Catering to seniors a good bet for business
Vast market has allure for companies providing range of goods, services
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.