Tom Brokaw was inspired to write his best-selling book, The Greatest Generation, during an assignment in the spring of 1984. He was preparing an NBC documentary about the 40th anniversary of D-Day, the Allied invasion of Europe in World War II. Brokaw wrote this about his visit to the Normandy shore:
"As I walked the beaches with the American veterans who had landed there and now returned for this anniversary, men in their sixties and seventies, and listened to their stories in the cafés and inns, I was deeply moved and profoundly grateful for all they had done. I realized that they had been all around me as I was growing up and I had failed to appreciate what they had been through and what they had accomplished."
Yep. Easy to take the old folks for granted. Once the hair turns white or falls out altogether, other people - younger people - don't pay much attention to The Greatest Generation. Once they were young and brave and saved our country from the Nazis and communism. Bob Bush, 18 years old, received the Congressional Medal of Honor for defending an injured soldier. He administered life-saving plasma while firing into the enemy's ranks. Johnnie Holmes, a soldier in the all-black 761st Tank Battalion, fought racism on both fronts ... Jim Crow laws in the United States and concentration camps in Germany. Also 18 years old, Mary Louise Roberts supported her widowed mother, brother and sister on her $85-a-month nurse's salary after her older brother left to fight in the Great
Now these heroes and heroines - those who survived - are old.
And these folks need a plumber. They don't want voice mail or e-mail; they want you. They want you to talk to them, ask them questions and treat them with respect. They want you to be like the plumber in their old neighborhood - the guy they knew in the service - the guy who could fix anything.
In The Greatest Generation, Ben Bradlee comments:
"They were all named Joe with an unpronounceable last name. They could fix the radar and you couldn't. I learned a tremendous amount about how excellence had nothing to do with class."
The small shop operator has it all over the big shops when it comes to the over-60 market. Seniors don't want to call a big shop and feel like a number. They want you to be their guy. They want someone who is skilled and honest. They want the same person every time they call. They want you.
- Sell them some really nice plumbing: The kids are gone. Work no longer requires a 9 to 5 commitment. Retirees spend more time at home. Why not make it really nice for them? There is something about brand new that makes life a bit more civilized. Brand new faucets work better. A brand new disposal is quieter and makes cleanup easier. A new appliance eliminates worry: "Gosh, I wonder if the old water heater will make it through the endless showers when we have the kids visit this summer."
- Specialize in fully accessible bath and kitchen remodeling: Understand that all of us, at some point in our lives, are dependent on others to care for us. When we are very young, and very old, we need a little help. Sometimes we need a lot of help. Have you ever been seriously injured? Then you appreciate that we are just one moment away from a life-changing disability. Why not create bathrooms and kitchens that are easy to get around in - even if you are in a wheelchair. Offer custom-made showers with wide doors. Skip the threshold to allow wheelchair access to the shower stall. Point out the benefits of no-scald faucets and showerheads. Specify valve handles that are easy to turn off and on. Grab rails are handy. Recommend them wherever appropriate.
- Sell them radiant heat: Life is a gravity sport. After 60-some years, the bones ache and the circulation slows down. Warm floors are really popular with the senior crowd. They are just so darn comfortable! Put in plenty of pipe. Older people get cold easily. Offer thermostats that are easy to read É lighted display with large numbers. Create zoned systems that efficiently heat the rooms that they use the most. Couple the heating system with a high-velocity cooling system. The smaller ducts provide cleaner air. Less dust, less sneezing.
Think they can't afford it? Don't be so quick to judge your retired customers. Have you noticed the Dow Jones marks lately? As I write this, the Dow just went past 11,000. People with investments - your retired customers - are making a lot of money these days. Offer all the options and extras. Let them tell you what they want. Don't decide for them. Men of The Greatest Generation promised their wives that they would surround them in luxury when they finally retired, recompense for their patience throughout the years when they worked 16-hour days, seven days a week. Don't deny them the good life because you don't think they can afford it.
We've all seen the expose news headlines: Little Old Lady Ripped Off By Service Company! I'm not suggesting you ever sell anyone something they don't need or want. Expect to answer a few questions regarding your bid or flat rate price. People who lived through the Depression don't like to waste money. But they will buy when you can demonstrate the value of your products and your integrity.
Why not market directly to The Greatest Generation? Solicit their business, however, ONLY if you are willing to do the following:
- Know exactly what you are doing. No snow jobs. Typically, a member of The Greatest Generation has had to make do É and he is probably pretty handy. He appreciates skilled labor and a good work ethic.
- Wear your uniform proudly. A neat and clean uniform speaks volumes about you, especially to this fellow.
- Let him help. Don't dismiss grandpa to the porch rocker while you make everything all better. Involve him. Show him what you are doing. Explain possible trouble signs and go over a written maintenance checklist. (Hey, I am not quite 40, and I can't remember a thing if it's not written down!)
- Be willing to talk. A retiree can get a bit lonely. Spend time "visiting." It is a lost art, and you just might learn something.
- Speak clearly and adjust volume as needed. It is good manners and helps out folks who don't hear like they used to.
Maybe the best part about marketing to this group is that they appreciate and respect a hard-working businessperson. They like it when you look them in the eye when you shake hands. They want you to be successful and make a good living for your family. They eschew the something-for-nothing mentality of the younger generations; at least that's how they see it sometimes.
Tom Brokaw writes:
"It is a generation that, by and large, made no demands of homage from those who followed and prospered economically, politically and culturally because of its sacrifices. It is a generation of towering achievement and modest demeanor, a legacy of their formative years when they were participants in and witness to sacrifices of the highest order."
As we raise the flag this July, let us remember The Greatest Generation. May they have warm floors and wonderful plumbing fixtures. They deserve 'em.