The light came on for Ken Dillingham when he put a tennis ball in his hand, covered his hand with a sock and tried to open a door.
It was all part of the Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist (CAPS) training Dillingham and his wife Debbie, owners of Sun-Tec Inc. in Centralia, Ill., took in 2011. The sock-and-ball session simulates what potential clients with rheumatoid arthritis might experience when they try to complete a simple task.
Smearing a pair of eyeglasses with Vaseline and then trying to see out of them is a way to simulate the experience of a client with limited vision – and that’s another CAPS trick.
The experience, Debbie Dillingham said, “Made something click for Ken. That’s all he talked about on our way home.”
Ken Dillingham started out with a window and siding company in 1994 and has long experience in the construction industry. Four years ago, the Dillinghams began to sell walk-in tubs, and their visits to potential clients left them with the conviction that it was an under-served market: these clients’ limited mobility made getting the tub just one of many adjustments that needed to be made to these homes.
The CAPS training capitalized on their construction expertise to offer even more specialized skills to serve their clients – and give them a comfortable niche. “The occupational and physical therapists may know they need to make doors wider” to accommodate wheelchairs and walkers, “but most of them don’t understand the construction side of things,” Ken Dillingham said.
The designation has established the Dillinghams as go-to experts on home modifications work. “It gives us more credibility to have that CAPS designation,” he said. The Dillinghams do presentations at area hospitals, senior centers and other venues on aging-in-place remodeling and making homes safer for disabled and elderly residents.
The CAPS classes also introduced them to a network of therapists, Veterans Administration officials and product suppliers who serve as a constant source of referrals for each other. “We’ll do health fairs – two- or three-hour events where we set up a table, and we end up talking as much to the vendors as we do to the people attending – and we have learned a lot from them,” Ken Dillingham said.
Both agree that, to serve the growing aging-in-place market, earning the CAPS designation is essential.
“Do we have more business because of the designation? Are people more likely to buy from us? It’s hard to say, but I can tell you that it has helped us see things a little differently. We understand construction, but we also can offer additional services that people tell us no one had ever suggested to them before,” Ken Dillingham said.
“You have to be dedicated to your business and to your clients, and part of that is being willing to take training, invest that time and money, and be open to new ideas,” agreed Debbie Dillingham.
To earn the CAPS designation, candidates must complete three required courses: Marketing and Communications with the Aging in Place Client (CAPS I), Design Concepts for Livable Homes and Aging in Place (CAPS II), and Details and Solutions for Livable Homes and Aging in Place (CAPS III). For additional information, visit the CAPS webpage.