Gold in the Grey

Are you missing the greatest single source of buying power in all of Canada? It’s right under your nose.

If you own or operate any business in the Victoria area, you’re in the city with the richest potential customers in the land. You’re likely not targeting them.

When I say targeting, I mean deliberately attempting to reach, inform, and motivate those folks 55-plus to purchase your goods and services. Sure, you might be including them in your thinking, but are you actually making them a specific target of that thinking, strategy formulation, and tactical marketing effort?

These people – the early boomers and mature adults together – have more discretionary time, income, and spending power than the rest of the population combined. They are the biggest spenders on quality gifts for children. They are the most active travellers: they have more money and free time in which to spend it. They spend more per day and travel more often than younger generations. These are the same folks who have more money stashed in banks, credit unions, RRSPs, stocks, bonds, mortgages, and other assets than the rest of B.C. This lucrative market segment is available to do business with you when most others are at work and the kids are in school. They dine out at sit-down restaurants more than any other demographic. They are the ones who, uniquely, still shop for quality and value, more so than the rest of the population.


According to Statistics Canada, there were 81,400 people living in Greater Victoria between the ages of 55 and 85…in 2001. That was five years ago. The newest census won’t be available for some time, but we can extrapolate from this, guesstimating a number close to 100,000 now. The majority of them were in the 55-74 age range. This group accounts for at least 26 per cent of the area’s population. This is an opportunity worthy of your attention.

This invariably brings up the question of the best “name” for this segment. In Canada, we still tend to use the word “seniors” to describe them. In the U.S., most people in this age bracket really don’t want to be referred to as being “seniors,” unless it’s the name of a discount. (They will always accept a discount that just makes good economic sense. But it’s not wise to call them “seniors.”) The majority of this group would like to be known as “mature adults.”

This then begs the question “when does a boomer become a mature adult?” The answer is that a boomer must now be 60 to qualify for the title “mature adult.” Whatever you do, don’t refer to them as elderly, old folks, or senior citizens. That is a cultural and marketing no-no, especially if you’re a young whippersnapper less than 40 yourself. Never make the assumption that you should offer a discount because this group is poor and deserving of a financial handout.

Being patronized in marketing particularly irritates mature adults. When targeting them, remember they have one major thing the rest of us don’t: experience. They don’t respond to condescending or highly emotional pitches. In your own marketing and advertising, remember that they tend to make more reasoned, less emotional buying decisions.

Mike Marchi, General Sales Manager at Wille Dodge, is quick to point out that, depending on what you’re marketing, you can easily fall into the demographic trap, making assumptions based solely on the age of your prospects. He cites the new entry-level, sporty, hatch-back vehicle, the Dodge Caliber, intended for young buyers looking for some utility, economy, and sportiness. Surprisingly, the largest group of buyers for this new car has been mature adults. Mike told me, “Remember, 60 is 50 now.” He’s right, since research has shown that the average 60-year-old now thinks of him or herself as being fourteen chronological years younger.

Lori and John Randle, of the Olympic View Golf Course, know this target group well. They joint-venture with the Juan de Fuca Recreation Centre, conducting women-only beginners golf sessions. Lori provides an introduction to golf designed for women who don’t want to become “golf widows.” This program is a big hit with these women, whose average age is 60.

Mike Clermont and his son, Martin, own Russ Hays, the bicycle shops in Sidney and Victoria. An exploding market for them, and deliberately targeting mature adults, is the hybrid bicycle that incorporates a small motor on the back axle. This is a no-noise motorized assist for the folks who want a little help on Victoria’s hills, but still want to rely on muscle-power most of the time. They’re selling more of them than any other dealer in western Canada.

Ari Bolden operates the Victoria Jujitsu Academy. Many mature adults are drawn to this milder version of the martial arts. They’re after private lessons, not wanting to hold up a general class, desiring a touch of privacy. Bolden proves that you shouldn’t make assumptions about any market segment. One of Ari’s mature students is 71.

Hally Hofmeyr and Mat Wright market a unique new product, the aveoTSD, anti-snoring device. (Approximately 40 per cent of adults snore.) This is a medical-grade silicone device that fits in your mouth at night and reduces or eliminates snoring and sleep apnea. I call this technique intergenerational viral marketing, knowing that the grown children of mature adults will read about this innovation and tell their parents.

At the Empress Hotel, Jill Killeen, regional director of public relations, told me about their new travel program called Savvy @ 55. “This is truly a savvy travel market segment. They know what they want, seeking out experiences that are both grand and familiar.”

Like any market segment, there are right and wrong ways to connect with them. I spoke with Leonard J. Hansen of Bellingham. Len is a career journalist and marketer who has directed successful mature marketing programs in tourism, hospitality, publishing, and finance. How should business owners address this demographic? Hansen responded, “Forget and reject age categorization as in ‘elderly,’ ‘aged,’ and even ‘senior citizen,’” he said. “Terms like ‘elderly’ are used by politicians and social workers, lumping everyone with grey hair as sick, poor, and/or other negative assumptions. When I launched the Senior World newspapers in 1973 in San Diego, to target 60-plus persons, my marketing colleagues roared, almost in unison: ‘What can people in rest homes buy?’ They were absolutely wrong, because less than five per cent of mature adults are in nursing homes and the majority don’t enter until their late 70’s and 80’s.”

I then asked, “But, what about these boomers, won’t they be a much bigger opportunity?”

“Target mature adults now,” he said. “Don’t wait for the hype about baby boomers as the ‘coming market.’ Mature adults control the majority of discretionary spending. This has been a rich consumer market for more than 40 years and is the richest consumer market today.”

Therefore, when marketing to this segment, present your quality, value, and benefit to the mature adult consumer. Address their success and active lifestyles, and recognize mature adults as vital to your community and business. Acknowledging all of the above, take a fresh and appreciative look at mature consumers and welcome them as your best new customers, no matter what your business or service field.

There’s gold in the grey.