Where Are Your Customers? Use This Info to Find Them

Americans value rugged individualism.

We pride ourselves on being free to do and say whatever we want. But despite this free spirit, we are all members of a social species that has deep-rooted tendencies toward predictable behavior.

In fact, research published in the journal Science found that human behavior is 93 percent predictable. How’s that for rugged individualism? The question isn’t one of free will, however. While we may choose unique paths for ourselves, many of us tend to follow similar patterns throughout our lives—from the rebellious teen years to midlife crisis. And while not a single member of any generation is exactly the same, each has been shaped in some way by shared experiences—for baby boomers, it might’ve been the Vietnam War; for millennials, the rise of the Internet during very formative years.

Although there is no one-size-fits-all business plan, marketing toward certain clientele demographics is a worthwhile practice for business owners. Predictability helps determine what your customer will want or need. So that’s why we tracked various age groups to find where they are clustered across the country and identified some ways you might cater to these unique demographics.

Teenage Dream

OMG at the disposable income in Weston, Fla.
Population: 65,672
Median Household Income: $93,074

This planned community was incorporated in 1996, and its population is just as youthful. Weston and similarly cookie-cutter towns often boast a large concentration of teens and preteens.

While most of these kids aren’t likely to have their own cash, they are highly materialistic and hardly afraid to pester their parents into buying them what they want. In fact, researchers warn of an increasing influence of materialism and consumer culture among tweens, creating what they call a “hostile takeover of childhood.” A 1999 survey of American parents bears this out; 63 percent believe their children define their self-worth by what they own.

While this age group may know what is considered cool, it’s a bit harder for adults to catch on to their trends because they don’t consume the same media—teens don’t watch as much television as adults, and of course you can forget about catching one of them with a newspaper. Anyone interested in understanding what today’s kids are into should prepare to spend time sifting through YouTube videos, Instagram and Snapchat. And you can bet they’ll be dropping most of Mom and Dad’s money on clothing and accessories, snacks and tech toys.

Like, check out these other, like, communities:

Sandy, Utah
Fishers, Ind.
Murrieta, Calif.
Cicero, Ill.
Atascocita, Texas

Millennial Mecca

Bloomington, Ind., is a hotbed for generation now.
Population: 80,405
Median Household Income: $27,395

What do you think of when you hear the word hipster? Does it conjure up an image of a skinny-jeans-wearing, bearded 20-something, drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon and riding a bike to the coffee shop?

That word paints a vivid picture of many millennials who, according to The Hipster Handbook by Brooklyn author Robert Lanham, walk “among the masses in daily life but… shun or reduce to kitsch anything held dear by the mainstream.” These digital natives (they are the first generation that didn’t need to adapt to new technologies) celebrate their geekdom and their uniqueness, and they are acutely aware of what is considered cool. Retro items like Converse sneakers and thick-framed glasses might make the cut, but that doesn’t mean you can peddle nostalgia indiscriminately. In fact, as soon as you try and peg something cool, the millennial is liable to reject it because she sees herself as a change-maker, not a follower of trends.

Bloomington is the perfect spot for the authentic life so many millennials are seeking. A college town, Bloomington has its fair share of 20-somethings still hanging around (the median age is 23), which means it’s a great place for any number of earthy small businesses, from vegan bakeries and food trucks serving homemade ice cream to boutiques pushing one-of-a-kind clothing and handmade goods. Plenty of biking (Indiana University’s Little 500 is the largest collegiate bicycle race in the U.S.) and the country’s only Tibetan cultural center are just some of the offerings that keep millennials happy in B-town.

Try not to try so hard in similar cities, such as:

Gainesville, Fla.
Jacksonville, N.C.
College Station, Texas
Ann Arbor, Mich.
Tempe, Ariz.

Exponential Potential

Gen-Xers mark their spot in Alexandria, Va.
Population: 139,966
Median Household Income: $85,706

Nestled on the outskirts of our nation’s capital and with a median age of 35.7, Alexandria attracts 30- and 40-somethings who are career-minded, family-focused or both.

Close to a big city but far from the congestion and chaos, Alexandria residents can work in Washington and then come home to safe neighborhoods. Members of Generation X tend to be savvy, skeptical and self-reliant. They aren’t concerned with what others think of them, so they aren’t that interested in trends. But even though alternative ideas have defined their behavior and thinking since their teenage years, these people are now squarely in the middle of their adult lives and likely beset with responsibilities—they’re advancing in their careers as they juggle hectic schedules for their kids. They’re starting to see themselves growing older, and they’re settling down more and more.

Expect Gen-Xers to seek simple pleasures such as walkability, decent schools for their kids and steady employment opportunities, all of which Alexandria offers. It, and communities like it, make great sense for child care businesses, concierge-style services for busy professionals, and bars and restaurants.

Play Nirvana for your customers here:

Frisco, Texas
Redondo Beach, Calif.
Sunnyvale, Calif.
Arlington, Va.

Boomtown

Suburban Centennial, Colo., is bursting with baby boomers.
Population: 103,743
Median Household Income: $89,214

Located just a few miles from Denver, Centennial boasts a highly educated population—81 percent of residents are college grads. Baby boomers, like the many living in the comfy suburbia that is Centennial, are in a state of transition as they leave behind careers and head into retirement.

In fact, over the next 15 years, 8,000 boomers will turn 65 every day, creating a mass exodus from the workforce. Leisure-focused businesses should see an uptick among new retirees, but it’s not all play. These boomers are also saddled with providing care for their aging parents, with roughly 10 million adult children acting as caregivers. So people in this generation need to focus on maintaining their health to keep up with big tasks that lie ahead. Centennial’s commitment to healthy living with programs such as LiveWell Colorado and Kaiser Permanente’s Weigh and Win are a step toward preparing this aging population for a long retirement.

Did we mention that these former flower children now have access to legal marijuana?

Make money, not war, in these comparable communities:

Troy, Mich.
Warwick, R.I.
Largo, Fla.
Skokie, Ill.
Carlsbad, Calif.

Golden Years Gold Mine

Retirees clustering in Walnut Creek, Calif.
Population: 65,684
Median Household Income: $81,593

Don’t call today’s retirees old. Modern 65-and-overs have a different view of aging. According to some authors who have studied the demographic, these folks are embracing what they call positive aging, and research from the Oregon State University College of Business shows many don’t consider themselves elderly.

In fact, Internet use among the 65-plus crowd has jumped 31 percent compared to a decade ago, according to the 2010 U.S. Census. Members of this generation are far different from their parents, many of whom despised change and were apt to cling to the familiar rather than try something new. Today’s retirees would actually prefer to buy movie tickets from their iPhone than ask for a senior discount at the ticket booth because they are reluctant to adopt the senior citizen label.

Walnut Creek is an easy place to settle down for a positive-ager. Nestled in the San Francisco Bay area, it provides temperate weather and beautiful surroundings, which may explain why nearly 10,000 people (almost 15 percent of the city’s population) inhabit the Rossmoor Retirement Community. Walnut Creek has a low unemployment rate of 3.8 percent (compare that to the national unemployment rate near 6 percent) because these retirees aren’t looking for work—they are content to spend their days in the sunshine on the golf course. Businesses catering to active lifestyles are particularly good fits, as are upscale dining options, but techy shops shouldn’t rule out retiree-heavy areas.

Don’t forget to plan an early-bird special here, either:

Palm Coast, Fla.
Boynton Beach, Fla.
Deerfield Beach, Fla.
Largo, Fla.
Scottsdale, Ariz.

What’s the best city for your business? Check out 11 more important points—besides customer base—to consider when you're ready to set up shop.

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Sara Vigneri

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