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. (See "Kids Plus-Size Clothing" for more information.) 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 Amplestuffin Bearsville, New York, have been catering to this market since 1988; while Tim Barry, owner of Scale-IT.comin 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.
Snobs, Life Caching & Uniqueness
The Third Place
While it's a no-brainer that teens ditch their parents as often as possible, many young adults are also in the same boat. With 56 percent of men and 43 percent of women aged 18 to 24 still living at home, according to the 2000 Census, an escape from the house is more a necessity than a luxury. Businesses that position themselves as what Starbucks' Howard Schultz calls "third places" (home and work are the first two places) may become popular destinations.
Starbucks and Barnes & Noble have built their businesses around providing customers a comfortable environment to wile away the hours. Wi-Fi has been a huge advantage in drawing in students, businesspeople and home-office dwellers; and smart businesses like Panera Bread tout this by including it in their location search on their websites (as does Starbucks) and by offering information in their stores.
Other big businesses are trying to get in on this act, too. McDonald's is building a flagship restaurant in Chicago, slated to open in 2005, that will feature wireless access and will encourage customers to hang around in a relaxed atmosphere. Coca-Cola is targeting teens with its new Red Lounges-mall-based stores designed to let teens learn about new music, games and movies . . . while they drink lots of Coke.
It's no longer wise to get people in and out of your business as quickly as possible. Give them a reason to stay, and you'll also give them a reason to come back.
Middle-class Americans are turning into a bunch of snobs. Premium jeans labels like Diesel and Miss Sixty are showing up on small-town derrières. Day spas, once considered a luxury, are popping up all over the place. And don't get us started again about food connoisseurs.
Starbucks is often cited as the originator of what Reinier Evers, founder of trend agency Trendwatching.com, calls "snobmoddities": everyday items that have been turned into chic, luxury must-haves. These items aren't always expensive. Instead, says Evers, they're small indulgences. "[These purchases] are only mind-blowing compared to some of the prices we're still used to from back in the day."
You can see accessible luxuries at Target with Todd Oldham dorm décor and Michael Graves sleek kitchenware. And often, people wear a $15 shirt so they can afford a pair of $100 jeans.
"We live in a consumption society and a meritocracy," says Evers. "Thus our identity is shaped by the things we consume. So the more luxury items we can purchase and show the rest of the world, the higher we rank in society."
The $400 billion luxury market is expected to grow 15 percent per year, according to strategy and management consulting firm The Boston Consulting Group, until it hits $1 trillion in 2010. Figure out how you can repurpose your products and services in a luxurious yet mostly affordable fashion, and you could be the next to cash in on this skyrocketing market.
Being unique is a tough gig these days. Mass production, large chains and the quest for convenience often dictate uniformity. But even though it takes a little more work, consumers are shopping niche stores, looking for customizable options, and wearing their interests and beliefs on their sleeves. No one industry explores this consumer quirk more than T-shirt designers. While major chains are still selling pseudo-vintage tees, people looking to "outcool" their friends are hunting for truly unique items: overtly political tees; designs from favorite bloggers from CafePress.com; remixed designer tees that are ripped up, laced up and bejeweled; religious designs, especially Judaica; and truly vintage wear from eBay. While apparel sales fell 5.1 percent last year, according to market research firm The NPD Group, T-shirt sales rose 2.2 percent, making up $17 billion in a $166 billion market.
Consumers desiring uniqueness are closely related to those seeking accessible luxury and authenticity in their wares. Part of the fun of ordering an expensive bottle of vinegar from a regional producer is knowing you'll wow your friends at your next dinner party. It's the cachet of being an early adopter, combined with the need to never be wearing the same outfit as someone else at a party. In a world of big-box retailers, it's up to the entrepreneur to fill this need.
Today's boomers and seniors cherish the grainy super-8 films, fading Polaroids and locked diaries of their childhoods. But future generations will instead hoard memory cards full of blog entries, digital photos and the first websites they ever built. As we learn to click to save every moment of our lives, data will become the stuff that memories are made of. "Life caching will become a given," says Reinier Evers, whose company coined the term. "Consumers will come to expect [that] they can relive every experience they've ever had and have instant access to any life collection they've ever built."
Memory making has been big business for a while. Scrapbooking has been one of the hottest trends in recent years-the $2.5 billion industry doubled since 2001, according to the Hobby Industry Association, and is still growing. But businesses that can provide creative solutions to both physical and digital life caching are the ones that stand to gain from this trend. One million Memory Maker Photo Bracelets (a bracelet that wearers can insert several photos into) were sold in six months. MyPublisher.com allows users to create coffee-table books from their digital photos. Nokia's Lifeblog service lets users download and arrange their cell-phone-created content-messages, photos, videos, notes and audio clips.
"Entrepreneurs can offer this space [for life caching], taking on the gatekeeper role," explains Evers. "On a grander scale, start thinking about how you can provide consumers with the means to capture everything. This includes entrepreneurs who already offer 'experiences.' What are you doing to help [customers] capture and store these experiences?"