Big-box stores’ fast fade means opportunity for Mom-and-Pops

In 2012, while analyzing the end of the era of big-box store dominance, Bloomberg News reported: “After 50 years of putting mom and pops out of business, big-box retail is having a mid-life crisis. A slow economy has hurt same-store sales, narrowing margins at big stores. Meanwhile, consumers, armed with price-comparison technology, are visiting more stores seeking deals or exclusive merchandise rather than making one-stop, fill-the-cart excursions.”

The pending doom of big-box chains is old news. But what is under-reported in these forecasts is the opportunity this trend creates for certain types of mom-and-pop, locally-owned businesses, especially those that make or sell local products.

Consider these emerging trend lines:
• Many big boxes are closing their mega stores and moving large chunks of their business online.
• Meanwhile, entrepreneurism is surging among older laid-off workers who are putting their skills and experience to work building local neighbor-to-neighbor businesses.
• And while a majority of consumers are comfortable shopping online, there remains a marketable percentage (under 20 percent in most studies) who haven’t built that comfort zone yet, don’t care for the sight-unseen nature of digital shopping and crave the brick-and-mortar shopping experience — particularly for products that require aesthetic judgment before purchase, such as crafts, art work, furniture accent pieces, certain types of clothing, etc.

The new generation of boomer-run local businesses are deeply connected to their communities’ needs and preferences. They are positioned to directly promote their businesses across critically-important social media platforms targeting the most promising local customers. And that’s a clear edge over the big-box outlets. These types of businesses will be able to fill substantial a portion of the void left behind as big boxers move out.

Casual dining chains in more trouble

Casual dining restaurants like Olive Garden, Applebee’s and Red Lobster, among many others, have been in trouble for years. These chain restaurants, which were thriving more than a decade ago, have suffered from the weak economy that hit the middle class hard and from a lack of innovation in evolving service and product that competes with the new generation of fast “quality” food.

We expect this trend will intensify. As we reported in the Fall 2013 Trends Journal: “While the healthy fast food trend is now fully powered, there is a difference between chains, which add healthier choices that still rely on processed preparation and ingredients, and the upstarts, which emphasize organic and whole foods. The latter players in this market are built on the concept of providing healthy whole foods, while the cheap food giants are looking for easy means to widen their footprint.

That’s why operations like Panera Bread are gaining market share. It is too late for the older casual dining chains to catch up. The new players provide fresh food, with options for customers to customize their meals, in a comfortable environment that gets customers in and out quickly. Some bigger operations will succeed in this arena, but the market is also fertile ground for locally-owned businesses to join the party.

Smart pols use social media to target older voters

As we reported in our Winter 2014 Trends Journal, the 60-plus crowd has turned the digital-age corner. They’re wired and empowered to extend their reach across multiple platforms — particularly in the social media arena.

And as this trend takes hold, we are learning more about the information-gathering and peer-to-peer interactivity preferences of seniors. They tend to be deeply rooted in their communities, engaged in the issues that directly affect their lives and drawn more toward stories and images than to multimedia or advertising content across digital platforms. Candidates for office would be well served to target this group with those preferences in mind.

In fact, we will see this trend in full bloom this fall. The most effective campaign strategies will differ from those perfected in 2012 that focused on a younger demographic. Flurries of quick-hit information bites will be replaced by, or added to, more cross-networking of content that is in longer form, responsive and tailored to senior preferences.

The pot legalization train has left the station

Twenty states and the District of Columbia have already legalized the use of marijuana for either recreational or medical uses, and several other states are moving fast to do the same. There is a potent undercurrent to this trend that will likely accelerate legalization: An increasing number of polls are showing Americans favor legalization, don’t believe the drug is any more dangerous than alcohol and think the state tax revenues that pot sales will generate can help their communities.

Colorado’s early data on tax revenues since it legalized marijuana back that up. And in investment circles, marijuana-based companies — whether pushing medical or recreational usage — are sizzling hot. That means big money is coming into the game. And that means politicians will be easily brought on board and eager to push pro-pot agendas. After all, what’s the risk? Most agree legalization is fine. Doing so brings more revenue to state coffers. And Wall Street interest will back your campaign if you promise to support and promote legalization.

This trend is similar to the traction gay marriage gained in a short period of time. When collective public acceptance moves on an issue in the digital age, we know about it as it happens and change ensues at a much quicker pace. We are at that moment in the debate over whether to legalize marijuana.

How ironic, too, is this development? After decades of ruining millions of lives with oppressive pot laws that disproportionately punished users and sellers, smoking pot is now becoming legal and accepted as an innocuous behavior.

Patient advocacy about to explode

The Affordable Care Act is only the latest driver of mass confusion within the health care industry. Navigating through the maze of rules, regulations and laws is about to get even more complex — if not downright impossible for the common person to handle. Picking and affording the right policy for your age, state of health and location is the easy part. As we age, fighting for needed care becomes more difficult.

We are living longer — and living longer in a time when the medical-insurance landscape is strewn with land mines. Have a parent in a nursing home? Concerned about the quality of care? Trying to get Medicaid and that supplemental skilled care insurer to pay up? If you’re already fighting these battles for  a loved one, you’re receiving on-the-job training. You’re on the way to becoming a family advocate.

Advocates work for hospitals, the government, large medical practices and insurance companies. As the ACA rolls out and states grapple with Medicaid processes, the need for these types of workers will sharply increase. But these risk-management positions, protecting the bottom line for the institutions they serve, will be countered by a growing need for advocates who work on behalf of the patient and his or her family.

There are volunteer groups across the country that provide these services, but there is also acknowledgement that the growing complexity of the laws and the heavyweight advocates insurance companies are hiring to manage risk are becoming too much to handle on a volunteer level.

For those who can afford the service, hiring an advocate that serves the patient’s needs is the best alternative. For retirees with the app
ropriate backgrounds and those willing to retrain themselves, this will soon become a thriving job market.

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