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American Consumer Project

American Consumer Project: Basha in Lake County, Florida

For the Next Year, Ad Age Is Following 11 Households to Examine Consumer Behavior. Meet Basha, a Preboomer On the Go

By Published on .

Lake County, Florida | Senior Styles | Emptying Nests

In October, Ad Age began a yearlong look at the American Consumer. Working with Esri and the Patchwork Nation, we are tracking 11 households in 11 representative counties to examine the impact of demographic and economic change on consumer behavior. In this piece we introduce one of those households. For more on the project and segments, see http://adage.com/consumer

Credit: David Flaherty

When you think of empty nesters in Florida, you think of folks moving south in search of better weather and golf. Basha defied gravity. She and her husband went north to Lake County. They moved from Miami nearly 15 years ago to be closer to her kids and to pursue an opportunity as her husband "retired" from one job to start another. Although Basha's also "retired," she works part-time doing event planning for a nearby department store.

Lake County, Florida, is what comes to mind when you think "retirement community." Basha lives in one of the two massive senior centers in her town and could drive her golf cart right up to specially designed entrance of the Publix grocery store. She has shopped at the chain all her life but, because she loves her car, has yet to take advantage of this perk. We'll get to her car later.

She doesn't golf, but her husband is on the course once or twice a week. He also plays tennis.

Basha said initially that she wasn't good with technology. Her @aol.com email address lent that claim some credence, as did generalizations about her age. Like 13% of Americans, Basha was born between the golden age of radio and the dawning of network TV.

As an agency strategist once told me, however, there's a difference between "technology" and "connecting with people."

Basha, it turns out, does a lot of connecting via technology. Nearly half of adults in her 65-plus range are online, according to Pew Research. Roughly 4.8% of the women and 4.5% of the men on Facebook are 64 or older. Basha doesn't use the platform to engage with brands or friends but primarily to keep up with what her kids and grandchildren are doing.

She also uses Skype to chat with far-flung family members. She checks her e-mail daily. If there's a bill in her physical mailbox, she pays it immediately online. This process hasn't necessarily come naturally. To paraphrase the strategist, there's a difference between using a technology and being comfortable with it.

Basha speaks the language of someone who doesn't quite grok the whole internet thing.

"I pick up emails and play some games," she said. "I'm on Facebook, but I hardly ever go on it because it's a lot of trouble. But I do have some apps … not "apps" but icons that I use." Basha doesn't like the Facebook messaging function, nor does she understand the difference between Wall posts and direct messages. "Sometimes when you go on Facebook and you send something to one person it goes to a whole bunch of people," she said.

One of the reasons for their move was to be near the kids, and Basha probably wouldn't use Facebook at all if her life and plans hadn't been thrown a few curves.

Soon after the relocation, Basha and her daughter, whose husband had recently died, went to Europe. On the trip, her daughter met a man who became her current husband, and she and her kids now live in England.

In addition, one of Basha's two sons died of complications from a flu shot -- a one in a million occurrence -- shortly after he and his partner had adopted a baby girl.

Her late son's partner, who now lives in South Carolina with her granddaughter, set Basha up with Skype. According to her, when they video chat, "The first thing she says is , "Hello Nana, where's Pop-Pop?"

The only one of Basha's children in Lake County is her surviving son. He's single, almost 40 and owns a comic-book store. Basha slips into stereotypical mother mode. "He has a nice girlfriend; I wish he'd get married already."

RECESSION CENTRAL

A telling sign of the state of the economy is a jobs-creation center in what was clearly a prime location for Circuit City, the bankrupt big-box electronics store. In early July, Lake County's economic development group tweeted tips for developing a social-media plan. It has barely been heard from since.

Two counties in our project are in areas hit hardest by the recession. Clark County, Nevada, and Lake County. Foreclosures and unemployment in the latter are high. The population was about 300,000 in the 2010 Census -- up about 50% from 2000. In the north-central part of the state, near Orlando, Lake County is aptly named.

In the Patchwork Nation, Lake County is an "Emptying Nest," and its dominant Esri Tapestry is "Senior Styles." These areas are predominantly in the South and West, which have warmer climates. They attract aging baby boomers and preboomers, as well as younger and affluent retirees. They have less diversity than the U.S. as a whole, economically and ethnically.

When the housing boom that fueled Lake County's growth collapsed, it took with it entire industries -- construction and the associated services. Although some workers will find jobs building the solar farm being planned, the market won't recover for a long time. The crash has had a mixed impact on many fixed-income households and could be especially painful if they were heavily leveraged.

Basha sees it every day. "All our homes here where we live -- it's like, wow, what happened to our investments?"

The department store where she works has survived by discounting, Basha said. "They have wonderful sales." Vacant storefronts throughout the region tell a different and sad story for the small enterprises that help economies grow. "I think a lot of the little businesses are having a hard time," she said.

Everyone is trying to save more. Basha's trying to cut back where she can and pay down some bills. "When things were good you would spend money, and it's very easy to build up a credit card," she said. She also goes online to trim her spending. She likes Coupon Mom and also gets coupons from local news sites. She tried Groupon but didn't find many deals that resonated with her or her age group. She doesn't eat out much and doesn't have much need for discounts on sky diving or spa treatments.

One thing that 's pretty sacrosanct is cable service, although the bill is kept somewhat in check by the complex Basha lives in. Her home is dominated by sports. Her husband, a former college athletic director who now works at a major sports facility, has a close relationship with the spring training center of a Major League Baseball team. Their 2,000 square-foot home is full of memorabilia, mostly baseball but some football and tennis. They subscribe to all the premium sports packages in their cable service.

Residents of these county types tend to travel more than others, and Basha fits that profile. She and her husband like to go anywhere they can catch a game or sporting event. They also like cruises. Basha enjoys playing the slots while her husband sits outside the casino and reads. Cruises have something for both of them as opposed to a gambling destination. This winter they headed to a number of Caribbean islands. Last year it was Panama.

NOW, ABOUT THAT CAR

A few years ago, Basha took her Chrysler into a new dealership for servicing. The hungry salespeople (or, as she put it, "a nice young man") descended on her, undeterred by claims that she wasn't in the market for a new car. "I've got a beautiful car I want to show you," he said. And she fell in love with the then-newly redesigned Chrysler 300. Thus, someone who has probably never even heard of Eminem bought a car she didn't need.

"It looks like the old gangster cards in the speakeasy movies," Basha said.

She was sold on the comfort, the navigation system and the Bluetooth that lets her talk on her cell hands-free.

When she traded it in for an even newer one it was partly because she loved the reaction she got driving it around town. She had the first Chrysler 300 in the county and people would honk, point and ask her about it at stop lights. And it looks pretty great in the garage next to her husband's red Dodge Charger.

Just because Lake County residents are older doesn't mean they all behave that way as consumers.

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