According to the New York Times, Al Dietzel, an executive for The Limited, plans to celebrate his 66th birthday this summer by bench pressing 190 pounds, running three miles and kayaking at the Statue of Liberty. According to the Duke University Center for Demographic Studies, chronic disability rates for Americans over the age of 65 have dropped 15 percent. Professor Kenneth G. Manton notes that the study is now tracking higher activity rates because of this group's growing interest in healthier, smarter living.
How is this flourishing population being captured by business and industry? The Meredith Corp., one of the nation's largest magazine publishers, is debuting More, a new magazine targeting the aging female population. More, which began publication in April 1997, will feature beauty, fashion, health and lifestyle issues for women ages 50 and over. Allen Myerson notes that "consulting and marketing firms like Age Wave are bringing forth 90-year-old black belts to persuade corporate America that aging is a positive image."
A look at the automotive market highlights interesting trends for the interior designer. For example, Cadillac, best known for selling mammoth vehicles, has debuted a smaller, snappier design to appeal to cosmopolitan customers. Mercedes-Benz will soon sell a sport-utility vehicle to reach the affluent, activity-focused population.
In other words, window covering professionals should abandon any preconceived notions of what a "typical" customer in this population segment desires. Take a few risks, don't hesitate to show leading edge colors, textures or innovative new product options. Chances are you will set yourself apart as a savvy, astute designer in touch with a wide variety of customer needs.
However, take note of statistics indicating that nearly 10 million elderly women suffer from osteoporosis. Designers should be aware that this segment may have difficulty operating conventional window coverings. This gradual loss of bone mass may make lifting the weight of wood blinds or operating high, inaccessible shades next to impossible. Automated tilt or lift and tilt systems such as AutoVue[TM] should be recommended for these customers, as well as continuous loop systems for cellular shades or Nanik's Simpull control mechanism for wood blinds.
Interestingly, the Fashion Institute of Technology (F.I.T.) recently challenged its students to design a special wardrobe just for women with osteoporosis -- clothes which are beautiful and stylish yet still accommodate a slightly curved backbone and fit better over the back and shoulders.
Refreshing regional identities are emerging, rising up against the mass homogenized retail world of franchises and chains. In his article, "America's Quiet Rebellion Against McDonaldization" in the New York Times, Allen Myerson points out that Americans are eager to return to a fine appreciation of culture and regional heritage that is uniquely theirs. He emphasizes, "Gone are the days of Texans shuttling visitors to the nearest French bistro . . . people are proud of regional trends and will gladly spend time enjoying 'New Texan' style."
What does this growing emphasis on the importance of regional diversity mean for window coverings professionals? Manufacturers listen closely to distributors, fabricators and designers for regional trends that can expand business with a variety of customers. According to Myerson, many of the nation's new trends are not flowing from the coasts, but from Nashville, TN; Austin, TX; and Santa Fe, NM.
Other regions of the country are enjoying more international flair. For example, according to the New York Times, Miami is becoming a hub for Latin America design influence. Texas is responsible for more than half the nation's exports to Mexico and the West Coast is shaped by the Pacific Rim.
In conclusion, a welcoming enthusiasm for your customers' tastes and activities will set you apart. Remember to listen to their needs and you will gain a wealth of insight into their lifestyle preferences.
Scott Fawcett is senior vice president of sales and marketing at Springs Window Fashions Division, Middleton, WI.
Sponsored by Springs Window Fashions Division