This week, small business editor Caitlin Sykes talks to business owners about targeting baby boomer consumers.

Jill Alexander is the owner and designer at Nelson-based MADCAT Design Studio, which is home to Alexander's two labels: MADCAT hand-printed skirts and Jill Alexander Vintage-Inspired Bridal Wear.

What proportion of your business comes from the baby boomer market?

A huge amount - I'd say 60 percent. I feel I have a successful business now catering to baby boomers, but the business is not what I expected it would be when I first started. When I set up my business in the early 2000s it had a strong fashion focus; I showed at Fashion Week for three years, had three shops, was selling my designs in 18 other boutiques around New Zealand and also exporting. That was the dream I was following, but it didn't work. I learnt a hell of a lot through that experience, including seeing this need among baby boomers that I feel so strongly now about filling.

How did you identify there was a need in the boomer market for your offering?


I've been taking the business in this direction since around 2011. I did some business courses, which made me think about reworking the business, but it wasn't a case of making a clear decision at a certain point. I just kept thinking, where are my customers coming from? I'd make a skirt, and I'd get 30-year-old school teachers buying it and a few 70-year-olds, but it just became clearer that the majority of my customers were 40 to 60-year-olds.

On the bridal side of my business, I tend to get second-time-around brides, who are in their thirties and older. My brides are interested in fashion, but they're more interested in an enduring style; they're not like the young ones who want the latest film-star look.

What's worked well for you in terms of connecting with boomer consumers?

Most of my customers have either seen my skirts on someone else and that's led them to seek me out, or they've met me at my market stall. I have a stall every Saturday with flash changing rooms, and the service experience I offer is all about the fit. When they try on a skirt I can say 'why don't I just adjust this for you' and then they can pick it up the next day or I can send it to them. It's a very personalised experience, and I then keep their measurements on file so they can come back in a year or two and pick up another skirt in a different textile. I think with this group it's about establishing a relationship of trust, and offering a personal experience.

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What future plans do you have to expand your offering to baby boomers?

A lot of my customers are using Facebook, but they're not reading business content there to the same extent as they'd read in an email newsletter. So periodically I'll email my customers to update them on what I'm doing; say I'm going to be in New Plymouth to be at a craft market - an email lets them know so they can tell their friends in that part of the world. I think growing the way I communicate with them through this channel will help me develop my market further. For example, I want to start making my design runs shorter so I can offer more designs but keep them more limited, and keeping in touch over email will be a great way to keep existing customers updated about that.