Hot Stuff

Boomers

Baby boomers are like Peter Pan: They don't want to grow up. And like that storybook character from never-never land, these 76 million people aged 35 to 53 will give new meaning to the process of aging, just as they've changed every other stage of the life cycle.

Who the boomers are and what they want depends on whom you talk to. For example, a 1999 American Demographics article described 50-something boomers as in a downshifting mode. They're taking their affluent lifestyles into semi-retirement in rural areas and savoring the slower pace. According to the report, 6 percent of boomers have already retired, and many others have cut back on work and taken part-time jobs.

On the other hand, researcher and marketer Phil Goodman of Generation Transitional Marketing, a division of Boomer Marketing, says a big portion of this population will never be empty nesters. "In 1997, there were 8 million boomer grandparents. Of that 8 million, 28 percent had children from second and third marriages who are almost the same age as grandchildren from their first marriages," points out Goodman. "According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2006, households headed by people 55 to 64 with children aged 12 to 17 living with them will be eight times greater than the number in 1996."

Goodman also believes most boomers won't retire early due to their debts. "Boomers spent a lot of money upfront," he says. "They're the 'now' generation; they don't wait [to make purchases] like their parents did."

These contradictions are par for the course, says Eric Kingson, a professor in the school of social work at Syracuse University in Syracuse, New York, noting the inevitable diversity in such a large group. "And I don't simply mean ethnic diversity," he explains. "They're also diverse in terms of pensions, income, culture, race, gender, health status and social class. Many will have a choice of how and when they retire; some won't."

What does this all mean for entrepreneurial businesses attempting to reach this group? Simply put, segmentation is the order of the day. Here are some of the subgroups entrepreneurs should take a close look at when they try to target boomers:

  • downshifting boomers who are using their affluence to purchase simpler lives in rural settings;
  • women boomers aged 40 to 64-predicted to be the largest age demographic by 2010-who are active, affluent, married (68 percent), employed (77 percent), have children (80 percent) and are taking care of elderly parents; and
  • those to whom close family ties are important because they don't want to have the same generation gap with their children as they had with their parents.

In terms of potential business bonanzas, think younger. "The key to appealing to boomers as they reach 50 is to appeal to them as if they were 35 to 40," says Goodman. "We're dealing with the adult teenage population of the '60s and '70s."

Goodman adds that Boomers will spend more time traveling with their children than previous generations and are big on holistic health care and exercise. In keeping with the Peter Pan mentality, aging boomers may come to be known as the Rogaine and Viagra generation, suspects Kingston.

Whatever business opportunities entrepreneurs use to chase this perennially prime demographic, it's critical to remember that while boomers as a group do have some similarities among them, you'll need to think small to successfully market to them.

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This article was originally published in the December 1999 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Hot Stuff.

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