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Canine Trauma

How To Profit From The Aging Of America
Another In a Series of Articles Designed to Improve Your Bottom Line
by Shirley Greene

The one question I'm repeatedly asked by dog trainers, and others, is: "Where can I find new clients?"

I believe they expect a typical answer: "Any place where there are people." Or, for trainers, a more specific reply: "Any place where there are people who like dogs." While participating in community events such as fun runs and fund raisers is always a good way to meet people (and clients are nothing more than people who need your services), a much better way to find new clients is through a concept called TARGET MARKETING.

Target Marketing - What Is It?

Target Marketing has nothing to do with those red bulls-eyes that advertise a certain discount department store, Target. Yet, it does have everything to do with throwing darts! If your pool of possible clients includes anyone and everyone who has been, may be or is actively looking for a dog trainer - - then the world is your dartboard. Can you possibly appeal to every person? Can you possibly reach every potential client with your message? Can you possibly be effective if you try to sell your services, or your dogs, to every person on the planet? I say: "No way!"

On any given day, in any given city, in any given state - there are people seeking dogs and people seeking dog training. These people may be short, tall, rich, poor, urban or rural. They may be looking for a pooch to share their couch or an athlete to join their morning run. Can you ever create one ad that appeals to all dog people composing that dartboard? No. But, you can target different segments of the population.

TARGET MARKETING is the conscious effort to divide that dartboard into circles and to assign a value to each. Your "bulls-eye" is that group of people seeking dogs or training that YOU want to reach. It is a proactive approach to finding the right customer for your business. Here's an example:

If you train dogs in downtown Chicago, chances are your target client is a city dweller with a pooch. The dog may be their family guardian or a lap warmer, BUT it is still an urban dog that must live and be trained in an urban environment. Wouldn't it be a better return on your advertising dollar to run radio spots on a popular morning show at 7:00, rather than spending fewer dollars during a Morning Farm Report on a rural AM station? Of course. Therefore, whether it's a couch potato or protection dog, one part of your market profile is "urban." Other criteria determining your specific target could be clients' age, income, purpose for dog ownership, etc.

Changing Demographics=New Targets

One way to uncover new Targets for your business is to understand the concept of futurism. By looking at hard numbers for the predicted changes underway in American lives, demographers are able to give us a preview of coming attractions. Futurists like Faith Popcorn or Ken Dychtwald are paid to tell us what life will be like in the next decade. Will our appliances be avocado green or black? Will we be hedonistic or altruistic? Spenders or savers? How will Generation X impact the marketplace and what happens when those who are now thirty-something reach middle age? And, what about those aging Baby Boomers?

By ascertaining lifestyle trends through extensive use of questionnaires and models, the experts can profile changes in demographics and how those changes will impact the way we conduct business. In turn, we can translate predictable patterns into profit centers for the future. Armed with this knowledge, you can jump ahead of the competition.

Changing Our Linear Life

When Otto von Bismarck picked 65 as the marker of old age it was 1880, and he was preparing Germany's first pension plan. The average life expectancy at that time was only 45 years! Increasing longevity will not only postpone the arrival of old age, but will cause all of the life stages to stretch and shift significantly.

By 2005, American business should consider:

  • Youth - the period from 18-25
  • Young adulthood - expands to ages 25-40
  • New Life Stage called "Middlescence" - will be 40-60
  • Late adulthood - postponed and extended to cover ages 60-75
  • Old age - will begin around 75 and end close to 90
  • Very old age - will encompass the 90+ end of life stage

In addition, our linear life in which we go from education, to work, to leisure or retirement to old age home and then - the grave - will dramatically shift. Experts predict we will cycle through life. Education, work and leisure will be interspersed repeatedly throughout the life span. Grandpa can return to college at age 60 and start a new career at age 65. The couple looking for a new home may be 30 or 70. Therefore, we can't be comfortable with "business as usual" attitudes. The only thing certain about the future is CHANGE.

The Graying of America

The new "middlescent" is an under-appreciated client source for small service businesses. One-third (1/3) of all Americans - 76 million people - were born between 1946 and 1964. These are the middle-lifers. These are the graying baby boom generation.

This generational mass has dominated American culture for four (4) decades. At each stage in their lives, the needs and desires of those 76 million people have become the dominant concerns of American business and popular culture. Why? Because they are the largest single consumer group on the planet. Therefore, if you can attempt to anticipate the movement of the baby boom generation - - where they are going and what interests them, you can get ahead of their spending tidal wave and increase your profits.

Why Target Gray America?

Statistically, our thirty-something friends have the lowest disposable income of any population group. Members of Generation X are the first generation, ever, who are less affluent than their parents. So, who is holding most of the pocket money? Aging Americans.

It's the older Americans who have the largest amount of discretionary, disposable income. Starting as early as 1990, members of the 50+ population:

  • owned 77% of all financial assets in America
  • purchased 43% of all new domestic and 48% of all new luxury cars
  • spent more money on recreation (including travel) than any other age group
  • accounted for 40% of the total consumer demand
  • controlled 70% of the total net worth of U.S. households

Okay, so they've got money. Tell me, how are they going to spend it?

Those who are 55 and older value experience over material possessions, telling demographers they are:

  • Seeking solutions to problems
  • Looking for ways to make life easier
  • Interested in having fun
  • Impressed by facts, and leery of hype
  • Searching for suggestions on how to spend their time
  • Mindful of quality, convenience and excellence in customer service
  • Extremely interested in education and trying new sports or hobbies
  • Interested in health, security, happiness and family ties

Within this circle of opportunity, is a sub-culture: the mature, affluent market (MAMs) - those who are 50-64 years "young:"

  • two-thirds are married and family-oriented
  • they account for more than 40% of every consumer dollar spent
  • are pro-business and admire the self-employed

Members of the Mature Affluent Market also:

Ö See themselves as 10 - 15 years younger than their biological age

Ö Value service above price and quality over quantity

Isn't there a huge opportunity for breeders and trainers, nationwide, to jump ahead of this age wave?

A Personal Incident

Apparently, not everyone agrees with me. Several months ago, at a dog match, I was saying hello to an acquaintance. He owns a dog training business and employs probably ten trainers, or more, at any given time. While we were exchanging pleasantries, a couple in their early 60s approached and politely waited for a break in the conversation. I made eye contact and lifted my brows. Glancing at the trainer, I noticed he'd cupped his hand to light up and partially turned his back.

That did it. If he didn't want to make client contact, I'd be happy to oblige these folks. So, I smiled and extended my hand to the woman, and said: "Hi, I'm Shirley. What would you like to talk about?"

The lady took my hand and turning to the man beside her, said: "Hey, Barney, this is the lady from television." (My dog had appeared on a 15-second promotion spot earlier in the day.) I said: "Hello, Barney, what I can do for you?" About this time, the TRAINER walked away. No hello, no handshake, and no business card offered. He was gone.

Well, Barney and his wife told me they sure liked the attitude of my dog and were impressed that he behaved so nicely inside a small TV studio. (Me, too.) Barney, a program director for a Public TV station, had just retired. His lifelong dream was to own one of those "person's protection dogs," as he called it, and when he saw mine on TV, he drove two hours across the Valley of the Sun just to get more information. Too bad the trainer didn't qualify this couple before turning away.

A good friend of mine with years of experience happened upon our group. She stuck her hand out and opened her ears and really listened to what Barney and his wife wanted. She did a terrific needs assessment on the spot. You know the end of this story. She became the source who located and trained their person's protection dog. How do I know this story has a happy ending? Because I called Barney almost four months later to make sure a dog was in training for him and that he was satisfied. (That's how I keep my referral list current.)

Update Your Thinking

A huge opportunity was missed when my acquaintance was not willing to take five minutes to speak with the 55+ couple. Yet, later that same day, I saw this fellow really giving a hard sales pitch to a young man and his pregnant wife with a toddler seated in a stroller. I wondered if he knew that the typical late 20-something family are people at a time in their lives when out-go exceeds in-come. They usually spend more than they earn - think credit card debt. And, of all the age groups, they are most time deprived.

Yes, they may still need dog training but why over-sell this family when you walked away from a prime MAM candidate?

One of the most expansive and profitable companies doing business today jumped on the Graying of American bandwagon back in 1986. Many predicted that the web site called SeniorNet Online would fail. It was started as a project to see if computer technology could enhance the lives of older adults. From an experiment, it developed into a huge profit center for advertisers and e-commerce. In March 2000, this AOL site had over 25,000 daily active members - posting on bulletin boards, getting on-line tech help, printing out discount coupons, entering senior chat rooms and buying on-line. What a captive target market!

Don't gamble with the future of your company by chasing the youth market. The generation now ages 18 to 34 is like "501" jeans in hot water - - shrinking fast. And, it will continue to decline for at least the next 10 years. For the first time in history, the youth market is a bust - - not a boom.

Perhaps it is time to think about changing your marketing TARGET!

Do some homework. Learn more. Add products and services that appeal to the maturing market. Give them what they want service, value, and respect. Talk with your graying customers, regularly. Ask them what you can do to enhance their dog training/dog purchasing experience. Build a relationship and a database of referrals.

Here's an idea for attracting the 55+ "crowd." Use it as a springboard for your training staff. Brainstorm and expand other ideas to fit your business personality.

Special hours for special people:

What day of the week or time of the day is your appointment book consistently empty? Many retirees have flexible schedules. Sounds like an opportunity to target market those unused time slots.

Don't Insult Your Target Market

Make certain printed materials - ads, flyers, business cards - and your web site - use their own key words to attract the aging market. (See highlighted under Why Target Gray America.)

Pictures and illustrations should emphasize that the 55+ client can be active, sexy, intelligent, independent and safe - - especially with a well trained canine companion.

In sales videos, include at least one scenario directed to the aging baby boomer. Not every personal protection dog demonstration must show a twenty-something woman being attacked in her home or vehicle by a twenty-something man. Can't an attractive, outdoors, Graying of America female take her pre-teen grandson hiking, accompanied by their trained personal protection dog?

Perhaps radio spots should also include a mature voice of reason - offering advice or a testimonial for others in his/her age wave.

In formulating an ad campaign - whether in a newspaper or a flyer for your local dog park - think about those who are 50-64. Consider reflecting their values and interests, such as:

  • For them, the American dream worked - feature entrepreneurs
  • They seek convenience - after all, they ate the first TV dinners
  • The Internet - guide them to your web site
  • Being thought of as strong and competent is important to their image
  • They are actively seeking new experiences - let them train a dog

Sic 'Em

My advice: Sic 'Em. Boldly go after the MAMs and the aging market. Help them find new interests and hobbies. Address their need for security and personal safety. Why can't grandma have an agility dog or participate in tracking? Speak to them as people - not senior citizens. Re-think your prejudices on "aging." Rework your next ad and welcome the opportunity to speak directly to those baby boomers.

Don't abandon your core clients. Expand your reach. Try new target marketing strategies integrated with your current business plan. When you are moving at the speed of business, waiting until your marketing plan isn't working only slows you down. And, if you are slowing your market-share, the competition is growing theirs. Plan now to profit from the aging of America. Get out in front of the Age Wave.

Good luck, good training and good selling!


Social Security/Medicare Trust Fund Report 1994

US Census Bureau Fact Sheet/Aging in America 1993

American Demographics Magazine

Paul Tulenko, Small business Development Center, Albuquerque, NM

Dr. Ken Dychtwald, Pres., Age Wave, Inc. 1990/Update 2000

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