The aging of America has had many impacts, especially on businesses. Local entrepreneurs have had to adapt their products and services to retain and expand their market share as their clients age.

“It’s weird — I think the whole market is changing,” said Johnny Nolan, who owns two popular eateries in Colorado Springs, SouthSide Johnny’s and Johnny’s Navajo Hogan. “We’re seeing gluten-free and smaller portions, but at the same time our older customers are still into comfort food, like our prime rib. That makes things a little easier for us, since we don’t have to hire an $80,000 chef from California to keep our customers.”

At the Hogan, the early crowd on Friday and Saturday nights tends to be older, but becomes more youthful after 9 p.m., when the bands begin. At SouthSide Johnny’s, the 30- and 40-something singles who used to throng the bar after work on Fridays are still there — but now they’re 50- and 60-somethings. That translates into more white wine and light beer and fewer shots and mixed drinks.

Beer and bikes

Nolan is opening another restaurant within a few months, to be located at 815 W. Colorado Ave. The now-vacant two-story brick building on the site was built as a fire station in 1919.

“We’re going to experiment there,” said Nolan. “The ground floor will be more aimed at our older customers — we’ll have comfortable booths and a little calmer atmosphere. Upstairs, we’ll aim at a younger group, with hard seating and a community table.”

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John Crandall started Old Town Bike Shop in 1976, when the first cycling boom put hundreds of thousands of Americans on road bikes and mountain bikes. He still runs the business, but changing demographics have affected its product mix.

“We’ve noticed that our customers are getting older,” said longtime Old Town employee Tim Halfpop. “There are fewer folks under 35, and more over 50. Luckily, the bike industry has responded to these changes. It used to be that if you bought a road bike, it was based on a racing model, with a really long top tube. Now, most manufacturers offer more comfortable bikes that are still fast.

“Our older customers don’t necessarily want the latest, fastest, lightest model — they’ve been there and done that. They want a more upright riding position, a comfortable ride. They’ll give up aerodynamics and a little weight for comfort.”


“Now we use our website, our email market report, Twitter and social media.”

– Tim Leigh

[/pullquote]Know your customers Commercial real estate brokerage, once an entirely local business, has changed drastically in the last two decades — and although the gray tsunami may have affected the business, the Internet has changed it radically.

“I remember when fax machines came out,” said Tim Leigh, who co-founded Hoff & Leigh in 1986. “Bob Hoff and I sat there and concluded that it was a fad, that it would go away soon. We had no clue.”

Modern marketing techniques have also changed everything, allowing the company to both multiply its reach and narrow its focus.

“We used to send out marketing postcards,” said Leigh. “Now we use our website, our email market report, Twitter and social media. It’s very effective — there are web portals that aggregate certain kinds of real estate investments, so if someone is interested in Colorado Springs or similar markets, they’ll know how to contact us.”

Older clients and customers may use email or the telephone, but not younger ones.

“If you call them, they won’t answer — they only respond to texts. They figure that someone who calls must be clueless — screw him!” said Leigh, who was returning a reporter’s phone call. “I’ll give you an example: I’m in my car on my way to meet a client who’s under contract on a $1 million property. I’ve met with him for less than an hour — everything has been done electronically. I have a few questions that we could resolve with texts and emails, but I think he needs to meet his broker.”

What was once a local business has become a national, even a global one.

“I have a client in Russia who’s selling some land in Colorado Springs.” Leigh said. “I know she’s in Russia from the email address, but I don’t know where. She seems really nice — it’s a pleasure to do business with her, but it’s all done electronically. We get at least two or three calls a day from Hawaii, Florida and other states -— people looking for Colorado Springs real estate. It’s globalized for sure, but you still have to have local knowledge — otherwise people won’t deal with you.”

What about demographics? Are the Internet-enabled buyers part of the gray tsunami?

“I have no idea,” said Leigh. “The ones I meet tend to be older, but I never meet many of them. But anyone who’s in commercial real estate is on the Internet and social media, regardless of age.”