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Luxury’s untapped market: the over-50s

Advancing in years no longer means the end of an active, fulfilling life – or indeed the end of your spending, writes Lucia van der Post

Anybody half-alert will have noticed that getting older (for those lucky enough to keep their health and minds intact) isn’t what it used to be. All around us we see a fairly privileged but growing group of so-called ‘silver surfers’ living their post-60 years in ways that would have astonished their predecessors.

For a start, many are much better off (a recent Saga report found that the over-50s now account for 70 per cent of total consumer wealth in the UK, worth £6.2 trillion). They bought houses when they still seemed relatively affordable. Many have regular incomes from companies that had proper pension schemes. They’re living longer, better lives because of medical advances. They’ve listened to the admonitions about nutrition and exercise. Technology is helping, too.

So they go on multiple holidays a year: short breaks, long breaks, you name it, they’re there. They take up new hobbies – they learn to surf, they cycle, they play tennis, they pick up a musical instrument, they go to the theatre and eat out in restaurants. A recent poll for Aldi revealed that 53 per cent of older people aimed to challenge themselves. Some 20 per cent wanted to learn to fly a plane, 14 per cent to learn to scuba-dive, and 9 per cent to try jet-skiing and gliding. They don’t dress as old people used to. They’re just as likely to cruise the sites of Net-a-Porter or Matchesfashion as younger people. And astonishingly, it seems, taking up second careers and starting new businesses is a growing trend among the over-60s.

So why are many businesses and enterprises still obsessed with catering to millennials and ignoring their grandparents, treating old age as if nothing has changed, as if people are content to slip into their elasticated trousers and sit around clapping their hands to mindless music in dingy old people’s homes?

Here is a vast and growing demographic that needs attending to, and that could bring huge financial rewards to those who get there fast. Take Johnny Sandelson, who, with his business partner Karen Mulville, spotted that there was a band of ageing people who were used to eating at the Ivy, going to the theatre, drinking fine wine, reading great books and enjoying great holidays, and who didn’t feel like giving them all up as they got older. Enter Auriens, a highly sophisticated, metropolitan (in Dovehouse Street in Chelsea), glamorous place for the over-65s to live in, which will offer fantastic service coupled (through a collaboration with Draycott Nursing) with an à la carte selection of care. As residents get older, they can opt in for greater levels of care rising up to 24-hour care.

Key to it all is that it will have a great bar, a fabulous restaurant, a spa, a place to gather, where friends can be welcomed, a library, a chauffeur service – in other words, while offering all the security of a care home (all the usual aids will be discreetly deployed) it will seem like the most upmarket and glamorous of hotels.

This doesn’t, of course, come cheap – the price of one of 55 luxury one- and two-bedroom apartments will start at £3 million and there will be management charges – but it seems like a genuine game-changer, and all the signs are that there is a group of pensioners who can’t wait to move in when it opens next year.

Then there is the glamorous, beautifully groomed Tricia Cusden, who is now 70 and has a new and flourishing beauty business called Look Fabulous Forever. She started it after retiring from mainstream work at 65, and its premise was, again, that there was a group of people whose needs had not been understood. She decided to collaborate with a great British laboratory to create a make-up range that provides a ‘one-stop shop’ for older women.

Instead of trumpeting the words ‘anti-ageing’, she went in on a ‘pro-age’ theme, celebrating the fact that today there’s no need to give up on looking glamorous just because the clock is ticking. She saw that if women were offered the right products, they would be even keener to buy than their younger sisters. She rethought every product and had each adapted to suit mature skins (for instance, there’s a lip primer that seals the edges of the lips to stop lipstick bleeding into fine lines around the mouth).

She also grasped the importance of social media, developing more than 70 make-up tutorials, all featuring women over 50 and all of which can be viewed on YouTube, where they have had more than 4 million views. Cusden is building a hugely successful business, and the women who buy her products are forever grateful.

What this shows is that here is a vast, as yet little-explored market. No longer is the tag ‘for the over-50s’ to be dreaded, as conventional marketing wisdom has usually had it – today it could be a sign that here is something more glamorous, more fun, more adventurous, life-enhancing and worth taking a very good look at.

Lucia van der Post is the founding editor of How to Spend It