Every day, about 10,000 baby boomers in the United States retire. Every day, a significant number of them choose to spend their retirement years getting in shape, traveling and exploring the outdoors.
The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) reports that baby boomers born between 1945 and 1965 are projected to take an average of five or more leisure trips in 2017, and plenty will do something fairly active.
According to the Adventure Travel Trade Association, tour operators worldwide report that as many as 50 percent of their customers are baby boomers.
For the outdoor industry, U.S. boomers represent a powerful pool of potential customers. They command 70 percent of the country’s disposable income, and by the middle of this century, their numbers will double to represent 20 percent of the population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. According to the Outdoor Industry Association, this market makes up 36 percent of the industry’s consumer base.
Despite Boomers' spending power, panel discussions at Outdoor Retailer and other trade shows focus on marketing to millennials — the industry buzzword — few advertisements and marketing campaigns feature older Americans hiking, climbing or paddling.
It's clearly important to grow the next generation of outdoor enthusiasts. But while the industry as a whole seems to forget about boomers, some manufacturers and retailers are profiting by offering this audience the products and services they prefer. Successful stores are not only carrying apparel brands that boomers seek, they also support recreation clubs that draw older outdoor enthusiasts. In addition, outdoor businesses are focusing more on market sectors that appeal to older Americans, such as adventure travel and certain types of cycling.
"We have a strong baby boomer clientele," said Dana Davis, owner of Summit Hut in Tucson, Arizona. “I know a lot of stores talk a lot about millennials, but a really large group for us is boomers.”
Young at Heart
If you want to engage this dynamic group, avoid using the word "old." They don't think of themselves as old, but rather full of ideas and experience.
This is especially true when they’re shopping for clothes.
"Boomers want apparel that performs well and holds up well, but offers a younger look."
Adventure 16 in southern California sees the same trend. "People in their fifties and sixties don’t mind dressing a little younger," says Adventure 16 Owner John Mead, adding that Kühl has done an excellent job appealing to these consumers.
Even though some outdoor companies do a good job serving boomers, Davis wishes more brands would adjust their sizing to suit more body types, especially with women’s outerwear.
Boomers Love Bicycling
While boomers are young at heart, their bodies can’t stop the march of time, and they face physical challenges, from expanding waistlines to creaky knees. Whether they’re shopping or choosing activities to stay fit, they focus on being comfortable—and many find that riding a bike is one of the easiest, safest and best ways to enjoy the outdoors.
A growing number of boomers have even purchased electric bikes, which use battery-powered motors to provide mechanical assistance when a rider cranks the pedals — making it much easier to handle. Last year, more than 152,000 electric bikes were sold in North America. Based in Southern California, Pedego Electric Bikes targets boomers with electric Comfort Cruisers that actually mimic bikes from the 1950s. Whether you have arthritis or you have weak knees or hips, electric bikes make it easier to ride up hills and through headwinds.
While more boomers have purchased electric bikes, they’ve also turned to recumbent bikes, which have wide, comfortable seats.
"For many years, we were the bastard child in the bike industry, and dealers didn’t want to deal with recumbents," says Jeff Yonker, marketing director for TerraTrike. But the bike market has been in a slump, and retailers are boosting sales by serving this growing “comfort cycling” market.
For the past decade, TerraTrike’s sales have grown steadily, often 35 to 40 percent per year, and the company just marked its best quarter, said Don DiCostanzo, founder of Pedego.
Bringing Boomers Together
While TerraTrike promotes bikes through traditional public relations and advertising, the company relies greatly on word of mouth. Through social media and website forums, the company connects people with "trike groups" that host rides.
"Trike groups are all about getting people together," says Yonker, noting that boomers prefer to recreate in social groups.
With its dry, warm climate, Tucson, Arizona, has several recreation clubs comprised primarily of retirees. "I’ve hiked with some of the groups, and it’s pretty spectacular how many miles they cover," said Davis.
Throughout the year, Summit Hut hosts club gatherings where attendees enjoy a spread of wine and cheese, shop after the store is closed and receive special discounts. Having served retirees for decades, the store has a reputation for catering to boomers.
Adventure Travel Boom
As aging Americans take up hiking and cycling, they’re also packing their bags for far-flung adventures.
In Southern California, Adventure 16 caters to boomers by offering a large selection of adventure travel gear. "They’ve worked and saved, and they have the disposable income for travel," says Mead.
In 2016, the four Adventure 16 stores in Southern California hosted 140 in-store programs, including adventure travel clinics and presentations that drew large numbers of boomers.
With Adventure 16 customers, African safaris are extremely popular, so Mead carries durable, functional apparel from ExOfficio and Royal Robbins, as well as versatile bags from Eagle Creek.
In recent years, adventure travel has become so profitable that Mead actually changed the name of his Solana Beach store to include the words "Outdoor Clothing & Travel" and tailored the product mix for globetrotters.
Still, the outdoor industry as a whole generally overlooks the adventure travel category, said Shannon Stowell, president of the Adventure Travel Trade Association. As a result, outdoor companies fail to connect with many baby boomers who want to do adventurous trips.
According to Morgan Stanley, spending by Americans over 50 is projected to increase by 58 percent over the next two decades, so it would seem wise to focus more attention on boomers.
"They are the dominant consumer of our age," says Drew Simmons, outdoor industry PR veteran and owner of Pale Morning Media. “They are moving the needle everywhere we go.”
Originally written by RootsRated Media.