Living in the golden years
Two NUS graduates have started up a company to help seniors “maximise their independence and lead fulfilling and dignified lives”.
BY: Eleanor Yap
Best friends and National University of Singapore’s (NUS) graduates, Lee Chang Xi and Vanessa Keng, both 24, could have started just about any company but they chose to go into a business targeted at seniors, adding to a growing number of young people who are entering this emerging marketplace.
They believe this is the route they want to go into and are committed to seeing it through. Their start-up, The Golden Concepts, which sells independent living products online was launched September 2011, a little over month after they graduated. Agelessonline speaks to them about their concept and their goals for their site:
What made you two come into the senior sector?
We went on a student exchange programme to Denmark during our university days and were inspired by how independent the elderly Danes were and their high quality of life. They did everything by themselves, including grocery shopping, going to the movies and taking public transport. We wondered how we could help elderly Singaporeans achieve that quality of life and independent living as well. And of course, growing old is something that everyone has to go through in our lives so we felt that it shouldn’t be something to be feared. Rather, it should be embraced.
Why a product site as you know the number of seniors in Singapore going online is not as huge as say in US?
We’ve found that an increasing percentage of baby boomers are more open to looking for information and making purchasing decisions online. Also, many people who find our site useful are the tech-savvy children and grandchildren who want to get a suitable gift or assistive device to ensure that their elderly loved ones are safe, be it at home or when they are out. Our online site provides the convenience of purchasing from anywhere at anytime and we ensure that there’s sufficient information provided for them to make an informed buying decision. Plus, we provide free delivery within Singapore!
Your products (hiking poles, mobility bed rail, walkers, caddies, etc) focus on independent living. Why did you choose this particular area of focus rather than say, products for the frail elderly?
We felt that there was a lack of products that promote independent living, and we believe that this is an area that the current baby boomers would want to embrace in the years to come.
We look forward to adding more product lines to cater to the varying needs of seniors, as well as focus more on the education and information provision aspect, as we hope that we can help Singaporeans to gradually understand and embrace the concept of independent living.
Why do you feel Singaporeans are not embracing this concept enough or not understanding it?
Independent living enables everyone to maximise their abilities, adopting a “do what you can” attitude rather than just giving up and relegating others to do every task on your behalf. There’s an article, which mentioned a 93-year-old Danish man who wears a helmet to protect his head (he has a tendency to fall) while pushing a walker. Instead of giving up and staying at home, he chooses to wear his helmet, take the risk and go out. The Danish philosophy on ageing can be summed up in one line – “No matter how frail, you have a right to be in charge of your life”. This is what we hope to achieve in the long-run for our seniors in Singapore.
How many products do you currently have?
We have about 40 products and we plan to release more in the upcoming weeks.
I noticed on your site you have a gift ideas section for grandma’s upcoming birthday. Can you share about this new addition?
Our site was originally focused on providing gift ideas for elderly loved ones as we felt that there were not many options available at the moment in Singapore. Since then, we have added more categories to better cater to the varying needs of the seniors here. At the moment, our gift ideas include fashionable walking sticks and hiking poles, as well as one of our first products, the jar opener. We hope that such products will go a long way in changing the perception of senior products, giving it an innovative, fun and exciting feel.
Do you feel there are not enough fun, innovative products for seniors and they are still very dull?
Currently, most products out there are focused largely on meeting the basic needs of seniors and are often lacking in terms of design. We hope to fulfil the functional aspect of course, but at the same time, bring in the innovative and fun aspect.
How do you choose the products for your site? Where do they come from?
We choose our products based on three factors – functionality, level of innovation, and the fun factor. Our products are mainly from the US and UK.
One company who is doing something similar to you says that the response to their site has been slow. Would you also agree? Why do you feel this is and when do you think things will eventually pick-up?
As with all online sites, it is quite unlikely to become an instant hit overnight. Even success stories like Facebook took a while to catch on, so I believe that with the right products and the right marketing efforts, we will eventually be able to draw the right people to our site.
So what are your marketing strategies?
We currently use online marketing methods as well as large exhibitions such as the recent 50plus Expo to share what we do. And of course, being a rather new company, we also depend largely on what we call “friends of family” and “family of friends”.
Where do you get your funding?
We are self-funded, so spending is always prudent and we also have part-time jobs – Chang Xi teaches guitar and ukulele while Vanessa sings and plays the guitar at Boat Quay and Holland Village.
However, at the moment, we are open to funding opportunities, especially from those keen on growing the silver industry.
How much of the product do you profit?
Our focus is on keeping inventory low while ensuring fast inventory turnover, so our profits are slightly lower than if we chose to stock more inventory. But this method is less risky and ties up less capital, which is important for a start-up like ours.