Plastics, young man! How to use market trends in your quest for the perfect business

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If you have ever seen the classic movie The Graduate starring a fresh-faced Dustin Hoffman, you surely remember the scene where his parent’s friend tells him "Plastics, young man!" imploring him to start his career in the latest booming industry.

I fondly recalled this quote as I eagerly dove into December’s issue of Entrepreneur Magazine, featuring The 2007 Hot List:  Best Businesses, Markets and Trends.

Before looking into some very cool examples of trends, here is a little context:

  • We all know that by the time "hot trends" are published in a mainstream magazine that they are not really "hot trends" anymore.  They were really "hot trends" last year when the lucky rascals featured in the magazine built businesses around them.
  • Any trend is set within an economic and political context.  So if the stock market crashes or a significant terror strike occurs or environmental havoc is wreaked in an area where you are starting a "hot trend" business, everything can change in an instant.
  • As Seth Godin said in this very true post the other day, the best time to start a business was last year.
  • As Guy Kawasaki said in an interview at Startup Nation when asked what business trends were worth examining:

"It’s not like you get up in the morning and say "I want to be an entrepreneur.  Should I make chips, software, a dry cleaner, desks?  That is the wrong order.  The right way is you love dry cleaning or software or chips and because of that love of and knowledge of that industry, you are going to change that industry.  If you want to be an artist, be an artist!  But don’t do it because you read in BusinessWeek that the market for art is getting bigger.  Quite frankly, you might not have the talent."

So the best way to use market trend research in business design is to see it in two parts:

  • Part One:  Do your inner reflection work to figure out the kinds of topics and ideas and people and things that mesmerize, fascinate, light up, wake up and energize your creative soul.  I gave some hints for starting this process here and here.
  • Part Two:  Drink up as much information as you can about what is happening in the market and use these trends as creative springboards to "change the industry," as Guy says, or to capture a market segment that will be perfectly served by you.

I’ll leave Part One for you as homework.  Now let’s dive into some of the trends that I found really interesting:

  1. Green products. (pg. 81) I know, I know, this is nothing new based on all the news coverage lately, but I so distinctly remember being a passionate recycler and tree hugger in college back in 1984 and found that besides my granola head friends with me in Northern California, these ideas were definitely not mainstream. There is an opportunity now like no other … where market conditions, media awareness and political strength are really allied behind being green.  For those of you who have been hiding your leafy nature behind a cube wall all these years, the timing could be great to really move forward some great planet-saving ideas.
  2. Creative funerals. (page 87)  I was both fascinated and creeped out by this trend, explained this way:  "Baby boomers who demand that things be done "their way," coupled with innovative entrepreneurs and a trend toward cremations are shaking life into this lifeless industry.  So bid farewell to the traditional church funeral and say hello to memorial services held on golf courses, ashes scattered by skydiving and remains launched into outer space." 
  3. Social networking. (pg. 85) is an example of something that feels distinctively "non-hot," after reading it about it for so long on everyone’s blog.  An interesting twist was, however  that "smart entrepreneurs will avoid the saturated areas and instead head for niche markets, such as seniors, music fans, groups of local users, pet owners or dating groups.  If you’re planning on catching this blazing bandwagon, now is the time…’Five years from now, we won’t be talking about social networks – it will just be integrated in every application you see.’"
  4. Transition services for seniors. (pg. 87)  With the megatrend of a rapidly graying population, more and more seniors (in the U.S. anyway) are headed out of their large homes and into smaller senior residences.  This transition can be stressful for families who struggle to help elder Mom and Dad manage the emotional trauma of changing homes.  Assisted Moving LLC is an example of a company which addresses this need with the following service:  "…A systematic downsizing plan complete with software showing the dimensions of the new home.  Once the seniors see what will really fit, Assisted Moving helps them decide what to pass on , holds estate sales to sell other items, discards unwanted items and moves what the seniors keep into their new homes." 
  5. Minority kids. (pg. 89) "This segment is hotter than ever now that 45 percent  of U.S. children under age 5 are part of a racial minority – Asian American, black or Hispanic.  Children in these rapidly growing communities will need every sort of product imaginable – and winning their brand loyalty today is critical."  I find this trend personally fascinating since I have such a vast web of diverse friends and relatives.  There are so many ways to approach and segment these markets in interesting ways, and to address problems in culturally appropriate ways.  Mainstream media tends to classify "minority" groups as a big segment … but if you are from a minority background or have spent any time with people who are, you know that any broad sweep category of "Asian" or "Latino" or "Native American" has tremendously complex and nuanced elements to each market.
  6. Employee screening. (91) As an example of making lemonade from lemons, all the fear of drug-crazed employees, terrorism, espionage and theft is making employee screening services extremely popular. I see many ways to turn this industry on its head by both providing excellent screening services and maintaining the esteem and dignity of the screened employees so they don’t feel like they are being questioned under a single hanging light bulb in a dark room with their hands tied behind their back.
  7. Inclusive design. (pg. 90)  I was very interested to read that "fifty million Americans have some sort of physical limitation that makes it hard for them to use tools or function in environments designed for the able-bodied. When they look for products that make their lives easier, they often find that these products are, in a word, hideous."  A sharp entrepreneur capitalized on this with her new company Great Grabz, which manufactures grab bars in stylish materials like brushed nickel to match the house decor.
  8. Expanded living spaces. (pg. 93)  With the slowdown of the housing market (we are really feeling it here in Phoenix), people are looking to redesign their existing spaces instead of adding more square footage.  "Garages are among the spaces getting extreme makeovers to be used for hobbies, parties, wine storage and even cooking."  Wow, that would really piss off my homeowner association, who already glares at us for occasionally parking on the street. (Don’t even get me started on homeowner associations … if anyone can find a business niche to run them out of existence, you have a devoted evangelist here)

These are just a handful of examples of interesting opportunities arising due to social, technological and demographic changes.  I really encourage you to read this article and see how your particular business idea could take advantage of some of these factors.  You can ask yourself:

  1. How might this trend open up a unique and profitable niche that I would be perfectly equipped to serve?
  2. How might I create a joint venture with someone already serving this market segment well?
  3. Is this an area that could be immediately wiped out by an environmental disaster, act of terrorism or economic downturn, or does it seem to be more stable and bulletproof?

My ultimate dream?  That next year, some of you will be featured in the article as shining examples of businesses that took advantage of emerging trends.

8 Responses to “Plastics, young man! How to use market trends in your quest for the perfect business”

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  2. Intrepid says:

    The other way to look at is to just get started. I know a number of entrepreneurs (me included), who just start with some vague idea of a business they want to be in. What then happens is you get closer to the market, you begin to actually observe and experience the trends you’ve only read about so far. Then the truly feasible niches open up, and if you’ve somehow managed to stay afloat, you get the wind in your sails. That’s bootstrapper mode of course 🙂

  3. Fantastic post! Following on from reading about hot trends being reported in the mainstream media – the same goes for investment tips.

    If you read about the latest hot stocks or fabulous investment opportunity in the Sunday paper it means the good money was made long ago.

  4. John Dodds says:

    So that’s where I’ve seen your legs before!

    Very funny grandpa.

    For your information, I was ONE year old in 1967 when the movie was made. So the only leg you would have seen wiggling was a stubby chubby one.

    No “what has changed?” jokes allowed.


  5. Dawn Mular says:

    I really like your blog style AND content! Will be sending others your way for sure!

    Laughing at your link to “Plastics Young Man”.. I draw alot of my business references from favorite movies too. Today I found myself blogging on “Office Space” from 1999.

  6. Kevin says:

    I guess it might help if I left the website.

  7. Kevin says:

    For an example of ‘niche markets’ and niche marketing, check out a group of business owners which is now over 60,000 strong.

    You can build coupons and expand your customer base by blogging, posting pictures and writing newsletters.

    It’s all free and pretty cool.