A Small-Biz Crystal Ball, Part 2

An emotionally driven economy that has to cater to fickle consumers will favor flexible companies, believes one expert

By Karen E. Klein

Who wouldn't like to gaze into a crystal ball and get an inside line on the future of small business? In answer to a reader's question about trends for the next two decades, Smart Answers gathered some predictions for small business made by futurists who spend considerable time studying history, analyzing trends, reading up on new technology, searching out up-and-coming business opportunities, and advising their clients about the future.

While Part 1 focused largely on such macro areas and influences as the Internet, outsourcing, and manufacturing (see BW Online, 7/12/02, "A Small-Biz Crystal Ball, Part 1"), Part 2 focuses on how consumers' quests for information, health, security, and emotional/spiritual well-being will drive small business in the first two decades of this new century. Predictions are listed below:

Mental/physical health: A heightened concern for personal well-being and an increased focus on mind and body mean that health businesses will continue to thrive, says Edie Weiner, president of New York City-based Weiner, Edrich, Brown, a trend analyst and futurist consulting firm. "The Western model of health, which was to identify and eradicate disease, is fading in favor of an approach that combines mental and physical health and is revolutionizing small and large business," she says. Companies that offer products and services aimed at goals such as stress reduction, genetic engineering, and hormonal therapy are riding that revolution.

Security: Worries about all kinds of security -- from financial to personal to child safety -- will continue to fuel businesses that offer solutions to crime, natural disasters, terrorism, bullying in schools, investing safely, and myriad other related areas. Companies concentrating on alarm systems, after-school child-care centers, private schools, community patrols, and security gates are good bets for the future, Weiner believes.

Customization: Personal service more specifically tailored to the individual will continue to thrive with the demand for in-home chefs, personal trainers, consulting nutritionists, drivers, sports coaches, and other kinds of advisors and experts. Evolving technology will also allow greater personalization in product lines, such as made-to-order blue jeans, T-shirts that promote a particular group or philosophy, even toys that can be designed and made by children using software and the Internet, Weiner believes. "There's room for both small and big players in the market for personalized goods," she says.

Intellect: Rather than concentrating just on education or information, Weiner says that successful companies in the future will combine education, information, and entertainment. "They used to be three separate business areas, but we're so inundated with information already, businesses have to tell consumers not only what they want, but also why, and they also have to do it in an entertaining manner, or else nobody wants it," she says. The principle applies to formal education, retailing, and manufacturing, as well as to services such as adult education, preschool software programs, and Web site content.

Fulfillment: With an economy driven by emotional concerns and a desire for a greater sense of personal well-being, it follows that companies offering religious books and materials, spiritual seminars, retreats, and and are concerned with such issues as the environment and protection of human rights would be successful. "People want to spend their disposable income on something meaningful, whether it's protecting the environment or working for a cause they believe in," Weiner says. "And again, there is room for both big and little players in that sector."

While Weiner believes the economy of the next two decades is likely to be highly emotionally driven, she also believes that consumers will still be fickle, and trends will tend to be short-lived. "A portable, mobile society that's very temporary actually favors small business, because smaller, more nimble companies can compete more effectively in an environment that is moving very fast," she points out.

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