Trend reports can often seem a world away from the everyday realities of your business. But when a trend passes from fad to major consumer movement, you don't want to be out of the loop. So when we researched this year's hot trends, we hunted for those that can affect your business now. No waiting to see if the early adopters get bored. No guessing whether you'll alienate current customers with a weird fad. These are the things your customers will want tomorrow, whether they know it today or not.
Who wants to serve Velveeta to guests when you can offer handcrafted cheese made from local, organic dairy milk? Why wear clothes from the mall when you can purchase the handiwork of a local designer-U.S.-made and sweatshop-free? Buying products with an aura of authenticity allows people to take control of their purchases so they truly know what they're getting. They can be unique and shop at businesses they feel akin to politically, ethically and aesthetically.
Food lovers have long embraced authentic products-microbrews, homemade salsas and fiery hot sauces, aged olive oil, and sea and kosher salts. Heck, even men's lifestyle magazine Details recently recognized the gourmet possibilities of the humble olive. "Microcheeseries" like Beecher's Handmade Cheese in Seattle's Pike Place Market; Bingham Hill Cheese Co. in Fort Collins, Colorado; and Cowgirl Creamery in Point Reyes, California, are riding this niche by creating fresh cheeses for choosy customers.
How can a company tout its authenticity? You can make like Apple Computer, Levi Strauss & Co. and Mercedes-Benz and use real customers in your ads. Brag about your use of local ingredients and materials, traditional and artisanal methods, or environmentally and socially responsible practices. If you do it right, your customers will then preen to friends about how authentic they are for patronizing your authentic business.
How can you reach a 19-year-old undergrad, a 31-year-old on the career path, and a 47-year-old who's raising a toddler-with just one message? Market to all of them as if they're 35. From using Botox to erase any physical signs of aging to shopping at the same stores as their kids to postponing their retirements, boomers refuse to grow older. If you targeted them at their true ages, they'd balk.
But surprisingly, younger people are also generation hopping. They're rejecting the belly- and booty-baring fashions of late and-gasp!-embracing sensible, preppy outfits. It's a backlash that may reflect the current conservative climate (thanks a lot, Janet and Justin) or that the latest generation has grown up with different aspirations. Kids now save for iPods and video games. Your teenage niece can code a website better than you. Dreams of becoming an actress or a rock star have turned into dreams of becoming young tech moguls, millionaire sports stars or multihyphenate entertainers like singer-actress-spokesperson Beyoncé, who recently signed a five-year, $4.7 million contract with L'Oreal. Reaching such heights, teens know, takes serious work.
So with the more mature seeking a return to their youthful selves, and young people looking to the future, age 35 has become a golden median, as a recent Los Angeles Times article explored. Target this age group, and you may end up hooking more customers than you ever anticipated.
Multitasking and Memory Loss
In our jam-packed society, it seems the only thing there's a lack of is time. Whether this overextension of our lives is self-inflicted is an argument for another article, but multitasking seems here to stay. People are watching TV while surfing the net, driving while chatting on their cells, and checking their e-mail on PDAs during meetings. TV series are having shorter seasons, and popular magazines like Maxim and Star pack plenty of blurbs, lists and photos for quick digestion.
But as a result of our inability to focus on anything for longer than a millisecond, our memories may be shorting out. Studies show that what's often assumed to be age-related memory loss may actually be due to multitasking, depression and stress.
While an obvious opportunity for aging boomers and rampant multitaskers will be memory aids (both pharmaceutical and herbal), courses and guides, we wouldn't be surprised if consulting firms dealing with the negative effects of multitasking skyrocket in the near future.
The widening of Americans isn't news anymore, but this is an incredibly vast market still worthy of entrepreneurial exploration. Health care, food service, apparel manufacturing and retailing, medical device manufacturing and retailing-all these industries are touched by what many consider a national health crisis.
There seem to be two sides to this trend: Helping people lose weight and helping heavier people live more comfortably. For the former, fast-food chains are lightening their menus, while more and more school districts are removing junk food from campuses and replacing it with healthier options. Health club membership rose by 8.5 percent between 2002 and 2003, according to market research firm American Sports Data Inc. and the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association. And Medicare recently began covering gastric bypass surgery.
On the flip side, more than 60 percent of women and teens wear plus-size clothing, and the kids plus-size apparel market is growing. A burgeoning industry is the manufacture and sale of larger everyday products-fanny packs, airline seat belt extenders, bath towels, tape measures, socks, desk chairs, even caskets-for obese customers. William J. Fabrey and Nancy Summer of Amplestuff in Bearsville, New York, have been catering to this market since 1988; while Tim Barry, owner of Scale-IT.com in Vancouver, Washington, has created a booming business selling higher-capacity scales. Products like these are the very definition of a niche, and with that kind of focus, new players will find there's still room in this market for growth.