“What The Bleep Do Boomers Want?”
From Mature Life Styles Magazine Fall 2004 Edition
What the bleep do Boomers want? This question plagues Arizona retirement housing industry professionals as they ponder the diverse nature of this group comprised of over 73 Million people with over 10,000 people reaching age 50 each day. As we prepare to meet the very diverse demands of this “new retirement group” it is fascinating to observe it’s overall complexity compared to the two previous generations. Undoubtedly the “boomers” require more (options) and have the spending power to command it.
Steve Happel, Professor of Economics at the Center for Business Research at Arizona State University defines this generation as being born between the years of 1946-1964. He calls “his” group the “Spend, Spend, Spend” Generation”. We want “personal meaningful experiences, prestige and luxury”. “Baby boomers don’t want to think of themselves as old…they tend to be more mobile and want more options”.
Jackie and Bill Zimprich from Waconia, MN came to Arizona in September 2004 to plan for the beginning of their retirement starting in January 2006. “We decided it was time to start getting serious about finding something. The kids are out and now we want to have fun.” Jackie, born in 1948, recently retired from the insurance industry. She and her husband Bill who will be retiring in a couple of years “want to explore the area” and recently contacted Active Resort Properties, a centralized information source for park model and manufactured housing communities (www.azActiveResorts.com) for help in finding an “Active” community where they could rent some place for a couple of years “to make sure this is where we (they) want to be”. “We don’t want to sit around and watch TV. We want Golf, Hiking, day trips to here and there”… and “planned activities and nice facilities”. They are considering either a manufactured home rental or RV. Gas prices have prevented them from making the decision to purchase a recreational vehicle although they are still considering it just to have the freedom to see various parts of the country. Regardless, they intend to maintain their home in Minnesota.
Morris Farnsworth, general manager of the Silveridge RV Resort in Mesa and a boomer himself, says that their occupancy rates for RV spaces have remained consistent with last year. They have approximately 700 sites and say that most of the reservations are coming from “high end RV owners looking for a nice RV park.” There is more competition in the industry now. Customer service is more important than ever. One way Silveridge has begun to accommodate the boomer’s varied interests is transitioning their “activities department”, which in prior years exclusively planned in-park activities for their residents into a “concierge service” to help their guests plan their own activities and outings on a more personalized basis. Mr. Farnsworth agrees; we need to be flexible, think more out of the box and progress with the demands whatever they may present themselves to be.
Sue Arko, owner of Free Spirit Vacations, has been providing vacations and tours for the 50 plus crowd for the last 20 years. Ms. Arko has also noticed a difference in the behavior of the baby boomer compared to the older adventure seekers to whom she has catered the last two decades. “They seem to be more interested in interacting with locals at the destination than the social activities conducted on the coach”. Previously, she said, the group seemed to “interact more amongst themselves” and now they are more interested in the “diversified experience”. Recently, Ms. Arko has adopted a multiple flavored ice cream theme on their website (www.az50plus.com) which maintains “vanilla to be the standard” but offers “other flavored” tours and vacations to meet the varying interests of their new clientele with a multitude of tastes.
Ron Broman, general sales manager for All Homes Corp., a subsidiary of American Land Corporation also has noticed differences in the buying behavior of baby boomers. Mr. Broman has observed a 70-80 percent increase in “baby boomers” still working who have bought or explored purchasing a manufactured homes in one of their communities. They are “assessing amenities to meet the demands” of the “boomer” like adding more “tennis courts, computer rooms, etc.” He says, “People are more active today no matter what age they are” He knows “people in their 70’s as active as any boomer” he’s ever met.
Mr. Broman states that they are “stocking larger homes with a minimum of 2 Bedrooms plus a den. Everyone needs a computer area.” His company is offering “a lifetime lot rent lease with a fixed dollar amount that will never increase as long as they occupy the home” as a result of concerns in the consumer regarding uncontrolled lot rent increases.
Mr. Broman is also seeing an increase in the amount of people in their mid 50’s- mid 60’s. Mr. Happel, of ASU defines this group as the “Silent”or “SED Generation” or (Sinatra, Elvis and Dean Martin) or those born between years of 1928 and 1945. He says the word that best describes this group is “Planners”. This group had “rising affluence in the 50’s and when asked what their biggest fear was in retirement, they indicated it was becoming dependant on their kids. They gave up “space for security”. They were the ones who spearheaded the park model/RV industry beginning in the early 80’s.
This “SED” Generation along with their predecessors, “The Bob Hope or GI Generation” (born between 1910-1927) became the volunteers and word of mouth advocates of Arizona’s land lease RV/park model and manufactured housing communities aka “trailer parks” (pre-pc) that made this active resort lifestyle so popular, says Kara Holt, President of Active Resort Properties Management Group, LLC, a local marketing and consulting firm, specializing in the Arizona Land Lease Retirement Housing Market. They comprise 80% of our clientele and gave us the sense of community and conformity you can’t find in infrastructure or changing corporate policies. Perhaps there has been less fanfare or publicity about this group due to their lower numbers of only 47 Million (SED) or 52 Million (Bob Hope) comparatively to the boomers. However, this market should be recognized as being the “backbone” of our existing retirement industry says, Mr. Farnsworth, of Silveridge.
Dan and Harriet Senesac of North Mankato, MN recently listed their manufactured home in the Crescent Run Manufactured Housing Community with the state licensed brokerage division of Active Resort Properties, to sell, as they plan there move “back home”. They are also selling their park model in Show Low, AZ, which they kept to “get out of the heat” in the summer. “We just thought we should start planning now since we are on a waiting list for our new Assisted Living Apartment. ‘The good apartments” according to Mr. And Mrs. Senesac, “are full until someone passes away, moves out or they build more.” They have no idea how long it will take before a vacancy comes up so if the properties sell before “we have placement”, they will “rent a regular apartment in Minnesota” until there is a vacancy.
“Dan and Harriett” came to Arizona in 1984 and “started renting” a small trailer in the Tower Point RV Resort for a few years. After they became familiar with the area they purchased a larger park model in the Superstition Sunrise RV Resort where Harriet volunteered as the water exercise instructor and Dan enjoyed lapidary where he made Harriet a “beautiful belt buckle” and they “enjoyed it for many years”. In 1998 they decided they wanted something larger and purchased the manufactured home they are currently selling (view at www.azActiveResorts.com code#CR573ME). Harriet was born in 1930 and Dan just a year older, were both children of families hurt by the Great Depression. “Mother didn’t leave the town she was born in”, said Harriet; “she was a survivor”. When we were planning our retirement, Dan told Harriet, we were set free from the farm and I told her “you won’t have to do that anymore”. The Senesacs attribute their excitement of community socializing to a celebration for so many years of hard work. “We all wanted to celebrate together, that is why we enjoyed all the planned activities” Dan retired from the Continental Can Company where he worked for 39 years starting at the age of 16 while he put himself through college. He came from a very poor family where they didn’t have running water and said he started planning for a different future to be different at a very young age. “Overtime was a gift, we were guaranteed a job” Harriet said that no matter what, the company (Continental Can) always treated them well and even remembered a gift for Christmas for their youngest daughter, Patrice prior to her birth. When Dan retired he was asked what he wanted for his retirement and he requested “some golf clubs and instructions on how to use them”. That’s what Dan got and off to Arizona they did go!
Baby boomers seem to be more autonomous, not so group oriented. They tend to be more private as observed by Mr. Farnsworth as he notices the growing number of privacy sun shades popping up in the community dissuading passers by from “just coming up”. Dan and Harriet’s generation would have flagged you down. Before, the open patio/carport without the Arizona Room gave residents the green light to “join in” if they saw someone sitting on their patio. Baby boomers who do purchase park models almost all request Arizona Rooms, says Holt. “Partly because they want more room but also because the patio parties aren’t so popular anymore”. Park models seem to be the transition phase in the evolution of the “boomer buyer”. It’s an inexpensive way for anyone to live while they decide what they want to do. In most cases, they aren’t buying these with plans of wintering in one place for twenty years.
In many ways the “testing the waters” approach to exploring the Arizona Retirement Lifestyle seems to be as prevalent today as it was twenty years ago. The interests have changed quite a bit but some of the buying behavior remains constant. So as we change to meet the growing demands of a heterogeneous retirement consumer it may be wise to remember what Mr. Farnsworth said, “We try to be different than our parents and we find that we are more similar than we thought.”
Undoubtedly, we can thank the “SED Generation” for proving the ground with grace in overcoming fears of loss and scarcity that were passed down from their parents (Depression Era) generation through correct action, careful planning and faithful warmth.
The greatest gift we can give this generation for their contribution to our retirement industry is gratitude and a little bit of recognition. The buying behavior of Boomers seems to reflect the diversity, which has arisen, in part, as a result of hope for freedom and sense of opportunity for which the prior two generations strived so diligently. So, as we prepare for the “new ones” we shall hold in reverence the pioneers who helped make these new set of challenges possible. And like Jackie, the boomer from Minnesota said; “As long as you keep the snow away, you’ve got us!”