CERTIFIED FRIENDLY

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Elders in Action, a nonprofit organization here, issues an Elder-Friendly Business Certification if stores that request it pass a rigorous, undercover inspection.Stores can use the elder-friendly logo in their advertising, and the agency is willing to teach all retailers, including supermarkets, how to market to senior citizens.Currently, the organization has certified 23 Fred Meyer

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Elders in Action, a nonprofit organization here, issues an Elder-Friendly Business Certification if stores that request it pass a rigorous, undercover inspection.

Stores can use the elder-friendly logo in their advertising, and the agency is willing to teach all retailers, including supermarkets, how to market to senior citizens.

Currently, the organization has certified 23 Fred Meyer Inc. sites, as well as 11 units of the Milwaukie, Ore.-based Kienow's chain, according to Heidi Levy, public relations and business development specialist for the agency.

Levy, who used to work for Fred Meyer's communications department, said both chains stress customer service, "which is really the basis of being elder-friendly." To make the shopping experience easier for this group, supermarkets should have aisles wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair and helper easily, brighter lighting, larger signage and more.

"By age 65, elders need up to three times the amount of light that a 20-year-old would, in order to be able to read," Levy noted.

Signage, both for shelves and to designate departments, should also be large enough to read. "Our standard is 14-point type," she said. If signage is on reflective or shiny stock, it's harder for an older person to see it. Contrasting colors help, she said. Elders in Action recommends black on white, red on white or black on yellow for store signs.

The agency also checks for adequate pricing information, so an older person will know what items cost before reaching the checkout, and notes if the most popular products are placed on easy-to-reach shelves, Levy said. Accessibility is important; so is handicapped parking. "One of the key things for us is: Are they accessible on the telephone? Do they speak slowly and clearly so that an elder can hear and take notes, like for directions? "Inside the store, we notice if store personnel are looking directly at the person when they speak, and if they are articulating their words. We really check this. We send teams of secret evaluators to each site on three separate occasions, unknown to store personnel." Seating must also be provided inside the store, in case shoppers feel fatigued. Restrooms for customers must be clean and accessible, Levy added.

The evaluation starts with whether the store is easy to find in the phone book (Yellow Pages advertising is preferred) and if the person who answers the phone is friendly and prepared to deal with questions.

The advocacy group judges prospective elder-friendly stores rigorously, explained Levy. On a scale of 1 to 5, they must get over a 4 to pass. So far evaluations have been done as a community service, but now that the agency needs a revenue stream, it will begin charging for the certification.

Last year the agency began to give each certified store a marketing packet, which includes the logo and a sample press release, along with other tips for marketing to senior citizens. Almost 100 places of business have earned the elder-friendly certification, Levy said.