate plans start at $15 a month, and with the $4 monthly rate for Urgent Care, users get 50 anytime minutes. For $80 a month, users get unlimited minutes, including most features. People with iPhones can buy the Urgent Care app, which costs $4 a call. The MedCoach app is free for iPhones and Androids. The roadside assistance and medical alert app is also available for Android and iPhones at a cost of $15 a month.
GreatCall has 135 employees at its Del Mar headquarters with 294 employees providing customer service and roadside and medical assistance in their Carlsbad office. The firm has an agreement with Miami-based MedFone, which provides the nurse triage and health care services.
Among their rivals are Philips Lifeline and Life Alert, which consist of a necklace or wristband with an emergency button that when pressed calls a dispatcher, neighbor, family member or medical center. Another firm, GrandCare Systems, offers customized sensors for the home, which can call a cellphone whenever a user-defined set of parameters is breached.
Inns said GreatCall is unique by “bringing together the whole package in one place.”