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Robert Trigaux

For entrepreneurs, boomer market is plentiful

Wake up and good morning. Baby boomers, that affluent bulge in the population from the latter 40s to early 60s in age, were front and center at an all-day Florida Boomer Lifestyle conference held Tuesday at Tampa's convention center. It was eclectic, to say the least, and certainly walking that fine line between offering concrete ideas for new businesses aimed at boomers and touching on new age marketing for a huge percentage of the adult population that refuses to go quietly into the traditional world of seniors. Part of the message of the day, I guess, is that trying to categorize and reach 76 million boomers is tricky but it can be done. It's a message reinforced in this piece from Entrepreneur magazine and written by Matt Thornhill, president of the Boomer Project and a speaker here on Tuesday.

One of the many trends noted at Tuesday's conference is the renewed effort by educational providers to cater more specifically to boomers. Dr. Larry Thompson, president of the Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota and a big fan of the "creative economy," said his school had taken over the Longboat Key Center for the Arts as well as one in Englewood (both were struggling). Ringling will use those properties to offer more art classes to the 50-plus markets and generate more revenue for the school.

At Hillsborough Community College, a Boomer Institute is evolving as part of the college's continuing education services.

Dr. Kathleen Moore, who helps run USF's "E-Campus," said schools must become more creative in serving boomers. These are not people willing to go spend four years getting a BA degree, she said. Classrooms, she added, often have four generations of students in them.

Frankly, one of my favorite moments of the day was later in the afternoon when about a dozen diverse boomers took the stage for a live focus group on boomer attitudes and preferences. A common theme? Boomers have largely been smacked hard on the side of the head by big losses in the stock market, by sharp upticks in unemployment and the inability to find new work as "older" job candidates, and shunned by a health insurance market that makes it too expensive for coverage or is too quick to deny access to older consumers. So, a trio of needs being poorly served... equals business opportunities.

One strong sentiment expressed  by the focus group was a distaste for advertising that insulted consumer intelligence or "told' people what they should be buying. In one exercise, moderator Keith Winn of the Nielsen Co. asked the group to pick a consumer brand that they are loyal to, that speaks to them. One person said "price" was her brand, meaning she look first at price and value and ignores brand. But most people offered one name. Here's what they volunteered:

* Southwest Airlines.

* Publix Super Markets (at least those heart-tugging holiday ads hit home).

* St. Petersburg Times (hey, they said it, not me).

* Apple.

* Coach leather goods (this prompted some laughter and applause).

* Progressive Insurance ("They're the only one that will insure me," said one participant).

* Starbucks (The participant does not buy the coffee but he's impressed with the brand).

* Pepsi (at least compared to Coke).

* NPR and PBS.

This conference was spawned by a market differentiation study conducted in 2007 by CreativeTampaBay.  The research, known as the “Things Look Different Here” study, revealed that Tampa Bay will be the country’s top destination for retiring Baby Boomers over the next 15 years. Thus, it is the likely incubator for new ideas on the concept of “retirement.”  Can't argue with plenty of boomers headed this way, but it's less clear that Tampa Bay will be one of the mega-meccas. A Brookings study suggests other areas of the country, including Raleigh, N.C., Austin and Atlanta will get plenty, too.

One thing is for sure. Over the next 10 years, the 18 to 49 age segment is projected to grow by only 1 percent to about 137 million. Meanwhile, the 50-plus age segment will swell 21 percent to 116 million. So there will be plenty of us to go around.

-- Robert Trigaux, Times Business Columnist


[Last modified: Tuesday, June 1, 2010 11:24am]


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