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The top trends for 2011 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Alixe MacRae   

ImageThe dawn of the New Year isn't the time to look in the rearview mirror; it's the time to stare into the crystal ball and look for obvious signs of what be aware of for the next 12 months and beyond. While many pundits have been notoriously bad at predicting such earth-shattering events as how Donald Trump will change his hairstyle or when the writ will be dropped for our next federal election campaign, the trends that follow are based on measurable, findable facts.

 The Baby Boomers - again.
This group is generally defined as those born between 1946 and 1964. This means the oldest members of this group will hit 65 this year. Although eligible for the Canada Pension, many plan to continue working although most of these surveyed have indicated they plan to reduce the number of hours worked.

What's interesting about this is many employment experts believe the experience their employers are able to lose because of this shift will require them to hire at least three younger works for every two boomers who choose to either retire outright or cut back their working life.

So how does this translate for retail? In a number of ways, all of which independent furniture, mattress and appliance store owners should be aware.

  • Look for rebalancing on the supermarket shelves. Seniors shrink and what they want is no longer at your eye level. That presumes they're not in a wheel chair (even lower).
  • Seniors want firmer seating and chairs with arms. Their strength may be fading; but their pride is intact. They need to be able to get in and out of furniture.
  • They are going to demand device controls that don't require perfect vision or an engineering degree. For example, my 91-year old mother just bought her first cell phone. Her choice has limited buttons and gives her a sense of security. Slide in ranges featuring front controls which are ideal for wheelchair-bound chefs. These boomers will use their computers to stay in touch and shop if you make the process uncomplicated. Evaluate what you make or sell and, remember, the under-35 demographic isn't the only market.
  • Be access sensitive. This means workplace access, shopping access and entertainment sensitive. I recently visited a new furniture store in Toronto. No handicapped parking and many steps to the entrance. They only lacked a sign saying "Young Shoppers Wanted".
  • Consider valet parking. In 2006, there was an 81% increase in knee replacements over the previous decade; the largest growth was under the age of 65.
If you want more information; talk to your grandparents or Betty White.

Higher food prices
Floods, droughts and below zero temperatures in Florida aren't the only culprits driving up the cost of food. People in emerging economies - such as India, China and Indonesia, among others - now want meat and fish with their rice and vegetables.

This may sound like god news for farmers; but only for farmers whose land isn't under water. Just remember that flooded farmlands aren't just a Third World occurrence, it happened on the Prairies just last year.

This will inevitably reduce the consumer's disposable income - even here in Canada. Consider investing in a fish farm as well as in gold bars.

Gender neutral
In 2006, a study conducted in the United States noted that 27% of men reported they were the sole cleaner in the household. In 2010 this figure jumped to 32%. The face of the homemaker may be using a razor.

That same year, 58% of Canadian students entering medicine were female.

If you hire only men to pitch electronics you're in the era of Mad Men, not The Amazing Race - where a pair of women won the latest challenge.

The gaming industry is already planning to target women and they know something about marketing. In the furniture and appliance industry, we often proclaim that ‘woman of the house' is our primary customer. We need to make that proclamation truthful.

Bigger, not better
Every day there are more reports regarding obesity; in all age groups. Until we can all look good in skinny jeans, these consumers need products that fit.

This translates to well-designed clothing, mattresses that don't sag on impact, furniture that can support a wider and heavier body and seat belts that can comfortably protect a larger midriff.

An American retailer I met recently said he sold a large number of sofas and recliners designed for larger customers. He wanted to create a sub-shop within his store for this market; but was worried about a suitable name for this shop. This is a real market trend that needs to be addressed, particularly by independent store owners because of their greater ability to give individual attention to consumers with ‘custom' requirements.

Rent, not own
Zip cars are becoming increasingly popular. While the daily rate is higher than many rental car companies; the hourly rate makes sense for many who only need a car for a short time period. Besides which, gas and basic insurance is included.

Bixi is the bicycle equivalent. Again, low rates for short term rental (and both services have a lot of fine print). In fact, the first ½ hour is free.

Friends of mine are touring the world through ‘house sitting' - they don't need to have a cottage or book a hotel. They have regular bookings in England and South Carolina.

What's next? Renting a dining room table for the annual family feast? Don't be surprised. I know this is only a short list. But look forward; business is all about vision.

A regular contributor to Home Goods Online, Alixe MacRae is one of this country's best known merchandisers, having held senior positions at a variety of well-known Canadian retailers including Stoney Creek Furniture, Sears Canada and The Bay. She recently started her own business Concierge Relocation ( Her company specializes in move management, especially for those dramatically downsizing seniors and their overwhelmed children.

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