America’s first crop of Baby Boomers turns 70 this year, a sobering thought that the largest generation of Americans (until recently) are getting old. More than 78 million in the U.S., this highly consumption-driven group were once the answer to the optical industry’s prayers.
From the mid-’80s onward, the industry patiently waited as aging Boomers became presbyopic, substantially growing the vision correction market.
Of course, that surge did come-as witnessed by the double-digit growth the industry enjoyed in the ’90s-but now it’s pretty much gone. As the youngest is now 52, one can presume that every new Boomer patient is already in the pool.
Ah, but now optical has the Millennial generation. Arguably born between 1980 and 1997, this is now the largest age demographic in the country. They are discriminating consumers always interested in a sharp price and less ostentation than their Boomer parents. They’re altruistic, distrustful of big business, somewhat narcissistic and more than happy to tear down the conventions and routines that molded the Boomers.
They do have a few bucks, and as evidenced by the “Warby Parkerizing” of the optical business, the market is now catering to them more than ever.
But does that mean these denizens of single vision correction have put the tired, tottering Baby Boomers to rest? Not quite. Not only do Boomers have more money than their much younger cohorts, their attitudes and beliefs have not succumbed to the aging process.
For one thing, Boomers do not think of themselves as old; they enjoy outdoor activities, they go to the gym, they travel, indulge in creature comforts, and many, many are still going strong in the labor force.
They also have their own unique take on things. They tend to be more status conscious than the younger generations (look at the cars they drive); they like gadgetry and technology (they pretty much fell in love with Facebook, which chased all the younger folks to Instagram); they don’t have compunctions about spending money when they perceive a good value; and, by and large, they don’t dislike shopping.
Interestingly, The New York Times recently featured an article about Millennial entrepreneurs, pointing out that many of their product and marketing concepts are designed to cater to Boomers.
So, they may be gray, but Boomers are far from gone. And unless your optical is on the lower east side of Manhattan-or some other typical Millennial habitat scattered around the U.S.-you would be wise to keep that in mind.
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