ADDENDUM, January 2, 2015
Since I have made it part of my business to predict consumer trends, it's gratifying to receive confirmation that I spotted a major Boomer purchasing trend nine years ahead of the rush. Breaking news from Associated Press this week: Boomers+ are purchasing RVs in droves, specifically retro Airstreams. Here's the "breaking news" source: "Flying high: Airstream can't keep up with demand" - http://goo.gl/alerts/S3Zr. Now please read below to see why this trend was inevitable (but not necessarily obvious to Airstream or its competitors).
As an objective observer and writer about the ever-morphing Boomer "zeitgeist" – our unique, collective way of experiencing each lifestage – I sometimes become caught up in that same shared outlook. It’s eerie, actually.
When jogging began to emerge as a fad, I purchased my first pair of Nikes and pounded the pavement. When health food stores sprouted across the land, I started gorging myself on fistfuls of nutriceuticals. When self-directed investing became popular, I accumulated an arcane portfolio of mutual funds.
Leading-Edge Boomers everywhere, it’s time to start your RVs and head out on the highway.
My longest-term friend (notice I didn’t write "oldest," as is colloquially more common) retired from Southwestern Bell in January. In early April, he drove his new-fangled 26-foot mobile home from Kansas to Colorado, and we spent six days parked on my mountain property near Pikes Peak. Perched on Rainbow Ridge, at about 9,600 foot elevation, we immersed ourselves in the RV lifestyle.
This included hauling 20 gallons of water from an artesian well every day, gingerly emptying the grey water tank full of non-conservative quantities of dish and shower water, and making a few non-critical grocery excursions into Cripple Creek, the booming gambling town and nexus of the ‘06 gold rush (2006, that is).
Well, I’ve caught the RV affliction and am now in hot pursuit of my own rolling chateau, which I earnestly hope does not become an albatross, especially since my psychic yearning for road freedom has arrived in tandem with spurious gasoline prices.
What’s the larger point?
RV Industry pundits credit surging recreational vehicle sales to Baby Boomers. The leading-edge members of the generation, born between 1946 and 1955, will all be between 51 and 60 in 2006, a life period most often associated with pricy RV purchases.
Obvious factors contributing to this trend include high disposable income and empty nesting. Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, anxiety about air travel has refocused many toward terrestrial excursions. A $50 million print, radio, TV and Internet ad campaign by the Go RVing Coalition has also raised awareness about RVs.
But there are other forces at work. For one, Boomers have unrequited wanderlust and a yearning for greater freedom. During the late 1960s and 1970s when they were young adults, millions traveled overseas on European excursions. Even more crisscrossed the U.S. on road trips. The mega-successful Boomer movie, Easy Rider, chronicled two drug dealers as they thundered across the southwest on their Harleys in search of America.
Also influencing burgeoning RV sales is the Boomer passion for novel experiences. Like the wandering iconoclast in On the Road, the beat counterculture novel by Jack Kerouac, Boomers have always been experience seekers, and few activities offer more novelty than a wandering, slightly rebellious, loosely scripted RV trip.
Beyond the obvious force of life stage, Boomers are also considering RV purchases to satisfy deeply held "Bipolar Metavalues," as I describe more fully in my book. Some of these values are independence, community, spontaneity, transcendence and engagement.
A footnote: My friend suffers from sleep apnea – AKA loud and bellicose snoring. The condition becomes more prevalent – and potentially life threatening – with aging. The RV batteries did not provide sufficient current to run his snoring mitigation machine, so we used my gasoline-powered generator all night every night to operate his sci-fi device. The generator almost perfectly replicated the sound of a loudly snoring Boomer.