Are you ready for a competitive market?

Chris Tarry

Chris Tarry

The adult social care sector has, traditionally, not been marketing led. Owner and operator focus has traditionally been inward, not outward, looking. The provision of care, and the logistical demands it imposes on a business have been the core business driver, rather than a desire to ‘sell’ to the marketplace.

But recent years have seen the market changing. Investment from both within the UK and from overseas has seen a number of high quality new builds, setting new benchmarks for the industry. Existing homes find themselves in a more competitive market. Local authority funding is shrinking, both in terms of the overall sum available, and in real term base fee rates. More than ever owners focus needs to be on how to appeal to the privately funded market; image is becoming more important than it once was.

Understanding the appeal of your home(s) within the local area is important. How does it relate to the competition? Is the fabric of my home up to scratch? Could it be improved? Am I charging competitive fees? Do my facilities compare with other local provision? What do my marketing materials say about my business, and do they compare with those of my competition?

Having worked in the sector for the last five years, it has always amazed me how few owners or operators can answer these basic business questions.

There is little understanding, across the sector generally, as to what can influence placement decision making, and how many different factors combine to give an overall impression to the potential resident or, more likely, their relatives. This view is not a theoretical one. It is based on having mystery shopped and visited over 500 care homes across the country, and having worked on re-positioning homes to better equip them for the emerging market forces.

Of course change is difficult, and often slow to achieve impact, particularly on the bottom line. However we now have an industry where unless there is a radical shift of emphasis by some owners, there will be a rash of business failures over the coming years. The crucial first question that owners should ask themselves is: ‘am I willing to change things?’ If the answer is yes then a starting point may be to ask what areas of my business do I need to look at to make changes. I believe seven initial areas can be considered:

  • Capital expenditure (fabric of building)
  • Competition activity
  • Marketing
  • Pricing
  • Staffing
  • Training
  • The impact of new regulatory inspections

It is worth highlighting the last of these. New CQC inspection and grading regimes will involve a much greater interaction with the public experience. There is clearly a desire to move away from a system with a ‘tick the box’ process driven mentality, towards one that takes into account real experiences, and real views. To that end it will be important for owners to be able to demonstrate awareness of their residents views, and to show responsiveness towards them. One of the key prompts for inspectors will be to ask what arrangements are in place to encourage relatives and friends to provide feedback on the services and care they receive. It will also be important to show responsive to the results. To achieve this, some form of regular satisfaction survey may become increasingly important. It demonstrates commitment to resident and relative concerns, as well being capable of being used as a tool for learning and improvement.

The marketing of a care home business is not simply about a pretty brochure and an accessible website. It is a complex mix of factors that combine together to promote a business to its full potential. The adult social care market has changed and will continue to change as public and regulatory expectation grows. The presentation of your business to the outside world is more important than ever. Those owners who choose to ignore this fact may well face an uncertain future.

If you would like to talk to Chris about improving the presentation of your care business you can contact him on chris.Tarry@icloud.com

If you want information on gathering feedback you can contact Barbara on barbara.harris@care2improve.co.uk