It is not unusual to see a Starbucks line-up that is multiple people long, sometimes even bursting out onto the street. Coffee has become a daily essential for many people. It is now commonplace to have a coffee maker in every office, a coffee house on virtually every street corner and personal tools and equipment to brew your own perfect cup at home. But it hasn’t always been this way. For many years starting in the 1960s, coffee consumption was actually on the decline. However, a new approach that personalized and enhanced the coffee experience helped to revolutionize our views on coffee and in turn create a $30 billion industry. If businesses can turn coffee drinking into a wildly lucrative trade, imagine the potential business opportunity associated with helping the 1.5 billion baby boomers and seniors create a more customized and enjoyable aging experience.
As outlined in “The Biggest Market You Are Not Focused On”, the baby boomer and senior market now controls 70% of America’s spending power and, unlike previous generations, are actually willing to spend their money to make the aging process a better one. In addition, as explained in “Five Tips to Reach the Dominant Demographic” baby boomers have different requirements than their younger counterparts and expect companies to understand and respectfully cater to their unique needs and lifestyles. Companies that recognize the way that people age (how they evolve both physically and mentally) and create innovative products or services that align with and support those changes, are better positioned to thrive in the new ‘aging economy’.
Consider, for instance, one transformation that almost all people will experience over time – a change in mobility and dexterity. For many, this change could be subtle with objects becoming slightly more difficult to grasp or bending for things feeling a little more awkward. For some, this adjustment can be more dramatic and make performance of even the simplest daily activities feel extremely painful and sometimes almost impossible.
Progressive companies have begun to recognize these physical differences and design products and packaging to accommodate. Oxo kitchen tools, for example, were created by Sam Farber after watching his wife try to use finicky kitchen utensils while suffering with arthritis. In response, he developed a line of kitchen tools that were more comfortable to use. Pairing functionality with attractive design, Oxo found a way to help the 50% of people 65+ years who suffer from arthritis continue cooking more easily without broadcasting to the world that they have arthritis. But even more than that, the kitchen tools’ functionality and form has extended the reach of these utensils far beyond those who may suffer from arthritis. Oxo has become a mainstream household name in kitchenware, appealing to millions who spend time in the kitchen and prefer to work with kitchen utensils that are good-looking and just more comfortable to use.
Hobbies, like cooking, is one potential area of opportunity but businesses can also look to even smaller everyday activities and offer powerful and far-reaching solutions. Consider, for example, society’s shift from door knobs to door levers. Traditionally, most homes had doors handles and sink faucets that were controlled using round knobs. These small round knobs required a firm grip and strong wrist action to turn. As people age, they may start to feel some pain in their fingers or wrist making this action more difficult and sometimes even unbearable. Recognizing that door knobs can be tricky for a large number of people, there has been a movement towards levered bathroom and kitchen faucets and door handles because they are much easier to maneuver. British Columbia, the third largest province in Canada, went so far as to ban the door knob in favour of the door lever to improve accessibility in local buildings. These progressive door levers meet the needs of the older population (as well as those much younger), and also offer beautiful design for all to enjoy.
We will cook meals and open doors thousands of times throughout our lives but the way that we undertake these regular activities will likely change as we age. Companies that understand how we evolve over time can create products that support these changes and empower people to continue completing these tasks with ease. And these two activities only scratch the surface of what is possible. We perform hundreds of rituals everyday – whether it be getting into a car and turning on the engine, bending to pick up the mail or pulling the dental floss out of its small container. Innovation and product design that enable people to function with comfort and independence not only helps people – it also makes good business sense. In the end, if we can develop an umbrella with a coffee cup holder to ensure that we can still enjoy our coffee if we get caught in a rainstorm, the opportunities to help mature individuals continue to live their lives to the fullest are almost unlimited.