BBB certifies age-friendly businesses

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By the year 2030, 20 percent of the nation’s population will be age 65 or older.

That translates to a slew of societal impacts, including the rapid growth of an enormous and highly desirable consumer demographic.

In March, Colorado Springs received the Age-Friendly City designation from AARP Colorado and the World Health Organization. Inspired by the designation, the Better Business Bureau of Southern Colorado, in conjunction with the Innovations in Aging Collaborative, created an Age-Friendly Certification for businesses in the region.

“[Seniors are a] growing market,” said Jonathan Liebert, CEO and executive director of the BBB of Southern Colorado. “If you look at the data, one in three people is 50 or older in the U.S. We know that market will grow because people age. It’s inevitable.”

The World Economic Forum forecasts that by 2017, 70 percent of disposable income in the U.S. will be in the hands of those 60 or older, and the average net worth in the state for those aged 65-74 is $232,000, according to Liebert.

“They have the buying power and they’re looking for businesses that make it easy for them to work with and for businesses they trust,” Liebert said, as seniors are often “preyed upon” by scammers.

There are several cities leading similar initiatives, but those programs are facilitated by city departments and not a BBB, Liebert said. To obtain the certification locally, businesses must first become BBB accredited. Then there are four additional criteria involving physical environment, staff and personnel, marketing and overall customer experience.

Silver Key Senior Services devised the best practices, Liebert said, and those are used to train new employees. Every year, the BBB returns to certified businesses and reevaluates staff. The BBB will also do site visits and assess the overall environment.

“Is the door clearly marked and working properly? Is the parking lot free from debris? We make sure there isn’t excessively loud music and that seating is available,” Liebert said.

From a marketing perspective, Liebert said printed material must be easy to read. “There needs to be sufficient contrast when [a business is] printing something. No dark fonts on a dark background, and it has to be at least a 12-point font.”

In addition, signage should be clear and readable, he said.

The BBB will also evaluate customers’ in-store and out-of-store experiences, including whether the phone was answered politely and if missed calls were promptly returned.

‘Now is the time’

Claire Anderson is executive director of the Innovations in Aging Collaborative. She said the regional population of those 65 and older is projected to grow 179 percent by 2040. The group 85 and older is expected to grow 337 percent during the same period.

“We will see a huge increase in older adults in the Pikes Peak region and we believe now is the time to prepare for that and make our area a great place to age,” Anderson said. “How wide the doorways are and whether they can fit a walker or a wheelchair are all things that become more important for our residents as they age.”

But Anderson said it’s not only seniors who benefit.

“We’re creating a community that is livable for people of all ages,” she said. “Something that’s good for an 8-year-old is good for an 80-year-old. If an 8-year-old can use the sidewalk, then an 80-year-old should be able to do the same thing.”

The BBB of Southern Colorado is holding an event to educate businesses about the certification and its benefits beginning at noon, Oct. 7 at the BBB offices, 25 N. Wahsatch Ave. The event is free, but those interested must RSVP. More information can be found at bbb.org/southern-colorado.

The Innovation in Aging Collaborative will further discuss this issue at its livable communities forum from 8 a.m.-1 p.m. Nov. 3 at Studio Bee, the Pikes Peak Center for the Performing Arts, 190 S. Cascade Ave. n CSBJ