Turning Silver into Gold: Book Review

September 10th, 2014   •   no comments   

What is the fastest growing yet often neglected consumer group? One that has contributed to a demographic bulge of about 77 million people in the US?

Yes, I’m talking about the Baby Boomers, i.e. those born from 1946 to 1964. Hitting their silver years over the next decade or so, Baby Boomers represent the largest age-related demographic group in the world today. In China alone, it is predicted that the 50+ marketplace will swell to a staggering 525.8 million people by 2025.

Here in Singapore, over 900,000 Baby Boomers, more than a quarter of our current citizen population, have turned 65 years old from 2012 onwards.

While greying populations presents new challenges to global cities, aging authority Dr Mary Furlong views this as a golden opportunity in her book Turning Silver into Gold: How to Profit in the New Boomer Marketplace. Backed by prodigious research, Furlong’s comprehensive guide to the Boomer/Senior market covers areas like health, travel, sex and romance, fashion, homes, communities, elder-care, finance, media and more.

Unlike their predecessors, Boomers aren’t satisfied with merely retiring peacefully. Blessed with better education, greater wealth, and longer lives than their forebears, they have embraced active living with much aplomb. Transitioning from full-time work and raising a family to a less hectic lifestyle, they will find new ways to lead healthier, more meaningful and spiritually fulfilled lives.

Health and Elder-care

As Boomers start aging, they begin to lose their hair, vision, hearing and teeth. Ailments like high cholesterol, hypertension, diabetes, arthritis and more will start afflicting them. Care-giving, particularly to the elderly parents of Boomers, becomes a critical issue.

Opportunities here include health information provision (WebMD), fitness centres (Fitness Together), medical devices, and nanotechnologies to keep older people in their homes, medical spas, and alternative healthcare facilities.

With a fast growing aging population, the healthy living and aging market would swell – North Castle Partners estimate that this market in the US could swell to over US$1 trillion by 2020.

Travel and Hobbies

With more time in their hands and a curiosity to experience the world, educated Boomers will seek travel as “an adventure for the heart, mind and soul”. Niche businesses that cater “peak experiences” in adventure, cruise, education, culture, health, wellness and “voluntourism” would do well. Inter-generational and family travel would also grow.

Similarly, Boomers will want to pick up the passions that they once had in their youths. While gardening is the number one hobby for American adults age 50 and older, other popular pastimes include eating out, music, books, sports, wine, motorcycles (think Harley Davidson) and pets.

With their higher education levels, Boomers are more technology savvy. They are also more likely to embrace lifelong learning as they enter their third age.

Romance and Fashion

Eschewing the “fuddy duddy” label, Boomers are enjoying romance and sex well into their golden years. With a growing number of divorces, empty nests, mature singles, and widows or widowers, opportunities abound for businesses that keep the silver flame alive. Online dating, erectile dysfunction drugs (Viagra or Cialis anybody?), personals, and spas/retreats are possibilities here.

While Boomers may look “middle-aged”, they aren’t giving up on their looks. Despite being heavily ignored by the fashion and apparel industry, Boomers spend a fortune on fashion and beauty products.

Businesses like Chico’s (a “realistic-sized” fashion retailer), Butterfly Dreams (specialty apparel and get-well gifts for women with chronic illnesses), and Entourage (a day night spa salon, cafe, and wine bar) have capitalised on this new market.

Homes and Communities

The new generation of wealthier retirees are buying second and third homes. Well, at least before the subprime mortgage crisis in the US. Housing trends for Boomers include purchasing houses and condominiums for investment (a huge thing in Asia), retirement, and holiday homes.

Special considerations for this market include Universal Design (wheelchair access, zero-step entry), spaces for grandchildren or aging parents, home offices, and smart homes.

To stave off their growing loneliness due to deaths or empty nests, Boomers will also seek ways to connect themselves to family members. Services and products like Myfamily.com – a subscription based genealogy service, online communities, and scrapbooking will take on greater prominence.

More seniors are also embracing social networks. In fact, they are the fastest social media adopters in the US with over 43% of those over 65 years using at least one social networking site.

Building a Boomer Business

In the last four chapters of the book, Furlong provides entrepreneurial tips on financing and growing one’s Boomer related business. Here, we’re taught how to develop a business plan, pitch for investors (borrowing ideas from Guy Kawasaki’s The Art of the Start), and create various types of organisations (non-profit, franchise, etc). Techniques on engaging the media and marketing using websites, blogs, and podcasts are also covered, albeit in a more cursory manner than other specialist publications.

Gold at the End of the Rainbow

Comparing the third act of life to a birthing process where a person surrenders to the forces of aging and prepares for something that endures, Furlong concludes that three characteristics define the Boomer generation:

  1. The “bonus round” which provides an extra decade or more of active life; 
  2. Their greater educational attainment and stronger financial resources; and 
  3. Their passion to give back to society. This final spiritual component is what drives many to be involved in philanthropy.

Despite being published a few years ago, Turning Silver into Gold is still relevant in this day and age. Written from the perspective of a Baby Boomer herself, it helps would be entrepreneurs to better appreciate the relatively untapped market of active agers.

While Asian seniors may have slightly different lifestyles and behaviours than Westerners (for instance, many grandparents here have to act as secondary caregivers to their grandchildren), the opportunities presented in the book are certainly worth exploring.


Image courtesy of FYe-Orbis

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