He is selling back-scrubbers with U-shaped handles that don't put stress on shoulder joints, and two-foot-long tongs to help you pluck items from the floor. Toby Citrin is aiming at the geriatric market.
Many companies are redesigning their products to attract older consumers. And no wonder: About 38% of the U.S. population is older than 50, controlling half, or $100 billion, of the nation's discretionary income. Those numbers will increase during the next few decades because of longer life spans and the aging baby-boomers.
Citrin, the the president of Citrin Corp., of Romulus, Mich., d/b/a Ways & Means, sells 1,000 products through catalogs and drugstores, aiming most of them at the older consumers.A competitor, Mature Marketing Inc., in Southport, Conn., produces coupon packages that target older consumers. It has attracted 34 leading packaged-goods companies as clients in the past three years. "In the beginning, our service was a hard sell," says Helen Tscheulin, Mature Marketing's vice-president of sales and marketing. "Now [potential clients] are calling us."
Many companies still ignore this group of consumers, believing that most older people are either poor or infirm. "Many marketers see [people over 50] as physically feeble, in a rut, or unassertive," says Tscheulin. But she adds that people in this age-group are, in some respects, the most active in the population; for instance, they travel more than younger people because they have more time and money.
Retailers have problems marketing to the elderly without inadvertently insulting them about their age. Citrin has overcome this by displaying cross-generational products, such as bent-handled carving knives, next to large-print cookbooks. He codes products with subtle but informative symbols, such as a single eye to attract people with vision problems or a bent elbow for those who aren't dexterous. Customers can read the cues without feeling singled out for their age. "People don't like to be reminded that they're getting older," says Citrin. "We emphasize 'capability extension' to link older people with younger ones."