Small Business editor of the NZ Herald

Small Business: Boomer consumers - Karen Newton, Covertogs

This week, small business editor Caitlin Sykes talks to business owners about targeting baby boomer consumers.
Karen Newton, an owner of Covertogs, pictured with her granddaughter Millie.
Karen Newton, an owner of Covertogs, pictured with her granddaughter Millie.

Karen Newton is an owner of women's swimwear brand Covertogs.

What proportion of your business comes from baby boomer consumers?

Our target market is older women - baby boomers basically - and we estimate about 80 per cent of our customers are aged 50-plus. The business was actually borne from my own need for swimwear that was functional and helped to keep me active, and I didn't think there was anything on the market at all that met my needs. From the outset I've really used myself as a sample of one to guide my thinking for the business, because I think I'm fairly representative of a lot of baby boomers. We also ran some focus groups around the concept before we launched - I was a market researcher in another life - to hone what the actual product would look like, but it also confirmed my belief there weren't enough comfortable and stylish swimwear options for women my age.

Did your research also explore the potential market size for the opportunity?

Not really, although I knew the population is ageing - that there is a baby boomer 'bulge' and that our life expectancy is increasing.

Women and men now spend a long time retired or semi-retired and they want to have a good quality of life as they age. It seemed a bit of a no-brainer to me that baby boomers would want to keep active and out there.

What's worked for you in terms of connecting with your target baby boomer market?

Selling online was a bit of a punt given we're talking to an older demographic.

We know that women have purchased online for some time, but when we started the business three or four years ago I was a bit unsure if older women would want to purchase swimwear this way. What emerged from our focus group research, and from talking with women since starting the business is they actually really like buying swimwear online - obviously given certain returns and refund policies. Trying on swimwear in shops is something women, especially as they get older, don't necessarily enjoy, so they like being able to try it on in the privacy of their own home and where they can check it out with their nearest and dearest.

But we've also found print advertising has been the best media for reaching our target market.

In part that's because it's a new product, where people actually have to see it to gain an understanding of the concept. I've been guided by the kinds of media I engage with, so we've steered away from women's and fashion magazines, and gone for things like travel and food publications, as well as local papers. Rural magazines have also worked well for us, given rural women are very familiar with buying online, and in Australia we've done a bit of advertising in caravan and RV publications.

COMING UP: Blogging is one way some small businesses are building brands and creating a following for their products or services. Why and how have some small business owners started blogging and what benefits are they seeing in their operations? If you've got a story to share, drop me a note: nzhsmallbusiness@gmail.com.

Soliciting feedback from customers and displaying it on our website has also been helpful, because it conveys that sense of trust that people need when buying online, as has having a phone number on our website. Customers know they can ring or email me directly, which has been huge for building confidence and trust.

On the other hand, are there any avenues you've tried for reaching boomer consumers that hasn't worked so well?

We haven't found social media that successful. We ran some campaigns on Facebook in particular, which did generate a lot of traffic to the website, but there was poor conversion. But with these things it's often just a case of trial and error.

What's next in terms of growing the business?

Currently about eight percent of our sales are from Australia even though we have done very little advertising there. So we've identified there's also a real gap in that market. We've bought an Australian covertogs URL, and will increase our advertising in Australia and expand into that market this year.

- NZ Herald

Coming up in Small Business: Blogging is one way some small businesses are building brands and creating a following for their products or services. Why and how have some small business owners started blogging and what benefits are they seeing in their operations? If you’ve got a story to share, drop me a note: nzhsmallbusiness@gmail.com.

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