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The ugly truth about secret shopping senior housing

July 21, 2015 Article 2 min read
Joanne Stiger Plante Moran Living Forward
You've been a victim. Perhaps you're a perpetrator as well. But it doesn't have to be that way. It's time to remove the cloak, bury the dagger, and take a different approach to competitor analysis.

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You’ve been a victim. Perhaps you’re a perpetrator as well. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Competitive mystery shopping (or secret shopping) is the most common way for operators in all industries, senior living included, to learn about their competitors’ operations. The data gathered is used for a variety of reasons, such as benchmarking, strategic planning, or market and feasibility research.

But let’s be honest — everyone knows when they’re being secret shopped. So why all the secrecy and deception? Isn’t honesty the best policy?

Deception vs. candor

Operators mystery shop their competitors for one reason: They don’t think they can get the information they need by just asking. But do you want to know a secret?

Plante Moran Living Forward’s team does not mystery shop when conducting a market and feasibility study.

Instead, we use a different, straightforward approach. When conducting market studies for clients, I call the operators in the market area and say, “My name is Joanne Stiger, and I’m with the firm Plante Moran. We are conducting a senior living market analysis in your county to determine the need for a potential expansion or new development. Could you share some basic information with me?”

It may sound risky to have such a candid attitude toward competitor analysis, but Plante Moran Living Forward, at its inception, made a conscious decision as a professional firm not to use those tactics.

We respect you and your valuable time. By using this upfront approach, we earn the information we need — without the ruse. (Trust me, it works! Our team has completed over 100 senior living market studies and been approved by several state authorities as preferred market study providers.) It also has the added benefit of opening the door for us, as researchers, to build a trusting relationship that fosters a win-win communication for both parties: we get the information necessary for our market study, and the senior living operators get a chance to speak up and help shape their market.

Sharing a common goal

Most senior housing operators regard a new development merely as a competitor. However, we are not looking to compete with existing communities or introduce unnecessary supply, but rather to fill a need and supplement services. In the end, no one wants a community over-bedded or under-served.

Consider the potential benefits that may follow in the wake of a new development: It could be a “feeder” to your facility, bolstering your fill rates and organizational health. Or it could mend the missing links in the continuum of care in your area, thus rendering your community as a whole more desirable to potential residents.

Our team believes a candid and respectful approach to competitor analysis has many practical benefits for both us and the operators we contact. So for Plante Moran Living Forward, honesty will always be the best policy.

If you’d like to learn more about Plante Moran Living Forward’s market studies, email Joanne Stiger or call 419.842.6176.

For more Thought Leadership from Joanne and the rest of the Living Forward team, subscribe to our blog.

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