Beginning in 1946 and ending in 1964 they have moved through American society like a giant socioeconomic tidal wave. They have been called a lot of things -- the kindest being "Baby Boomers."
With the front end of that horde now entering senior citizenship and the rear phalanx not that far behind they have achieved a new status: the "Boomer Marketplace." Tapping into that mother lode is the subject of a book by former Alexandria resident Mary S. Furlong, Ed.D., "Turning Silver into Gold."
Now a northern California resident, Dr. Furlong has zeroed in on "how to profit in the new boomer marketplace." In her 266 page treatise she "reveals breakthrough product and service opportunities" and suggests "the tools, resources, techniques, and data" needed to capitalize on the money pool in the hands of the generation that, for the first time, can't buy their way out of the inevitable -- aging.
Her fascination with senior potential and needs began when she was an Alexandria resident from 1979 to 1983 while her husband worked at the Federal Reserve and she was a teacher at Catholic University. "I had a baby sitter who was over 60 and that got me interested in writing about seniors and their desires," Furlong said.
That fascination led to the publication of several books, including Silver to Gold and "Grown-Up's Guide to Computing." She founded Mary Furlong and Associates (MFA) in 2003 "to help socially responsible, consumer-conscious companies understand the real needs of this explosive market.
Considered the leading authority on baby boomers as they reach their 50's and 60's, Furlong also founded SeniorNet, one of the first social network on-line companies, and a media and marketing group known as ThirdAge Media. The latter has created a variety of channels to serve boomer interests.
In addition to being a prolific author, former White House Commissioner on Libraries and Information Science, a guest on various television network shows, recognized by The New York Times, USA Today, Business Week and others, Furlong was honored by Time Magazine in 1999 as one its "Digital 50." She now serves as executive professor of Entrepreneurship and Women in Leadership at the Leavey School of Business at Santa Clara University in California.
IN SILVER INTO GOLD, she identifies five basic ideas or trends in
capturing the boomer market. These recur throughout the book. They
1. Global marketing and markets because aging is a worldwide phenomenon. As she notes "China and Italy are graying faster than the United States.
2. Longevity which has changed the equation affording many as much time after retirement as they spent working.
3. "Lifestage transitions" meaning that all the changes occurring in life, such as jobs, divorce, remarrying, etc. keep right on happening into seniorhood.
4. Technology and how that science, with all its nuances, can be used to make life better and more rewarding for seniors.
5. Spirituality and the act of giving back to the community, family and nation.
A primary theme running through her book is how to reach a dream. One example she cites is an Old Town Alexandria business -- Gallery LaFayette, now owned by artist Todd Healy.
According to Furlong, Healy "is a prime example of someone who took a personal passion and turned it into an occupation." That passion was his love of art and the company he founded, before acquiring Gallery LaFayette, "Historic Cards and Prints," the beginning of his now annual calendars depicting Old Town landmarks and scenes.
"I never had a career. I had jobs. I always did art on the side," Todd said. The first year he went into art full time he sold 3,000 of his calendars. Now he sells 25,000 each year plus all the other items in Gallery LaFayette combined with art and framing.
She also explores second career efforts in such areas as non-profit creation and management, elder care, technology, finance and others. In each case it is an individual decision based on individual desires and needs.
Flying in the face of the television marketing gurus who seem obsessed with the 19 to 49 year old market, Furlong points out, "One of the key points of this book is that life transitions create business opportunities. As more business become aware of the unprecedented number of people around the world who are approaching 60, they are getting serious about reaching boomers."
Her final chapter leads off with the following prediction: "Boomers are learning that every moment counts. They want to know that their lives have mattered and that they will leave behind something of value and beauty. Businesses who understand dream fulfillment,
lifestage marketing, and the desire of baby boomers to make a difference will lead the pack."
Although she takes varying degrees of literary license liberties in making some of her points, those points are worthy of serious thought and analysis by the reader. "Turning Silver into Gold" could well serve as a discerning miner's guide to participating in the 21st century's gold rush.