Nation & World

Retail's new niche: Aging baby boomers

Gillette soon will release a razor for shaving others

Gillette

Gillette is preparing to release the first razor built for caregivers to shave others.
Gillette Gillette is preparing to release the first razor built for caregivers to shave others.

Executives at Gillette have for decades defined shaving as a rite of passage.

The company famously mails out free razors — with “welcome to manhood” cards — to millions of men a year on their 18th birthdays. Its ads focus on the experience passing from father to son — sometimes with the help of famous faces such as quarterbacks Archie and Eli Manning.

But in recent years, executives have begun to see another milestone emerge in their customers’ lives — the moment when sons begin shaving their aging fathers.

“We started seeing it all over social media — men posting about washing, grooming and shaving their fathers,” said Matt Hodgson, a design engineer at Procter & Gamble, which owns Gillette.

“It’s a very difficult and emotional thing to do.”

It turned out there are a number of logistical challenges, too.

Those who are bedridden don’t have easy access to running water to rinse blades or wash off shaving cream. Traditional blades are quick to nick delicate skin.

“We’re specialists in developing razors and yet all the products we could find were for shaving yourself,” Hodgson said. “When you turn the razor outward, it doesn’t work as well anymore. It was clear we needed to create something completely new.”

After three years of observation, design and testing, Gillette is preparing to release the first razor built for caregivers to shave others. The Gillette Treo has an extra-wide handle and comes with a tube of clear gel that eliminates the need for running water or shaving cream.

The brand — which is losing younger customers to online start-ups such as Harry’s — is looking for opportunities to reach the country’s fastest-growing demographic: Americans 65 and older.

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The number of senior citizens in the United States is expected to nearly double by 2050, creating a fast-growing niche for retailers and manufacturers.

Best Buy, which is investing heavily in technology for aging adults, is spending $800 million on GreatCall, the tech company behind the senior-friendly Jitterbug phone, which comes with extra-large buttons and screens, and alerts first responders when there’s an emergency.

That acquisition, scheduled to be finalized this fall, would be the largest in Best Buy’s history.

Other companies are creating hairbrushes and combs with extendible handles, toothbrushes with three-sided heads, and sensor-packed shoes that can detect falls, all aimed at elderly consumers and those who care for them.

“The tide is turning. Retailers are starting to realize there’s a big opportunity here that they’re not paying attention to,” said Georganne Bender, a consultant who helps retailers accommodate aging shoppers.

“For so long everyone’s been focused on the younger customer, but if you look at the stats, baby boomers still control 70 percent of the country’s disposable income.”

Spending by Americans age 50 and up is expected to rise 58 percent to $4.74 trillion in the next 20 years, according to AARP. Spending by 25- to 50-year-olds, by comparison, is expected to grow 24 percent.

At the same time, the number of adults taking care of elderly parents is expected to rise steadily in coming years.

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