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Isn't It Grand?

What a long, strange trip it is for the baby boomers who are becoming grandparents--and the marketers who are along for the ride.

Scene 1: As John leaves for work, his wife waves goodbye from the doorway. She goes inside to wait for their son to drop off their two granddaughters, whom she baby-sits when she's not working part time.

Scene 2: Jane calls her husband from the office to remind him to pick up some essentials for the weekend. Since their daughter and grandson moved in with them, the refrigerator is always empty.

Scene 3: One Sunday each month, the whole tribe gathers: Mike's kids from his first marriage and their children (his grandchildren); his wife Mary's children, teenagers who still live with them; and their twins, turning 4 next month.

What do these three scenarios have in common? Not much, except each of these couples could easily be 50-year-old-plus baby boomers. In 1996, the first of the 77 million members of the baby boom generation turned 50. This half-century landmark reminded us that millions of boomers would soon add the role of grandparent to their already-full plate, if they hadn't yet.

"Baby boomers have transformed every life stage they've touched," says Michael Rybarski, chief marketing officer at Age Wave IMPACT, an Emeryville, California, marketing firm that targets maturing boomers and older adults. "It's their demographic weight. Wherever the baby boom goes, it becomes the center of marketing opportunity in this country." Now that the boomers have reached grandparenthood, it's time to look at how they'll affect the sales of everything from toys to grandparent-grandchild travel tours.

This new generation of grandparents is vastly different from those of the past. Boomers are healthier and more active, their values differ greatly, and they steadfastly refuse to be like their parents.

Their unique position and large numbers are leading boomers to redefine the traditional role of grandparents. "Boomers were raised by their parents to be seen and not heard," says Phil Goodman, founder of the Boomer Marketing & Research Center in San Diego, California. "Boomers raised their kids to be seen and heard, but they're going to be helping their grandchildren to be seen, heard and featured." This--combined with the rise of multigenerational households and families with kids from first, second and third marriages--means grandkids are going to be a major part of boomers' lives, and we can only guess at how influential boomers will be in purchases for their grandkids. But the numbers provide us with a really good hint: Packaged Facts, the publishing division of research and consulting company FIND/SVP Inc., estimates the disposable income of boomers over 50 is $930 billion, and it projects that figure will swell to $1 trillion by 2003. With this kind of money, it's prime time for you to start marketing to boomer grandparents before you miss out on the vast opportunity created by this new market.

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This article was originally published in the May 1999 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Isn't It Grand?.

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