Old Dogs

Consider these facts: The median age for marriage in the United States is 27. The oldest members of “Generation Y” (also called “Echo Boomers” or “Millennials”) are turning 25 this year. Generation Y numbers 71 million and could reach 100 million over the next decade.

Nina Lawrence, publisher of Bride’s and Modern Bride magazines, presented a seminar on the Echo Boom bridal consumer to attendees at the recent Centurion jewelry show in Tucson. Her publications’ research into the numbers and potential of this market echoed many of the findings presented by industry analyst Ken Gassman at The JCK Show ~ Orlando in 2002, but Lawrence went on to explain the psychographics of the Generation Y shopper.

Learning how to relate to this consumer can give you a big piece of the profit pie. Some points to digest:

  • Generation Y doesn’t like to think of itself as a “group,” but rather as unique individuals.

  • Baby Boomers and preceding generations may think the world is going to hell, but it’s the only world Millennials have known. They’ve never lived without cell phones, computers, ATMs, and AIDS.

  • Their Baby Boomer parents raised them with lots of “stuff.” That’s why they’re born consumers.

  • Millennials are used to good design, which has been available on a mass level over the past 20 years—essentially, all of their lives.

  • They grew up with brands—Kate Spade bags, Prada backpacks, A&F clothes, Tiffany bracelets, Nike Air sneakers—and they’re conditioned to buy brands. (Note: The store can be the brand, too—think Gap—and JCK‘s series on how to build your store as a brand begins on page 82.)

  • They’re conservative. Unlike Gen X, Echo Boomers want a well-paying job, a marriage, and a good relationship with their parents. They’re also less likely to use drugs or resort to violence than their older siblings.

  • They may be more interested in traditional values than their parents or older siblings, but they’ll do it their way—for example, 72% say they plan to get married in a house of worship … but the bride might wear bright pink and have a male attendant. They’re also more globally and multiculturally oriented than their forebears, and they believe love is colorblind. If you aren’t, you’ll need to adjust your attitude: When you serve a biracial couple, you’d better not so much as blink. This generation demands respect, and if they don’t get it, they’ll walk out.

  • Millennials are achievers, competitive, and connected. They have large and close peer groups, so when you serve one, you influence their friends. They’re also wired. If you’re Internet-phobic, get over it, because it will affect your sales. Millennials are on the Internet every day, and that’s where they’ll research jewelry purchases, so if you want to be included you’ll need a presence there.

  • A Millennial woman is strong, sophisticated, in charge. She wants a say in what her ring will look like.

  • This group thinks big, and sales of 1-ct.-plus diamonds since 1996 reflect this trend. In other words, she wants her ring big. (Some things never change.) Millennials will spend more on parts of the wedding that are most important to them, scrimping in other areas to make it possible.

Like their parents, Generation Y will be “a pig in a python,” influencing the marketplace for decades. (But don’t forget the Boomers—right now, they’re in their peak earning years!) So if you feel like the proverbial old dog, consider hiring a few puppies who can connect with their peers.

Here’s to new tricks … and new profits!

hschupak@reedbusiness.com