Gen Xers an unheralded but important market

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They’re called “middle children” or “baby busters” or “tweeners” or, most commonly, “Gen Xers.” Call them whatever you want — I call Generation X a large group that should be today’s priority sales target for marine dealers.

Just who are the Gen Xers? There are more than 50 million of them, ages 35 to 50, wedged between the baby boomers and millennials. They followed the baby boom that began after World War II and ended about 1965.

For some reason, Gen Xers don’t get the publicity of the other two groups. But as Hugo Scott-Gall, the head of Thematic Research at Goldman Sachs, says: “Gen X is right in the sweet spot for consumption. Economically, they’re very significant.”

Gen X is already responsible for about 30 percent of U.S. spending. Gen Xers are into their peak earnings and consumption years, but they have different spending priorities than the boomers and millennials. Dealers need to recognize what Gen Xers are all about and go after them.

Millennials, who are ages 18 to 35, are now the largest U.S. demographic, at 76 million. They will be prime customers in another decade or so, but not yet for a variety of reasons. In population size the millennials are followed by the boomers, who once numbered 85 million, but now total about 67 million. Still, boomers now hold the greatest wealth of any group, and it’s already starting to pass down to their children, the Gen Xers, and will for many years ahead.

Gen Xers tend to be more ethnically diverse than boomers, and they’re better educated. More than 60 percent of Gen X has attended college. Depending on age, they tend to hold junior partner, senior associate or middle-management posts in business and government.

Unlike boomers, this generation came of age in an era of two-income families and dramatically rising divorce rates, and they grew up in a faltering economy, albeit they would eventually enter the workforce during the healthier economic years of the Clinton administration.

Accordingly, Gen Xers are characteristically individualistic, according to Nancy Dunham, a Gen Xer herself writing for Money Talk News. It may stem from the fact that they typically returned home from school to empty houses while mom and dad were working. They were more likely than boomers to have divorced parents. They relied on themselves to decide what to watch on TV, did the household chores and decided when to do homework.

There are other Gen Xer characteristics worth understanding because recognizing them can be a boost to building a relationship that leads to a boat sale. Among the most applicable is their obsession with social media:

Much has been written about millennials’ social media addiction. But Dunham points to a very relevant study for boat dealers by Nielsen, reported in the New York Times that found it’s Gen Xers who spend more time on social media. On average, Gen Xers spend 6 hours and 58 minutes a week on social media, compared with six hours and 19 minutes by millennials. As an aside, the study also found that adults ages 50 and over spend four hours and nine minutes a week on social media. Therefore, a good social media program can be a powerful way to reach Gen Xers.

Children are very important to Gen Xers. They are often referred to as “security moms” and “committed dads.” It is said that Gen Xers will intervene in matters concerning their children even more than baby boomers, whose hovering often earned them the nickname “helicopter parents.”

Dunham cites a report to the American Association of School Administrators that noted Gen Xers are Web junkies who will send e-mails to school board members, trade advice on blogs and even look up teacher credentials. They will juggle their schedules to monitor their children’s activities in person. They’re speedy multitaskers and will quickly switch their children into or out of any situation according to their assessment of their youngsters’ interests.

Concern for their children, including time spent with them, plays right into boating’s hands. After all, we are a family sport, providing a lifestyle that embraces time together.

So, overall, the often unheralded Gen Xers are 50-million-plus strong; individualistic; do their homework; soak up social media; see their children as priorities; entering their prime earnings years; in line to inherit wealth from their boomer parents; take time to make decisions while continually weighing the pros and cons of buying; and, best of all, will continue to be a prime demographic target for boat sales for at least another two decades, when millennials will begin reaching their best earning years.

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