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Differentiating in a crowded aged care market


How do you differentiate your business in a crowded market whilst competing with larger, ‘powerhouse’ organisations? This is a question facing smaller operators in the aged care industry. 

There’s no doubt, with the ageing population in Australia increasing as rapidly as it is, the aged care industry is in turn growing with no signs of slowing down. In 1984 there were 120,000 people living in Australia aged over 85 – today that figure is up by 400 per cent to 455,000. In 2024 it is predicted this number will leap to 602,000.

Deloitte data, commissioned by the Aged Care Guild, tells us that we will require an additional 76,000 residential care places by 2023 to care for the population. As a result, public expenditure on aged care will double as a share of the economy by 2055, while over the past year alone $1.7 billion was spent on capital investment in aged care. So what does this mean for the industry? It results in aged care services and infrastructure becoming increasingly vital in Australia.

If you are looking to enter the industry as a small provider, you will need to differentiate your business from the larger, national organisations. One way to accomplish this, as we’ve discovered at Whiddon, is through ‘creative ageing’ programs, which offer residents, clients and staff opportunities to learn new skills and improve their quality of life. Creative ageing engages at a social, emotional and physical level and has demonstrated significant health and wellbeing benefits.

In terms of putting your business first and standing out from the crowd, in any sector, I would suggest:

1. Develop meaningful programs for consumers, commercial partners, staff and stakeholders

More often than not individuals want to associate themselves with organisations that implement meaningful initiatives. Think big and develop ‘take notice’ activations.

For example, ‘HenPower’ is a UK program we trialled, that introduced chooks donated (or purchased) by the local community and staff into residential care homes to bring together older people with community volunteers, staff and ‘henthusiasts.’ Our research has shown the presence of the chooks, the engagement in caring for them and participation in the creative activities that are part of the program has reduced signs of depression and anxiety and improved the physical health of our residents.

This is a specific example where we, as an organisation, developed a competitive edge to better serve our residents. But the ethos is something that can be applied to any business. Taking a similar tact and trialling something novel can go a long way because it creates that recognisable point of difference in market. It will help with generating new business as well, as partners are more attracted to working with companies that offer a creative perspective.

2. Define what sets you apart and use it to your advantage

There’s no point going after every piece of the pie. I’d rather be an expert in a niche area than generally knowledgeable about a multitude of things. At Whiddon, we aim to deliver a unique experience around our core focus on people, community and wellbeing. That is how we are recognised and that is how we use it.

It’s important for small businesses to focus on their core strengths to get across their key messages. Concentrating on too many things at one time can distort the mission of the organisation, in turn affecting business performance.

3. Get creative and empower your team as brand ambassadors

Our people are everything. The same goes for any organisation. The people that make up your team are the ones delivering your message, product or service – they are the backbone to the brand, so look at them as your priority.

Staff retention is extremely important to us. How are we doing things differently? We are upskilling our staff in new engagement techniques based on Montessori, play, music and other creative techniques. This training has a proven effect on our residents’ wellbeing and quality of life, and staff job satisfaction. Leap for Life empowers our staff to deliver relationship-centred care and to think differently about how they deliver care and support services, making every interaction with residents and clients meaningful.

4. Be an Authentic Leader

It has been said that a leadership vacuum exists within Australian businesses today. From my perspective this is underpinned by the absence of authentic leadership from those that aspire to lead. In their book Mastering Leadership, Anderson and Adams research and conclude that authenticity is directly correlated to leadership effectiveness, teamwork and business performance.

The aged care sector has people at its foundation; those that we care for and those who care for others. Ultimately, all of our actions and priorities need to reflect this basic premise. So whether it’s selecting a program that uses pet hens to combat loneliness and social isolation, or upskilling staff to better engage residents, as leaders we must stay true to our values and lead by example to those that we represent. Subsequently, the trust and engagement generated as a result of this ultimately leads to better outcomes and benefits the organisation as a whole.

About the author

Chris Mamarelis is CEO of The Whiddon Group, which has provided care for older Australians in regional, rural and remote NSW for nearly 70 years.