Are you missing out on one of the hottest markets in the U.S.? The number of single people in America is on the rise, and small businesses that recognize the business opportunities this growing group represents could earn lasting loyalty.
The fact is, for the first time since the government started keeping these statistics, more than half of all adult Americans (about 125 million people) are single, according to Small Business Labs (part of Emergent Research). While many are divorced or widowed, the number of U.S. adults who've never married is also at an historic high, the Pew Research Center reports.
What’s behind the numbers?
- U.S. recession. According to a JWT report, the economy has caused many millennials to postpone marriage. More than one-third of never-married 25-to-34-year-olds say “financial security” is a factor in their singlehood.
- Urbanization. It’s easier to be single in a big city, and in many areas, living alone has become the norm, not the exception. In expensive cities, micro-apartments targeting singles are springing up; New York City’s first such complex will open in 2015, and San Jose and Seattle are also experimenting with the concept.
- Peter Pan syndrome. Whether they’re living with their parents because they can’t afford to move out or they want to enjoy self-exploration and the freedom from adult responsibilities, 20-somethings are enjoying an extended adolescence. The average age of a first marriage is now five years older than it was in 1970.
- Female independence. Fewer men are in the labor force or in college, and men’s average wages are declining. At the same time, more women are in college or working, and women’s average earnings rose to 93 percent of men’s in 2012, the Pew Research Center reports. As more and more women surpass men financially and professionally, fewer young women see a need to get married.
- Silver uncouplings. The U.S. divorce rate for people over 50 doubled between 1990 and 2012. As baby boomers stay active longer, they’re more likely to leave miserable marriages once the kids grow up. And many boomer working women are financially free to leave their husbands.
Identifying the Opportunities
So why are singles such a hot market? First, most singles either don’t have kids (if they’re young) or have empty nests (if they’re older). Either way, they’re not saddled with the expenses that come with raising young children. That means they have much more disposable income, plus the time and freedom to spend it the way they please.
Here are a few opportunities singles present:
Home. Bloomberg Businessweek says singles (especially younger ones) are more likely to rent than own homes. But they’re not skimping on furnishing their apartments. Quality furniture that fits in smaller apartments, storage concepts to maximize small spaces or home decor items that are easy to install, remove and take to your next apartment are all hot concepts.
Travel. In 2013, 15 percent of summer travelers in the U.S. planned to fly alone, up from 11 percent in 2011. Offering tours for singles, helping match singles with travel partners or selling singles packages such as girls’ getaways and boys’ bonding trips are potential profit zones.
Food/beverage. More food manufacturers and retailers are offering single-serving or smaller-sized products. Restaurants are moving singles away from the dark corner table and toward communal tables or bar areas where they can chat with other guests.
Pets. JWT says singles are lavishing their love, time and money on pets instead of kids. Ownership of small dogs is rising among women in their 20s and 30s, for example. Just about anything you can sell for kids—from strollers and clothes to day care and health food—you can sell for pets.
Matchmaking. Online dating sites or offline matchmaking services are a growth area for this group. The key is finding a niche. Match.com started OurTime, for singles 50 and up, three years ago after noticing the number of 50-plus clients had nearly doubled since 2005; eHarmony and an AARP dating site are catering to this market as well. But matchmaking isn’t only about dating. Singles, young and old, want to meet new friends for activities, so consider a companionship matchmaking service focused on shared interests.
No matter what you’re selling to singles, keep three marketing musts in mind:
1. Diversify. Singles are young, white urban hipsters, older African-American divorcees and everything in between. Make sure your marketing message and imagery reflect this diversity and/or the specific single niche you're targeting.
2. Celebrate. Forget the spinster image: Today, being single is likely a matter of choice. Create marketing messages that celebrate single status—such as DeBeers’ “Right-Hand Ring” campaign that urges single women to buy diamond rings for themselves. Never make singles feel their status is temporary, less-than or something to hide.
3. Focus on females. With more money, more prospects and a relatively new sense of freedom to do what they want, single women young and old are a more lucrative market than single men. They’re also more likely than men to get friends involved in that spending (girls’ night out, anyone?) and to spread the word about your business.
Next year, the leading age of the “echo boom” will reach the average age of marriage (27 for women, 29 for men). Will this cut back on the single surge? Maybe not: According to Pew Research projections, when today’s young adults reach their mid-40s to mid-50s, a record high share (25 percent) is still likely to have never been married.
So figure out what you can do to attract this growing—and lucrative—market, and you'll see your business grow.
Read more articles on target markets.
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