Progress 2007 Economic review & forecast

Elder-friendly secret shopper program looks to expand into Lawrence

April 21, 2007


Growing older brings a lot of lifestyle changes, but improved customer service isn't often one of them.

That soon could change.

City businesses soon will be able to show their consideration for older customers through the Elder Friendly business certification program.

The Jayhawk Area Agency on Aging Inc. plans to expand the program, founded by the Elders in Action of Portland, Ore., into Lawrence.

Trained senior volunteers shop anonymously at businesses that request certification, rating services such as accessibility and customer service.

Janet Ikenberry, community services manager for the Lawrence Senior Center, 745 Vt., said the center would be interested in helping with the program.

"I think it's a good idea," she said.

If the business is certified, it receives an "Elder Friendly" decal sticker for display and a listing in an elder-friendly business directory.

Sarah Williamson, public relations and marketing supervisor for the agency, said the program allows businesses to reach out to an increasingly powerful - and growing - consumer group.

In 2030, Williamson said, people aged 65 years and older would make up the state's largest population segment. The Census Bureau has projected that in the same year, this population would exceed 20 percent.

"Kansas will be almost like the new Florida," she said.

Several city businesses that the Journal-World contacted expressed an interest in the program.

David Smith, marketing director for the Community Mercantile, 901 Iowa, said a good number of the store's customers were seniors.

"This sounds like something we may be interested in," he said.

At Au Marche, 931 Mass., owner Lora Wiley said she would like more information on the program. She said at least half of her clientele was 55 or older.

The program requires businesses to pay a fee to apply for certification.

Each state agency can choose different fee structures according to the agency's needs, said Vicki Hersen, executive director of Elders in Action.

In Portland, the fee ranges from $200 to $400, depending on the business' size.

Recommended procedures to achieve certification can be as small as changing font size or using different colors on signs to encourage readability, Hersen said.

"It's a way for businesses to serve their older customers," she said.

Hersen said the program already has spread to nine states in 13 locations.

Diane Horning, owner of Diane's Artisan Gallery Inc., 801 1/2 Mass., can attest to the consumer power of these aging baby boomers. Her business is situated on the second story of the building, but she still sees a lot of senior customers.

"My buying customer," she said, "is probably 40 and above."

Journal-World intern Shanxi Upsdell can be reached at 832-7148.


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