retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

This December is a special one for my family as my father just turned 90. And while that is cause for celebration of longevity, love and, thankfully, relatively good health, it’s also a reminder of something remarkable he achieved.

That accomplishment is this: despite living through the Great Depression, World War 2 and everything that followed, my parents managed to see their children build successful lives. They scrimped and saved to launch us to college education and interesting careers.

What’s more, my mother-in-law turns 95 shortly and could claim very similar successes.

So it was with much sadness that I read about the recent study how the American dream is fading for people younger than my wife, our siblings and me. And given that anything impacting the American population directly impacts your business, it’s a study that needs to be read and considered.

As the New York Times reported this weekend, the notion of an American dream was defined in a 1931 book as “the dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone.” As time went along, that dream was widely defined as seeing one’s children grow up to have a better life - earning more money and enjoying higher living standards - than our parents.

And for many years that’s exactly what happened. As the American economy boomed, especially in the post-war years, the dream became reality. More than 90% of people born in 1940 earned more money (adjusted for inflation) than their parents did at the very same age. The same level of success was achieved by 79% of those born in the 1950, 62% from 1960 and 61% from 1970.

In contrast a child born in 1980 has only a 50% chance of hitting the same mark.

As the Times article pointed out, these findings are “a portrait of an economy that disappoints a huge number of people who have heard that they live in a country where life gets better, only to experience something quite different.” And that disappointment plays out in many aspects of life, including the recent election results.

But the point of this article is not to trigger a political discussion, which seems possible these days on virtually any topic. Rather I think there are important business implications to this.

First off, this disappointment among a large share of the population leads, as the Times article suggested, to growing distrust of many societal pillars including the government, corporations, the news media and even organized religion. That same distrust can manifest itself around your products and stores as, after all, this is the industry most people interact with most frequently. That provides one more compelling reason all companies need to understand how to best communicate with consumers today, whether through social media or in store connections.

Trust needs to be built and reinforced constantly.

But second, these findings also offer a sobering look at where the future might take us if the generations now starting to dominate the marketplace have lower expectations and resources than those before. Such an outlook might vastly change what shoppers do and don’t value and what kinds or products or services they see as enhancements or simply unattainable.

The challenge for the future may be determining where dreams end and realities begin and how to best serve both.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available on Amazon by clicking here. And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon by clicking here.
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