September 2, 2006

The boutique generation that refuses to grow up

Posted in Celtic Tiger ·
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This weekend, 35,000 people have flooded into Stradbally for the Electric Picnic, the last, and for many the best, music festival of the summer.

Last year, the festival received rave reviews, the crowd were brilliant and the bands likewise. There was only one arrest.

For someone looking for teenage talent, this was not the place to go. For example, last year, three of the main acts – Kraftwerk, Nick Cave and the Flaming Lips – were all seasoned performers who have been touring and making music since before the Arctic Monkeys were born. Yet the trends at Electric Picnic reflect broader trends in the entertainment industry and in society in general.

The Electric Picnic is billed as a �boutique� festival. This tells you something about the market the organisers are trying to target. With the word �boutique�, they are saying this is special, unique and not mass market.

They are implying that they are aiming at the discerning punter, who has an authentic sense of taste and style (though, letting the likes of me through the gates shows that definition was applied pretty liberally).The organisers are also – crucially – making a statement about the type of people they want to see there and the age profile they expect.

�Boutique� is one of those lifestyle words which have been parachuted into our vocabulary in the past few years. �Boutiquey� people see themselves as somewhat above the riff-raff.

This carry-on can be taken to extremes.

For example, the Kimberly music festival which takes place every July in Norfolk in Britain is so uber-boutique that you have to be invited.

Most other boutique offerings are not that exclusive, but it is not uncommon to hear various �lifestyle� experiences described as boutique.

For example, a boutique hotel is small, intimate and chichi. It�s the cultured punter�s alternative to an upmarket but generic worldwide chain, such as the Four Seasons or Ritz Carlton.

Boutiquey types are also an older age group. Boutique offerings are aimed at 35 and upwards with cash.

In this month�s edition of Image magazine, a section is devoted to �boutique interiors�.

Here again, the editor is tapping into the readers� need to be seen as unique and discerning.

What is going on? Why have we seen a proliferation of boutiquey things in recent years? Is this the future for marketing and retailing?

The main reason is the upward shift in what constitutes adult behaviour and how the middle youth market is spreading.

In Ireland, a combination of better healthcare, more cash and demographics is propelling the middle youth market, where people above 35 refuse to grow up – mainly because they don�t have to.

A great example of this is the difficulty in amateur soccer of getting referees for regular leagues or fathers to train schoolboy teams.

In the past, once an amateur footballer hit his early 30s, he hung up his boots and, if he wanted to keep involved, he either refereed or trained youngsters. Not any more.

One of the fastest growing leagues in Leinster is the over-35s league. Today�s over-35s don�t see themselves as past it. On the contrary, they just graduate, drop a gear and go up a size. As with so many lifestyle trends, sport is usually the leading indicator.

If we think back a generation or two to when my parents� generation were in their late 30s and early 40s, they rarely went out and, if they did, it certainly was not to gigs.

That was for teenagers. All outward appearances suggested that they grew up quickly and, once they were married with kids, they behaved not unlike their own parents.

Possibly they were slightly less stuffy and remote, but they behaved very much in an adult way. They were certainly not swapping iTunes with their teenage children.

There was a generation gap, and it was evident. Today, this generation gap is blurring.

If you look at our demographics, this blurring of the generation gap is likely to get more pronounced in the years ahead.

On average, Ireland�s population is getting gradually older.

Whereas five years ago, the main bulge in the population was in the late teens or early twenties, by 2015, 35 to 45-year-olds will be dominant. These people will graduate from Oxegen to the Electric Picnic and will still behave like they did when they were in their 20s.

If you doubt that, just witness the vast amount of carousing at 40th birthday parties these days, as a bunch of portly accountants pogo around a well-heeled living room with Anarchy in the UK blasting out on their Bose surround-sound system! This carry-on will continue.

The music industry is a good indicator of these demographic shifts. While CD sales are falling in general, the only major growth area is in back catalogues of 1970s and 1980s bands.

Obviously, downloading has an impact on this development, but it also reveals that spending power is firmly in the hands of Led Zeppelin fans.

Looking further into the future, by 2020, improvements in healthcare, drugs and diet mean that there will be close to 200,000 more healthy 60-somethings than there are now. We are already seeing an increased willingness among these people to jack in what they are doing, start again and change their lives.

Of course, the property boom has turned tens of thousands of them into millionaires. They can now trade down from their expensive family homes and be set up financially for the rest of their lives.

Given this profound change in expectations and population, the boom retail areas in the years to come will be the self-indulgent and pampered areas of mind, body and spirit. This is personal DIY for the middle classes.

Just look at the explosion of health food shops, spa treatment centres and self-improvement courses in recent years. No hotel is complete without its seaweed bath.

No grocer can make waves without some class of holistic remedy being flogged alongside the organic carrots.

Likewise, we are seeing the mushrooming of the boutique hotel. These will pop up all over the country, as they have done in Britain over the past ten years. The same people who are now demanding healthy options still want to party.

They are the sort of people who will snort coke but not drink it. However, now they also want luxury. The ravers of 1990 are now the discerning country lounge lizards of 2006.

Expect country bolt-holes for 40-somethings to emerge as a major entertainment trend in the next few years. These folks do not want the �fuddy-duddy� experience of a traditional heavy-draped Irish country house with its stodgy roast beef dinners, heavy claret and retired American chief executives.

They want Cosmos, Sea Breezes, fusion, DJs, private late-night partying – and they want to wake up on Saturday morning knowing that little Saoirse is being looked after in an adjacent soundproofed all-day creche.

If you want to catch a glimpse of Ireland�s retail future, just pop down to Stradbally this morning, stand in the middle of a field and open your eyes.


  1. Billy Ray Mae

    Welcome back David.

    What of the “working classes”? No gourmet hotels for them!

    I think all of this is dependent on the economy being strong.

    Reading “Current public sentiment towards the housing
    market?”, and other threads over at askaboutmoney I think we
    are facing into one of the biggest recessions we’ve ever
    seen. Alot of the property middle class will see their
    wealth vanish, and will more that likely be seen at Lidl or
    Aldi than in a country bolthole.

    One thing for sure the next few years will be very, very
    interesting.
    In fact, the next few weeks will be very interesting – I
    read an article in today’s Indo where estate agents are
    telling their friends to sell. Looks like the ruse it up.

    Property , Immigration and Jobs will be the main themes
    this side of Chirstmas.

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