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How to Profit From Aging Baby Boomers

Businesses have much to gain if they pay attention to buyers over age 50. Most marketing efforts focus on enticing the younger generation to open their wallets and purses, but the real buying power is in the hands of their parents. Although they represent only 32 percent of the U.S. population, Americans over 50 control 77 percent of the total net worth and have nearly $46 trillion of wealth, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This aging population presents an opportunity for businesses that design products and services that help people cope with old age.

The potential market is huge. By 2030, more than one in three Americans will be over 50. Half of the populations of Germany, Italy and Japan will also be over 50, as will 40 percent of people in China.

These 50-year-olds are nothing like the generations that came before them. These mid-lifers are living longer, healthier lives and pursuing a myriad of activities and interests. Retirement is no longer seen as an ending, but the beginning of a second act. This is the time to try new things, travel and explore. They may even reinvent themselves in new careers and lifestyles. Rather than tired, this generation is entering a new stage of life with energy, drive and high expectations. For them, retirement is the start of a new adventure.

How well businesses cater to the over-50 crowd could define their success in coming years. Smart business owners have already begun to prepare for the changes this demographic shift will ignite. Harley Davidson is on board with the coming changes, offering a three-wheeled version of its motorcycle, the Tri Glide, that accounts for the challenges of balancing and getting onto their heavy two-wheelers as you age. Ford Motor Company has created a "third age suit" worn by younger test drivers which effectively ages them 30 years to experience driving from the perspective of an older person. The suit reduces the ability to move or compromises the sensory organs, replicating restrictions commonly experienced by older people. By better understanding the challenges faced by older drivers, Ford hopes to design cars that are safer and more driver-friendly.

Here's what baby boomers are looking for:

Help aging safely. Products and services need to incorporate features that address the changing needs of older users. Ease of use is essential for older buyers. Improvements that account for changes in vision, strength, hearing and dexterity will make services more attractive. Many retirees want to age in place in their own homes, but will need upgrades to stay there including handles instead of knobs, easy to reach bathroom fixtures, bigger buttons, better lighting and easier to access storage. Sometimes a little adjustment can have a big impact on safety and convenience for an older person.

Cater to their youthful attitudes. The over-50 population does not want to be considered old. Offerings that encourage and support an active middle age are likely to be well received by baby boomers. Since most of their basic requirements including a home, car and clothes have been met, the focus moves from things to experiences. There's likely to be a growing interest in travel and recreation tailored to the over-50 crowd, especially among people who are newly retired. People are living longer lives and want to make those years count. Advertisements that ridicule the challenges of aging risk alienating potential older customers.

Services to maintain independence. Living independently is an important ingredient to happy aging. Transportation services that provide efficient and easy access to nearby stores, restaurants and hospitals make daily life smoother. Communities that are senior friendly allow residents to stay in place longer and experience important social interaction with neighbors. Organizations that deliver food and other services to the doorstep of the elderly can help improve their quality of life.

Lifelong learning. Learning is a lifelong undertaking. While younger people may learn faster, learning continues throughout our lives. Aging learners have the freedom to study what they love at a pace they are comfortable with. Learning new things broadens insight and helps keep the mind actively engaged.

Smart technology. Safety and comfort are important considerations as we age. Technology can make it easier to keep people safer. Helpful services range from alert systems to notify first responders of medical emergencies to reminders to take medications. The less complicated to use, the more likely these safety devices are to find broad acceptance.

As the population ages, their needs and wants change. The businesses most tuned in to satisfying the needs of baby boomers will be best positioned to take advantage of the demographic shift in the coming decade.

Dave Bernard is the author of "I Want To Retire! Essential Considerations for the Retiree to Be". Although not yet retired, he focuses on identifying and understanding the essential components of a fulfilling and meaningful retirement. He shares his discoveries and insights on his blog Retirement-Only The Beginning.

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