Boomer times to kick on into retirement

Baby boomers will wield significant economic power in the next decade and small businesses can prosper from their retirement, says trend forecaster Bernard Salt.

Baby boomers will wield significant economic power in the next decade and small businesses can prosper from their retirement, says trend forecaster Bernard Salt.

Mr Salt, a partner at KPMG, says an "important transition" is taking place in which the baby boomer generation - born between 1946 and about 1966 - is reaching the official retirement age of 65.

This opens up new opportunities to service what Mr Salt calls "the new narrative of life that will be lived between 55 and 72".

"There are 4.5 million people passing through that phase ... over the next decade, where previously there were barely 2.5 million people," he says.

Baby boomers are "intrinsically high consumers" compared with their "frugal and modest" predecessors. It's an opportunity for businesses to determine what this group will want. "It's got to pitch to their needs; they're not going to be hiking for five days to get to Machu Picchu, are they?"

Opportunities might be in areas such as succession planning (legal services, financial planning and conveyancing), health and fitness, medical technology, over-60s travel, or money-making volunteering enterprises.

"I think a lot of baby boomers will actually remain part in work and part-retire," Mr Salt says.

"The old model of working to the age of 65, getting your gold watch and retiring is a very 20th-century model - in the 21st century, baby boomers will scale back.

"They have big expectations in retirement, which I think is going to be a challenge for government and for big business.

"That would mean that if you're a 62-year-old part-retired school teacher teaching two days a week and you're not feeling well, you want a blood test, you want a CAT scan and you want an MRI scan, and you want them all private, just down the road in a facility open 24/7, because you paid tax all your working life.

"The baby boomers' parents - the people that fought in the Second World War and as kids went through the Great Depression - would be much more 'I'm not feeling well, but it will be fine, I don't want to bother anyone.'

"Baby boomers don't think like that. If they're not feeling well, they will bother someone and pursue it and they'll expect other people to pay in their retirement."

According to Mr Salt, businesses should reconsider their marketing strategies. Over-55s policies for example, which group baby boomers with 80-year-olds - people their parents' age - are "actually offensive".

There are businesses starting up to cater to baby boomers, with mixed success. In 2010, Rebecca Mountford opened a gym for over-55s. But this winning idea - she was a finalist in the 2010 Telstra Business Women's Awards - failed as a business venture.

An over-55s fitness program had been successful in Ms Mountford's Fresh Start Health and Fitness Centre, in the Sydney suburb of Narrabeen. After extensive market research, Ms Mountford, with co-owners, opened a second gym at Mona Vale, exclusive to over-55s. But, 18 months later, Fresh Start was forced to abandon the concept. Ms Mountford said the business had underestimated how time-consuming the age group would be.

"They'd come in and have a full assessment, they'd get a program prescribed and go through that program with a trainer, but six, seven, eight times later they're still coming in asking questions," she says. "They didn't grow up using gyms. We were completely overstaffed and as such, the business just became not viable.

She concedes the group may have mistimed. "Because the over-55s feel entitled to pay less - the amount they were willing to pay was not equal to the service they were getting."

Ms Mountford says that while the club was helping to curb chronic health conditions, requests to government for funding fell on deaf ears. "We had people coming off heart medication," she says. Eventually, the group turned the business into a successful, all-ages 24-hour gym with an over-55s program.

"It wasn't a huge failure - it just had to be rejigged," she says.

Two years ago, Fran Sirio, 54, launched Entice Travel Services, a boutique business focusing on over-55s. She travels overseas with her clients, acting as mobile concierge for people who don't want to organise their travel.

It's more time-consuming than a normal travel-guide gig, but Sirio prefers her cautious - though dependent - pleasure-seekers.

"They've got the time, the money, the patience - they're just lovely," Ms Sirio says. "If you say you need a payment at a certain time, they give it to you at a certain time. If you say, 'We need to be up by 9 o'clock', they'll be waiting for you in the foyer."

Ms Sirio says marketing to an age range that has vastly different skills and experiences is the most difficult aspect of her business.

But, she says, retailers should not presume all retirees are thrifty. "You'd be surprised - sometimes they'll go and buy a piece of jewellery that's worth more than the tour. They do love to shop."

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