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Marketing to Seniors with Style

Gold Violin
2138 Barracks Road
Charlottesville, VA 22903

Seniors as a Stand-Alone Market

"Seniors are now a stand-alone market", says Connie Halquist, CEO of Gold Violin, pointing to the December 2000, cover of Money magazine's Gift Guide 2000. The list includes expected gift headings such as Art, Home, Clothing, Sports, Babies, Books, and Seniors.

Connie's sister and COO Ann Taylor is quick to add, "No one likes the label, 'seniors'. Unlike other companies marketing to seniors, Gold Violin approaches the unique lifestyles of seniors and seeks products that support them with style.

"I created Gold Violin for the heroes in our world<ETH>people like my grandmother who live rich long lives and inspire us with their experience and insights. In our online store and catalog, you will find thoughtfully designed products and services to celebrate the achievements of the heroes in your life, said Hallquist.

"I figured I wasn't the only one frustrated by trying to find special things for older relatives", says Hallquist. "Millions of baby boomers are starved for time, juggling jobs, their own families and aging parents." Although both Hallquist and Taylor joke that they have been accused of "monetarizing guilt", 80% of their sales are not from baby-boomers for their parents, but by both baby boomers and their parents for their own use.

Ann Taylor and Connie Halquist

Ann Taylor and Connie Halquist

Functional products devoid of style need not apply at Gold Violin. "Our products are not just about function", Ann explains. "There are catalogues with a low-end, hard-core medical orientation", says Connie. "I decided to do the exact opposite." In a sense, this is how Gold Violin was created. In 1993, Connie was searching for a gift for her grandmother. "I was tired of predictable gifts like perfume, assorted soaps or another picture of me, she says.

Victorian Walking sticks

Victorian Walking Sticks

Instead, she bought a wooden cane and painted it with her own original design, creating a unique gift her grandmother treasured. "When I gave it to my grandmother, she was thrilled. My stylish walking stick matched her positive outlook on life. Oh, how she would brag to her friends about the thoughtfulness of her granddaughter."

Going Beyond the Competition

With demographics and statistics pointing to a $60 billion senior market, Gold Violin is not the first company to reach out to this market. In 1997-98, Centex Life Solutions, opened three locations near large cities of Washington DC, Chicago and Dallas to introduce the concept of "The Life Improvement Store". Centex Life Solutions stores offered "merchandise and services to enhance peoples' lives and making living at home better", said Mr. Michael Albright, Chairman and chief executive officer of the Dallas based company.

The merchandise ranged from "100 styles of walking shoes to primary-colored mobility products, from allergy-control bedding, to home elevators, from aromatherapy to homeopathic remedies, and fitness equipment to travel accessories."

Although the stores were designed around an upscale "Sharper Image" model, walkers, bath aids, and other assistive technology dominated the overall impression. Life Solutions' approach was unsuccessful, and Centex closed their Life Solutions stores in 1999.

Ann Taylor notes that "brick and mortar" enterprises like these are inherently more expensive than e-commerce retailers like Gold Violin. She also points out that the unique nature of these products also requires more skilled (and more highly paid) retail staff.

Ann also notes that competing only on price with other retailers is difficult. "Gold Violin markets unique, even custom-designed products that are not readily available from other retailers." That their catalog has over 300 products with both style and function may seem both encouraging and surprising. Gold Violin began in March, 2000 as an internet retailer only, then created a mail-order catalogue. A retail storefront may come later.

A Firm Marketing Foundation

Prior to founding Gold Violin, CEO Hallquist spent four years building Prophet Brand Strategy from a six person to a sixty person consulting firm with offices in San Francisco and New York. Prophet's flagship clients included Audi, Discovery Channel, Levi Strauss & Co. and Williams-Sonoma. Before joining Prophet, she lived in the UK and served as a consultant for a leading snack food manufacturer. She has also worked in brand management at Kraft Foods.

Prior to Gold Violin, COO Taylor was Executive Vice President of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation, the private nonprofit organization that owns and operates Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson. Prior to joining Monticello, Ann was Financial Project Manager at James River Corporation. She began her career as a media planner at Ogilvy & Mather Advertising in New York.

Other Gold Violin staff and advisors include marketing professionals with experience at Avon Products, Gardeners Eden, Hold Everything, I. Magnin, Liz Claiborne, Pottery Barn, and Williams-Sonoma. In addition, Dr. Diane Snustad, Director of the Geriatrics Clinic at the University of Virginia, serves as an advisor.

Innovative Product Development

Hallquist and Taylor regularly attend major home and houseware trade shows looking for suitable products. When they discover an unmet product opportunity, they are not hesitant to pursue it. In fact, Gold Violin contracts with some suppliers to customize products for them, such as the common bath seat. Although most of these staple products are sold in white, Gold Violin had them produced in teal and peacock blue.

Hallquist even sought out fashion designer Pauline Trigere to create a designer line of products unique to Gold Violin, including a jacquard walker bag and a red leather pillcase.

Trigere Red European Pillcase

Trigere Red European Pillcase

Trigere, herself 92, epitomizes Gold Violin's "lifestyle" approach: marketing products that support the customer's life without sacrificing style. This approach is evident in catalogue photos showing seniors not as dependents but actively involved in their own lives and those of their families. Many of these are famous photos taken from "Growing Old is Not for Sissies" by Etta Clark.

Seniors are an Internet Market

Gold Violin is riding a wave of seniors and baby boomers who are increasingly using the internet for product purchases. Taylor and Hallquist attribute this to the convenience of online shopping vs. the increasing hassle of retail shopping. Though they are still awaiting their first market analysis data, figures so far are very encouraging: approximately $1.6 million in sales during their first 11 months of operation, with only a 4% return rate, compared to the 10% return rate common to gift markets. In addition to strong sales, Gold Violin gets a steady stream of positive customer feedback through letters and internet feedback sites.

"Senior citizens may comprise less that 10% of the total Internet population, but they're the second fastest growing group online (behind teens), and they've got the money to spend and time in which to spend it." (Adweek, 2000)


Adweek. "Senior Webizens". Adweek, November 27, 2000.

Critchell, S. "Style that Lets Age and Beauty Go Hand in Hand." Los Angeles Times (12/15, 2000).

Oleck, J. "Designing Women, Meet Golden Girls". Business Week (12/25/2000).

Rogers, P.D. "Selling Products for Seniors with a Little Strut". Washington Post (Home Section, p. H1, 6) February 1, 2001.

Vann, K. "New Online Store Sells Gifts Designed for Elderly". Hartford Courant (9/26/2000).

April, 2001

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