The population structures of many developed countries are changing and shifts towards much older age distributions are common. One way of meeting the resulting increasing demand for long-term care is through small business private sector provision allocated through market systems. However, the private residential care sector in England and Wales demonstrates some of the potential problems of leaving long-term care to the market. During the 1980s, the private residential sector for older persons enjoyed substantial state financed support. Since the 1990 National Health Service and Care in the Community Act introduced markets in social care in 1993, homes have had to compete amongst each other for a much smaller number of clients funded by limited local authority budgets. This impacted on their business and caring operations. Based on a three-stage quasi-longitudinal survey of over 100 residential care homes in one county, this paper considers changes in the overall size and structure of a local sector, discusses the specific management strategies that have been adopted by proprietors and the development of a purchasing and providing market culture. The paper also highlights the importance of interdisciplinary perspectives on the topic by illustrating how changes in social policy can influence local and national geographies of long-term care provision and how, in turn, an understanding of these geographies can inform the sensitive implementation of future social policy initiatives.