TO SCOTT NEAL, who recently lost his job at a Tampa, Fla., home builder because of the sagging real-estate market, a generation of about 77 million aging Americans sounds an awful lot like opportunity knocking.
Whether it is somebody moving across town to live in a managed retirement community, migrating to Florida from a colder state or just plain staying put, he says, “the vast majority of 62-year-olds won’t want to run down to Home Depot, pick up a gallon of paint and hop on a ladder.” That’s why Neal and his business partner are confident about their decision to buy a CertaPro Painters franchise. Being in the business of home improvement and specifically catering to an older demographic, he predicts, “will be the brighter side of housing as we start to come out of this very down market.”
Targeting the older customer has long been a focal point among big business, which regularly features older celebrities in advertisements. (Think: Isabella Rossellini gracing print advertisements for Lancome products or Peter Frampton strumming a guitar in a recent Geico television commercial.) However, says Matt Thornhill, president of the Boomer Project, a Richmond, Va., consulting firm: “The aging of the baby boomer demographic is a huge opportunity for businesses of any size.”
According to Mintel Group, a market-research firm, the baby boomer generation — that is, individuals born between 1947 and 1964 — has an estimated spending power of more than $2 trillion a year. Plus, says Thornhill: “They know they are going to live another 10 to 20 years longer than their parents.”
But while targeting boomers makes sense, it’s not necessarily easy. This generation is as disparate as they come. For example, some members are beginning to enter retirement while others have 20 more years left on the job. They could be starting new careers, businesses or even going back to school. They may be newly single or even newly remarried with kids in college and much younger children at home.
Business owners who can maneuver around or cater to these demographic splits stand to gain from this vast generation. Here’s a look at a few promising industries within the gray market:
Since people are living longer — on average, 77.8 years, according to the National Center for Health Statistics — smaller businesses have begun offering products that aim to improve individuals’ physical and mental longevity. Posit Science of San Francisco, for example, began offering in January 2006 a software program that provides brain exercises for older adults designed to improve memory and cognitive functions such as sharpness and attention.
Another longevity-focused product is the emWave Personal Stress Reliever, produced by HeartMath of Boulder Creek, Calif. The device, available in handheld form since 2006, gauges a body’s heart rhythms and helps focus the user’s attention on calming his or her stress level. As a person ages, says Howard Martin, the company’s executive vice president, “stress may exacerbate many ill health conditions,” such as heart disease and sleeplessness.