How To Ride the Baby Boomer Wave

By Will Phillips

Will Phillips, founder of REX Roundtables for Executives, manages 15 Club Roundtables for owners in the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. He has consulted to CEOs in 34 industries and nine countries in the last 30 years. You can reach him at Will@REXonline.org.

The influx of Baby Boomers is the surest and most powerful trend to hit the fitness business. Every time the Boomers hit a new decade, they drive an industry to new heights. First the growth of colleges, next starter homes, then home furnishing stores, then the nursery furniture and stroller industries, later on second homes and time shares.

Boomers are the first generation to see their parents live into their 70s and 80s and suffer from all the diseases and afflictions that put them into managed care. And guess what they learned taking care of them? Boomers report their biggest fear in retirement is getting sick. They were also the first generation to grow up exercising, and if fitness facilities want to boost their profits, they can tap into this market to help these Boomers lead healthier, more productive lives.

Marketing a club to Boomers. Many consumer businesses have tried to ride the Boomer wave, and many of them failed. You can understand the initial failures of businesses to appeal to Boomers when you realize that the marketing world had pretty much dismissed any one over 35 as an unimportant market segment. The marketers assumed that ‘old’ people’ are set in their ways and less likely to be influenced by marketing efforts. Some studies show the opposite: Boomers are more driven to switch to get what they really want, rather than follow the crowd. Boomers conform less than others.

Since this is a new phenomena, there are not standard ways to design clubs for Boomers. You will need a little entrepreneurial spirit to be innovative. Here are six guiding principles based on the successes of other retailers.

1. Select products and services tailored to them. Begin by reading and digesting Younger Next Year—How to Live Like You Are 50 Until Your 80s and Beyond, an exercise book directly targeted at Boomers. Visit other establishments, which have a Boomer market, like auto dealerships and travel agencies to see how they do it.

2. Design facilities tailored to them. Visit Forth & Towne and Anthropologie in particular as these retail stores tailor to Boomers. Expect to see the new anthropologically driven design firms such as IDEO create stunning club designs for Boomers.

3. Tailor the sound and music. But before you change the tunes in your club, make sure you know what Boomer music is.

4. Start having lunch with a group of Baby Boomers every week. Then form a Boomer Advisory Council to help you think through how to ride the Boomer wave.

5. Design your staff to match. CVS pharmacies realized Boomers were its most important market segment, yet the age of its store staff averaged 20 something. CVS has made a concerted effort to hire older employees, and if your club has a lot of seniors as members, you may want to consider hiring some of them to work for you.

6. Boomers have been catered to all their life. Make your club experience something special just for them. Be real and be specific with health benefits. Remember that Boomers are not seniors.

From 2003 to 2030, the number of Americans over the age of 65 grows by more than 60 percent. Are you ready to ride the wave?

Who Are the Baby Boomers?

  • Born between 1946 and 1964, Boomers are now between 42 and 60 years old.
  • They number 78 million out of 300 million, which is 28 percent of the population.
  • Every day, 10,000 Baby Boomers turn 50.
  • Half the Boomers were 50 or older in 2005.
  • The chronic disability in adults over the age of 65 has dropped by 6 percent in two decades.
  • Sports injuries to Boomers has increased 33 percent.
  • Their sore knees, shoulders and backs cost $18.7 billion in health care.
  • Yale and Johns Hopkins have shown that adults over 50 can improve strength and performance faster in relation to their potential than 20 year olds.