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"Reaching the 50+ Market"
theMarket! ®, America's Mart, July 2004, May 2005
by Ann Middleman

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It wasn't too long ago that marketers of most consumer goods regarded people who were age 50 or older as outside their targets. They just weren't interested. They regarded this cohort as being too poor and too old to try new products or new brands, so why bother spending any resources on reaching them.

However, today's "50-plus" market is not your father's "50-plus" market. It is, on average, healthier, wealthier, and more active than any similar cohort in history. More than 80 million strong, with another 40 million to be added to its ranks by 2020, Americans who are 50 or older comprise a critically important market for most of the categories exhibiting at AmericasMart® Atlanta, including home furnishings - don't leave out baby and youth furnishings; outdoor furniture and gardening products; holiday decorations and home accents; gifts and souvenirs.

The first thing to keep in mind is that the 50-plus population has three distinct segments, each of which came of age at different times and whose attitudes and behaviors are informed by those eras.

  • Baby Boomers: came of age during the 1960s and 1970s in an expansive economy and a relatively liberal political environment
  • The Silent Generation: came of age in the 1940s and 1950s, when World War II, the Korean Conflict, and the Cold War dominated people's thinking
  • The GI Generation: came of age in the 1920s and 1930s, when economic times were more restrictive, and those who were the children of immigrants were emerging into American society.

While each group has fared well financially, especially compared to their parents, the Baby Boomers and the Silent Generation have done particularly well. Moreover, the younger segments in this market are poised to inherit anywhere from $180 billion to $11 trillion (depending on the source of the estimate, the impact of the current market on bequeathed assets, and elder housing costs). Add to all this wealth and disposable income the desire to spend it on themselves and their families, and a mental self-image that tends to be 15 years younger than the birth certificate says, and you have a recipe for success if you turn your attentions in this direction.

At Home
Housing is a number-one concern for people age 50 and over. After the children have grown up and moved on (and out), many people opt for a more relaxed lifestyle. They might decide to sell the big house and move to a condominium or townhouse, or they might remodel their houses, embarking on projects long postponed.

In the process, they might discard furniture they had for 20 years or more, in favor of newer, more luxurious furnishings (no children to mess things up!). Area rugs could replace carpeting. Finer accents and artwork might complete the décor of homes in which they can live comfortably.

Outdoor furnishings and garden accessories are an important feature for many people, and they might decide to indulge their desires for a beautiful garden in which they can entertain or just relax and enjoy the view.

Buying a second home or vacation home is another important trend. These homes can require everything from furniture to window treatments and flooring, to accents and artwork. For some people, this might be the home of their dreams, and they will spend lavishly to have it look just right.

Don't forget about the oldest segment of this population! Many are leaving the condos they bought 20 years ago in favor of independent living facilities which require different kinds of furnishings - or just something new!

The Grandparents Factor
The expression, "If Mom says no, ask Grandma" takes on a new meaning with today's younger, more affluent grandparents. The grandparents market today is estimated at more than $30 billion annually, with at least 70 million grandparents spending nearly $500 per year on each grandchild. In her book, Marketing To The 50+ Population, Marsha Cohen reveals, "Some stores say grandparents now account for more than a third of sales of children's products, a 20 percent jump in five years. And grandparent-grandchildren travel packages are up even more."

This trend is expressed in products like baby and youth furniture, toys and games, books, apparel, and a wide variety of accessories. As the grandchildren get a bit older and reach life cycle events such as confirmation or graduation, grandparents are likely to buy their first necklaces, bracelets, and rings.

On The Go
One of the greatest joys of grandparenthood is getting the grandchildren alone, away from their parents. The carrot for achieving this is often travel. According to AARP's Grandparenting Survey, more than one out of four baby boomer grandparents (ages 50-59) report vacationing with their grandchildren in a typical month, and 16% of grandparents who are between 60 and 74 do so. The grandchildren are enthusiastic about traveling with Grandma and Grandpa, as well. (As one grandmother, who was asked how the two generations got along on vacation, said, "Very well - after all, we have a common enemy - their parents!")

This trend has important implications for the gift and souvenir market, as well as for the travel market. Traveling with the grandchildren necessarily leads to the purchase of various gifts and souvenirs. These grandparents, with more disposable income, rarely stint on such items. Retailers who cater to vacationers should make sure to have children's sizes of various apparel, as well as higher end lines of souvenirs that grandparents will buy.

Don't Count Them Out!
The bottom line is: don't count out the "50-plus" market. They have much more disposable income than Generation X or the Teen Market, and are quite willing to spend it to enhance and enjoy their lives. Anything that will facilitate their enjoyment of new experiences will find a receptive audience.

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