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A big box just for the old folks

Kyle James Aug 6, 2007

A big box just for the old folks

Kyle James Aug 6, 2007


Kai Ryssdal: Wal-Mart has found a way into the Indian retail market. Foreign-owned big box stores are generally barred from selling direct to consumers there. Wal-Mart’s signed a deal today setting up a joint venture with a local outfit to take care of that rule.

Not every country has such concerns about warehouse-style retailers. In Germany, there are plenty of big-box stores. Including one geared specifically to the over-60 crowd. Kyle James reports it’s a perfect mix of marketing and demographics.

Kyle James: In a non-descript building about an hour south of Berlin, an audience seated at tables enjoys the last bites of cake, while models backstage adjust their skirts and tie their scarves. The fashion show is about to begin.

Frau Schütz walks out on the runway in a linen jacket and skirt. She’s no Kate Moss — she’s well on the other side of 50. And her figure? Proudly Rubenesque. Her bright skirt is a polyester-blend and the shoes, while fairly stylish, are still on the sensible side.

Frau Schütz: Danke schön.

That’s fine with this crowd, who arrive by coach bus. They’re in their early 60s to mid-80s, and they’ve come to have a look at a store of their own — a big-box shop called the Deliga Senior Store, that caters to their retail needs over 8,000 square feet of floor space.

Christa Putzke heads up the sales team:

Christa Putzke (interpreter): But seniors also want chic and stylish things, but they can’t fit into these super mini, extra extra small things they find in other stores. The whole market needs to adjust to the realities we’re seeing in Germany.

Germany’s future has a definite silver tinge to it with longer life spans and a low birth rate. Right now, about 1 in 5 Germans is over the age of 60. By 2050, that will be 1 in 3. With age come physical changes, which the senior store takes into consideration.

Besides the larger clothing sizes, Velcro fasteners and shoes with non-slip soles, there are no steps here that could be a problem for wheelchairs or walkers. Changing rooms are large with places to sit inside. And there’s a big assortment of non-clothing items as well.

Alarm clocks that talk, magnifying screens for TV sets, canes, telephones with large-size buttons and kitchen utensils with grips easier for arthritic hands to handle.

Matthias Riepen has just come on board as manager:

Matthias Riepen (interpreter): Seniors don’t have to go to different stores to get what they need, it’s all concentrated here. That’s the big advantage and that’s why I think this retail concept will work.

Elisabeth Westfall, who’s 62, is buying a pair of support socks. She can certainly imagine this senior store concept catching on.

Elisabeth Westfall (interpreter): If retail people focus on what customers need. . . . Some people see young people as the future but I think, in the next 20 years, older people are going to have a lot of potential when it comes to buying power.

They’ve already got a fair amount. Estimates vary, but most put it at around $426 billion and going up.

Manager Matthias Riepen is about to take the senior store to the next level. He’s relaunching in September under a new name — the “senior” is going to disappear — and updating the inventory a little. Then he’s embarking on a franchising system, and hopes to have at least three more stores open next year.

Back on the sales floor, the group is making purchases before getting back on the bus. Werner Bernau, 72, watches as his wife pays for two blouses. He liked the store, but was a little lukewarm on the senior citizen fashion show.

It was fine, he says. Of course, it would have been more fun to watch models who were a little thinner, don’t ya think?

In Grossräschen, Germany, I’m Kyle James for Marketplace.

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