Seeds in a dry pod, tick, tick, tick. Those words, written close to a century ago by poet Edgar Lee Masters, came to mind recently while I was in Masters' home town, Chicago, at an American Housing Conference presentation on the impact baby boomers will have on the housing market. Every eight seconds for the next 20 years, we were told, a baby boomer will turn 60. That's roughly eight people a minute ... 10,800 people a day ... 4 million people a year. Steadily, inexorably, baby boomers are blossoming into a new phase of life. Seeds in a dry pod, tick, tick, tick.
By sheer numbers alone, the 60 million people born between 1945 and 1960 expected to turn 60 over the next 15 years will have a vast and varied effect on our housing. But some boomers are expected to matter more than others. The American Housing Conference (produced by PROSALES' parent company, Hanley Wood, LLC) focused on these “boomfluentials”—homeowners with an annual household income of at least $100,000 who will be among the first in their generation to turn 60.
Statistical research and focus groups by the DYG Group, whose president, Madelyn Hochstein, presented the results at the conference, indicate this group puts high importance on where, and how, it lives. Nearly three out of every five plan to move to a smaller home—though “smaller” still can top 3,500 square feet—that's tricked out with state-of-the-art kitchens (desired by 89% of this group), decks (98%), and a master bedroom suite (91%). They also want room for the grandkids provided the kids don't hang around long; architect Ed Binkley, asked by Hanley Wood to design a model home for a boomfluential couple, envisioned a house in which neither of two guest rooms had closets. And even if they don't move, 66% of boomfluentials plan to do at least minor remodeling on their current house.
According to Vicki Abrahamson, executive vice president of the research group Iconoculture, boomers and everyone else are looking for products that save time and make life easier—stuff like self-cleaning windows, synthetic lawns, and composite decking. Pro dealers should think now about how they can expand their showroom spaces to display the myriad new products that consumers will be requesting.
Of course, not all newly stamped senior citizens will act this way; boomfluentials represent only about 8% of the baby boom population, and financial, health, and family considerations likely will cause the other 92% to make different housing choices. The length and severity of the current housing downturn also no doubt will affect what the first wave of boomers does, particularly if a sharp drop in sale prices leaves this group less able to sell their current homes and move. (See “Shifting Gears” on page 24 for more on this subject.) There are plenty more questions about this group as a whole, and about the economic environment we all face, that need to be confronted if LBM dealers are to fare well in the future.
I can answer one question now, however: Who am I? I'm the new editor of PROSALES, and this marks my first column. I come to the magazine with a 30-year history as a journalist at The Wall Street Journal, McGraw-Hill, United Press International, two major trade associations, and several other newsrooms from Indiana to Italy. Over the years I have covered many of the same issues involving management, supply chains, pricing, regulations, and product innovation that you confront every day. And like you, seeing a customer succeed because of the service I provided is a big reason why I look forward to coming to work each day. I'm eager to help you and your business thrive, so don't hesitate to contact me with a question, comment, or gripe. From that seed of an idea can come something special.