Cater­ing to se­niors a good bet for busi­ness

Vast mar­ket has al­lure for com­pa­nies pro­vid­ing range of goods, ser­vices

China Daily (Canada) - - BUSINESS - By ZHENG JINRAN zhengjin­ran@chi­

With China fac­ing the re­al­ity of an ag­ing so­ci­ety, the huge po­ten­tial mar­ket of sup­plies for the grow­ing gray seems an at­trac­tive and promis­ing land for busi­ness.

The roar­ing suc­cess of one news­pa­per tar­get­ing se­niors pro­vides an in­struc­tive ex­am­ple.

Happy Ma­tu­rity, which was launched in Septem­ber 2009 in Chang­sha, Hu­nan prov­ince, saw its circulation soar to 1.3 mil­lion in lit­tle more than three years — quite a feat con­sid­er­ing the gen­eral slump in the news­pa­per me­dia in­dus­try nowa­days.

“The se­cret of suc­cess in our news­pa­per lies in the growth in the ag­ing pop­u­la­tion,” said He Gu, deputy edi­tor-in-chief of the news­pa­per. “We set this ex­pand­ing group as our tar­get and pro­vide read­ers with tai­lored con­tent.”

Be­fore the launch of Happy Ma­tu­rity, China South Pub­lish and Me­dia Group, its par­ent com­pany, spent a year and around 2 mil­lion yuan ($320,000) on sur­veys of se­nior cit­i­zens.

The sur­veys re­vealed the type of ma­te­rial se­nior read­ers wanted, as well as other ser­vices the pub­li­ca­tion should pro­vide, he said, adding that the young team of ed­i­tors, with an aver­age age of 28, can do ex­cel­lent work as long as they fol­low the right for­mula.

First the news­pa­per prints sto­ries in larger text, com­pared with other pub­li­ca­tions, and then keeps its fo­cus on fam­ily af­fec­tion. It high­lights the sto­ries of fam­i­lies and in­cludes ret­ro­spec­tives about people’s younger days.

“We pro­vide the good news and hold reg­u­lar in­ter­ac­tions with them; thus the con­tin­u­ing suc­cess of the news­pa­per as­sured,” he said.

Tu Xin, 78, one of Happy Ma­tu­rity’s loyal read­ers, said he an­tic­i­pates the com­ing of Mon­days and Thurs­days, when each new is­sue ar­rives.

“Some old news and sto­ries can be found, which trig­gers my mem­o­ries for the old time,” said Tu, who lives in Chang­sha, adding that his own love story was pub­lished, and that is­sue is a spe­cial trea­sure for him and his wife.

Wu Yongjun, a 37-year-old re­porter in Jiangxi prov­ince, also reads the paper and said its health-ori­ented con­tent fits the needs of se­niors. Its con­sid­er­ate edit­ing is also well-re­ceived, Wu said.

Pub­lic ap­plause for the news­pa­per has been wel­come, not only for what it pro­vides in the way of food for thought but also for its tai­lored ser­vices.

The news­pa­per’s ex­pan­sion plans in­clude the launch of a web­site and mag­a­zine, an on­line shop to pro­vide selected prod­ucts and a travel agency cater­ing ex­clu­sively to se­niors.

Many prod­ucts aimed at se­niors have been suc­cess­ful, Tu said, cit­ing a nail clip­per with a mag­ni­fy­ing glass as an ex­am­ple.

“It’s small and cheap, but for the se­niors who usu­ally have poor eye­sight it’s quite nec­es­sary,” Tu said, adding that it has been a hot item at the on­line shop.

Sales at the on­line shop, which was launched in April 2013, have ex­ceed 2 mil­lion yuan, said Yi Hua, who over­sees its man­age­ment.

Happy Ma­tu­rity plans to ex­pand its cur­rent in­dus­trial clus­ter con­tain­ing the news­pa­per and other ser­vices to a listed com­pany with rev­enue of 1 bil­lion yuan within five years.

The plan may be achiev­able in light of China’s ag­ing de­mo­graph­ics.

By the end of 2012, the older pop­u­la­tion — aged 60 and over — reached 194 mil­lion, ac­count­ing for 14.3 per­cent of the 1.34 bil­lion

is to­tal in China. The group will con­tinue to grow, ex­ceed­ing 200 mil­lion — or 14.8 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion — in 2013, ac­cord­ing to projections re­leased by the China Na­tional Com­mit­tee on Ag­ing, the of­fi­cial author­ity in charge of ag­ing is­sues in China.

Mar­ket de­mand from se­nior res­i­dents reached 1 tril­lion yuan in 2010, a fig­ure that will grow to 5 tril­lion yuan in 2050. How­ever, the prod­ucts and ser­vices pro­vided to se­niors ac­count for less than 100 bil­lion yuan cur­rently, far from enough to sat­is­fy­ing the com­ing de­mand, the com­mit­tee said.

A sur­vey con­ducted by the China Con­sumers’ As­so­ci­a­tion in Oc­to­ber 2013 found that with eco­nomic growth, ag­ing people, who tend to save more, have in­creas­ingly greater de­sire for var­i­ous ser­vices — from ne­ces­si­ties like med­i­cal ser­vices to tour­ing, study­ing and other en­ter­tain­ing ac­tiv­i­ties.

About 45 per­cent of the 1,928 re­spon­dents in the sur­vey said they would like to travel around — more than in pre­vi­ous years. And about 14 per­cent of them travel fre­quently.

But it’s not rare to hear of se­nior tourists com­plain­ing about things mov­ing too fast when tour­ing with younger people.

“The ser­vices pro­vided based on the se­niors’ needs are in­suf­fi­cient,” said Mou Lina, deputy sec­re­tary-gen­eral of the China Sil­ver In­dus­try As­so­ci­a­tion, a na­tional NGO in the ag­ing in­dus­try.

“Many com­pa­nies failed to re­al­ize the true re­quire­ments for prod­ucts and ser­vices,” she said, adding that she can­not find soft and com­fort­able clothes for her ag­ing mother.

That’s not just her com­plaint. A sur­vey of el­derly people by Nielsen, a leading global provider of in­for­ma­tion, showed that 57 per­cent of re­spon­dents in China thought they couldn’t find the bar­rier-free fa­cil­i­ties in restaurants that are cru­cial for se­niors.

Al­most half said they could not find foods in small pack­ages, which are more pre­ferred by se­niors.

On the con­trary, if com­pa­nies seize the de­tails for serv­ing the el­derly, they can get quick growth, just like Happy Ma­tu­rity, Mou said.

She gave the ex­am­ple of the ex­plo­sive de­vel­op­ment of Pine­tree Se­nior Healthy Liv­ing, a com­pany that pro­vides pro­fes­sional health­care for se­niors at their homes.

“They man­aged to ex­pand their cus­tomers from 10,000 to 150,000 in three years,” she said. “The suc­cess should be at­trib­uted to the boom in the ag­ing pop­u­la­tion.”

As the ma­jor ser­vice that the se­nior res­i­dents need, health­care ser­vices lag be­hind de­mand. In 2012, ev­ery 1,000 ag­ing people have only 21.5 beds in so­cial care in­sti­tu­tions in­clud­ing the pub­lic pen­sion houses, the com­mit­tee said.

“Gov­ern­ments have to is­sue more poli­cies to en­cour­age more com­pa­nies to take part in the health­care in­dus­try and also tem­per the de­vel­op­ment of dis­or­der,” she said.

Du Peng, a pro­fes­sor at the In­sti­tute of Geron­tol­ogy at Ren­min Univer­sity of China in Bei­jing, agreed, say­ing that many real es­tate projects that iden­ti­fied them­selves as be­ing for the el­derly popped up, while few of them were ac­tu­ally equipped with suf­fi­cient fa­cil­i­ties for se­niors.

More­over, he said, it’s hard to get in­for­ma­tion about pen­sion houses out to se­niors and their fam­i­lies.

“Uni­fied on­line plat­forms con­tain­ing the in­for­ma­tion on fa­cil­i­ties and more com­pa­nies that can pro­vide ser­vices are ur­gently needed,” he said.


A se­nior cit­i­zen writes the Chi­nese char­ac­ter xiao, which means fil­ial piety, at an event held by the Happy Ma­tu­rity news­pa­per in Chang­sha, Hu­nan prov­ince.

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