10 Trends That Could Change Your Business

From crowdsourced shopping to mancessories to new ways to get green: The 10 trends that will define opportunity next year.
15+ min read

This story appears in the December 2010 issue of . Subscribe »

On the Verge
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Hard to believe, but according to the learned folks at the National Bureau of Economic Research, the economy's been in recovery since June 2009.

Unfortunately, a big reason for the stagnation so far has been, well, you. Tons of people--71 percent, says a recent survey by Discover Small Business Watch--are waiting for economic indicators to rise before they're willing to hire and spend.

But waiting around is ill-advised, maintains Eric Jackson, innovation specialist and VP of research and development at Gap International, a global management consulting firm in Philadelphia. "The world is screaming for innovation, and companies can capitalize on the resources they already have to spark the next possibilities."

Which brings us to some good news: Some of you are already on it. Resource constraints are stimulating great business practices, and the survival rate of new ventures in some sectors is on the upswing. The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) found that a mere 1.4 percent of minority-owned businesses closed down last year, compared with 2.9 percent in 2008; and Sageworks, a North Carolina-based research firm, says that small-business profit margins are at a five-year high (6.2 percent on every dollar of sales) because of savvy cost-cutting practices. Hiring may have stalled, but guess who'll be first in line to scoop up new employees when revenues pick up.

So forget about the dire predictions about double-dip recession, dismal unemployment and the drop-offs in entrepreneurial activity in favor of this idea: Since the financial crisis laid waste to business as usual, the world is brimming with potential. The economic future will be populated by the movers and shakers, who even now are poised for greatness.

Just ask Socrates, who doled out this gem more than two millennia ago: "Let him that would move the world, first move himself." --J.W.

It's Boomers (again)
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Whine all you want, Gen Y, but boomers are about to steal your spotlight.

The 76 million-strong demographic is making headlines for providing a slew of market opportunities such as construction services that make homes more senior-friendly; supermarkets with lower shelves and wheelchair-compatible shopping carts; and sales and tech support by phone for seniors, by seniors.

Would-be retirees are taking over the workforce, too. A recent study by the Center for Work-Life Policy found that 62 percent of working boomers expect to stay in the labor force for at least nine more years, and that by 2020, 80 percent of North American-born workers will be older than 50. Some experts even expect a boom in entrepreneurship as healthcare reform takes effect.

"What this means is that boomers will have a lot of power," says Stephen Sweet, a lead researcher at Boston College's Sloan Center on Aging and Work. As boomers age toward retirement, employers will have to consider alternative work arrangements and other ways to accommodate them. The impending takeover is "on everyone's radar," he says.

Besides, these days, being old doesn't automatically mean you lose cool points. Last fall, American University offered a class on boomers, complete with a festival showing movies like The Graduate and The Big Chill. And as proof that it takes more than sunshine and souped-up golf carts to keep retirees happy, Florida took only one spot in a recent CNN list of Top 25 best places to retire. (The top three were university towns in North Carolina, New Hampshire and Kentucky.)

And the clincher: Hollywood got in on the cool retirees movement with the fall action flick RED, which stars Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren and Morgan Freeman as four retired and extremely dangerous (RED, get it?) ex-CIA agents--think The Bourne Identity, but funny, and with old people.

"Old man, my ass," Malkovich's character smirks in one scene, right after taking out a rocket with a single bullet. --J.W.

Get Packing
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John D. Rockefeller once declared, "If you want to succeed, you should strike out on new paths, rather than travel the worn paths of accepted success." Given the flagging rate of economic recovery, perhaps Americans have taken his advice to heart--literally.

A plethora of industry reports indicates that travel and tourism are back, and, by the end of 2011, will be better than ever. Revenue is expected to reach nearly $1.4 trillion, a record, says Toon van Beeck, senior analyst at research firm IBISWorld. This means the opportunity in the sector will be "the biggest it has ever been."

No kidding. Just consider this set of glowing forecasts for 2011: International trips will jump 5.5 percent, to 94.7 million; domestic trips will rise 1.2 percent, to 627.4 million; hotel revenues will go up by 4.4 percent, to $114.8 billion; travel agencies will bring in 3.3 percent more revenue, making the total $12 billion; tour operator revenue will grow 5 percent, to $3.7 billion; and even the RV parks and campgrounds industry will experience a 1.5 percent revenue increase, to $4.5 billion.

That's only part of it. As the industry increasingly shifts online, opportunities are emerging. The app market, for instance, has swelled from virtually nothing to billions of dollars in just a few years, and smartphone owners are loving their access to a gaggle of Wi-Fi finders, flight status updaters, local restaurant finders, budget booking assistants, translators and more. Websites offering unique travel-oriented services have made a strong showing, too. They include Wanderfly, a personalized travel recommendation travel engine à la Hunch and Pandora; and Dopplr, a site that allows travelers to share their itineraries and get travel advice within their networks. "This [area] will continue to grow, improving the efficiency of the overall industry and increasing demand for travel," Van Beeck says. "It will be a good time for new players."

Clearly, Rockefeller was onto something. --J.W.


Social Shopping
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Nearly half of all Americans are now members of at least one social network and spending more money while they're at it, double from just two years ago. Research shows that social media users spend, on average, one and a half times more time online than the typical web surfer. In fact, heavy Facebook users spent an average of $67 online during the first quarter of the year--compared with less than $50 for the general netizen, according to recent comScore research.

E-commerce has gone social. Gone are the days of one-way, private online shopping.

The first to really socialize were online flash sale sites, where steep discounts are offered to members for a limited time. Sites like Gilt Groupe, HauteLook, Rue La La and DailyCandy's Swirl mimic designer sample sales, offering luxury fashion for a fraction of the price. These sites rely heavily on online conversations to drive sales. Smartly so, because a recent MediaPost study revealed that 59 percent of consumers rated "personal advice from friends" as the most influential source of information for their purchase decisions, and 51 percent of Twitter users reported they follow companies, brands or products on social networks.

Also going social are collective buying sites--like Groupon and LivingSocial--which are appearing in most urban areas. Each day members are e-mailed a discount offered by a local business. These sites have integrated tools that allow users to easily share deals and recommendations and plan activities with friends on Facebook and Twitter.

Companies no longer have total control over their brand's message. That responsibility now falls in the hands of the social web with a recent surge of consumer product review sites like ThisNext, Viewpoints and Milo.

Social shopping startups continue to pop up all the time. One is Swipely.com, which "turns purchases into conversations." When users swipe their credit or debit card, the transaction shows up on the site--for the community to discuss, of course. --K.O.

Home Sweet Home
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As homeowners begin to take care of those leaky roofs and unfinished kitchen remodeling projects put off during the recession, the home improvement sector is off and running. It's already been a good year--up 5 percent from 2009. The value of homeowner improvements is on track to top $117.6 billion in 2010 and $133.7 billion in 2011, according to IBISWorld.

Retrofitting existing homes to meet energy-efficient standards should be a boon to business, too. What's more, the aging population's desire to "age in place" is fueling an uptick in universal design. More boomers are bypassing assisted living facilities--for their parents and themselves--and renovating their homes to be tastefully functional and accessible. So let the hammering begin. --K.O.

Vital Signs
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Propelled by recent legislative reform and the ever-aging population, the healthcare industry has never been sprier.

Just take a look at the numbers. Healthcare and social assistance had second-quarter revenue of $459.8 billion, up 2.3 percent from the same time last year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In fact, 10 of the 20 fastest-growing occupations are healthcare-related, and the industry will generate 3.2 million new jobs between 2008 and 2018, more than any other industry, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

"With costs on the rise and access to the healthcare system expanded, the technology and services sectors are poised for growth," says Bob Higgins, Harvard business professor and partner of Highland Capital Partners, a Boston venture capital firm partnering with healthcare entrepreneurs. "We're aggressively seeking innovative IT solutions that improve quality while decreasing cost."

The home care industry, which employs 1.3 million people now, is expected to increase by a vibrant 50 percent over the next decade.

And revenue is expected to surpass $72 billion in 2011, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This growth is driven by graying boomers and hospitals' recent push for shorter stays--"24 and out the door." A lovely euphemism. --K.O.

Who's Your Daddy?
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 Thrillist has crashed many a server when tipping its audience of young men to their products and establishments. Find out what the site looks for when sizing up pitches.
Thrillist has crashed many a server when tipping its audience of young men to their products and establishments. Find out what the site looks for when sizing up pitches.

The "mancession" hit guy-dominated industries pretty hard, but the men's lifestyle market is stronger than ever, bolstered by everything from bacon-flavored toothpicks and shape wear to streamline beer bellies and "moobs" to handmade machinist shirts and "men-only" RVs with an inflatable blowup doll (it comes standard, according to Trend Hunter online magazine).

Dudes are really loving it. Online newsletters and websites like UrbanDaddy and Thrillist, which feature products and services that cater to this youngish, educated, more affluent demographic, are a hit with readers. UrbanDaddy is closing in on 2 million subscribers, and Thrillist is already at 2.25 million.

Advertisers are equally charmed. "We should easily break $10 million in revenue by the end of the year," says Thrillist co-founder Adam Rich. "Growth is actually accelerating--even female readership."

His theory is that a broader "man's position" has become accepted, and guys want to embrace things that reflect more diverse interests--not just steak houses, Rich says, but also projects like the Urban Forest Map, which maps urban trees and their financial effect on water savings.

The market opportunities are only going to increase with e-commerce sites like Etsy, which allow individuals to open businesses with very little overhead. "You used to need a big company to turn the ship, but now cottage craftspeople can see something that'd be cool to have and create it. Then, you've got sites like Thrillist to draw attention to the best of them. It's very synergistic," Rich says.

So get ready: Mancessorizing is the wave of the future. --J.W.

Micro Green
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Bust out the recycle bins and reusable packaging. If you're not thinking about all the ways to go green, you're way behind the curve. Sure, clean-tech has been the darling of the venture capital community for a few years now (the sector nabbed $424 billion in 2009 and received 17 percent of all angel investment last year, up from 8 percent in 2008)--but something far more relevant is brewing on the ground level.

Namely, the other kind of green. Sustainable profitability is the catchphrase these days, says Micah Kotch, director of operations of New York City Accelerator for a Clean and Renewable Economy. Since launching in July 2009, NYC ACRE has signed on 10 companies that have raised $8 million and created 60 new jobs, and a few of them are already generating revenue. "The climate piece is secondary," he says. "The bottom line drives business decisions, and the recent rise of green business accelerators illustrates this phenomenon."

Best of all, plenty of clean-tech companies are trying to make money by saving other businesses money. ThinkEco, one of ACRE's tenants, has devised an energy-efficiency "modlet" to regulate outlet power and shave as much as 20 percent off energy bills (it should pay for itself in six months). ClearEdge Power offers a fuel-cell powered energy system that benefits smaller commercial establishments (one hotelier has lowered utility costs by 25 percent, and carbon dioxide emissions by 36 percent).

Even corporations and the government are in on it. Chili's restaurants, for instance, are installing LED lighting to save an estimated $3.7 million annually; and federal agencies will spend $19 billion by 2015 on technologies like cloud computing and green hardware to reduce energy consumption.

"When things change, there are opportunities and investments to be made--and jobs created," says Kotch, channeling his inner Captain Planet. Indeed, the power is totally yours. --J.W.

Great Expectations
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There's no doubt that the recession has created a more selective, value-conscious consumer. And retailers, hungry for sales, have fostered that by conditioning shoppers to expect great products and services at reasonable prices. Those expectations will remain.

Francisco Gimenez recognized shoppers' desire for high-end beauty at an affordable price when he launched his online salon-quality, at-home hair color business, eSalon. Every order is custom-blended by an expert colorist, bottled at a Los Angeles color lab and then shipped directly to the client--all for only $22.

Larger corporations are capitalizing on the emergence of moderately priced luxury. Many budget hotels are pouring money into renovations and added amenities. Motel 6 recently hired a London-based design firm to help revamp many of its properties.

It added crisp new linens, plasma-screen TVs, brightly colored walls and modern furniture.

By the end of this year, Holiday Inn franchisees who haven't signed on to a billion-dollar overhaul--which includes new signage, business traveler-friendly rooms, comfy bedding and ramped-up customer service--no longer will be able to use the hotel's name. So far, the improvements seem to be working: Holiday Inn customer satisfaction is at its highest since 2005, a J.D. Power and Associates survey found in June. Super 8 and Red Roof Inn also have announced plans for sweeping upgrades.

More fashion designers are now offering "bridge lines," or lower-tier collections, for a fraction of the price. Vera Wang recently launched a line for Kohl's called Simply Vera (nearly everything--including shoes--is less than $100). Isabel Toledo, Lela Rose and Project Runway winner Christian Siriano recently designed lines of shoes for Payless. German designer Jil Sander is set to launch a cheaper line, called Navy, early next year.

Many premium wine brands are also offering value options. Napa Valley's Diageo Chateau & Estate Wines has had--and continues to have--great success in the high-end market with offerings from Napa Valley wineries like Beaulieu Vineyard and Sterling Vineyards. But seeing a demand for a lower-cost option, the company recently released a youthful, high-quality line of $7 to $10 wines called Wily Jack. A grateful nation of burgeoning oenophiles says, "Salud!" --K.O.

Let's Get Physical
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Yeah, you're busier than ever. Yeah, your money is tighter than ever. But, no, it's not stopping you from staying in shape. Or at least trying to. These days, more and more folks are pursuing easy, inexpensive ways to work out--and, in the process, they're powering a boom in the fitness sector.

The stats are impressive. Fitness clubs and health stores are now a $41.4 billion industry--muscling up $1 billion from a year ago. Gym memberships have increased steadily throughout the recession--of the 45.3 million health club members, more than 10 million of them joined in 2009, according to the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association.

Fitness buffs are turning to programs and products that can be used anywhere, anytime. Clubs like Anytime Fitness are offering members low-cost dues ($25 to $35 a month) and anytime key access. Members get the benefits of a home gym without the sweaty companions.

Small-group personal training will thrive in 2011, says Pete McCall, an exercise physiologist with the American Council on Exercise. When two to six people share one trainer, it can cut the price of a session by a third.

As people continue to spend cautiously, working out at home becomes more popular, too. The quality and variety of options has improved greatly in recent years, he says. "As Seen on TV" products are leading this explosion--home fitness was the top-selling infomercial category in 2010, according to InfoWorx, an infomercial production company in Boca Raton, Fla.

And the recent onslaught of low-cost iPhone fitness apps like iFitness and iWeight Deluxe adds to the ease of staying healthy away from the gym.

For those who simply can't dedicate blocks of time for hitting the weights and those cardio machines, more companies are releasing products to help people, ah, squeeze a little fitness into everyday activity. Butt-sculpting shoes, anyone? --K.O.

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