An almost unnoticed population trend occurring in the United States during the 1970s and 1980s was the growth of small towns and rural areas. In fact, public opinion polls have shown that 40 percent of the American people who live in big cities say they would prefer to live in a smaller town. More than half of them would still want to move even if it costs them 10 percent of their income.
Smaller cities in non-metropolitan areas are as influential in their regions as metropolitan areas are on a bigger scale. There are 219 micropolitan areas (generally a single county with a population of at least 15,000). These small cities contain over 15 million people, or 6 percent of America’s population. Twenty states have over 10 percent of their population in such areas. Over half of the micropolitan areas are within 50 miles of the center of a metropolitan area. Eighty three micros (38 percent) grew faster than the nation as whole between 1980 and 1986.
Why the growth in small towns? Authorities include the following among the major reasons: (1) a stabilizing farm population, (2) industrial migration to rural areas, and (3) a desire by some for a simpler, safer living environment. Marketers should continue to be aware of this migration pattern and understand the implications it may have for marketing programs. For example, to reach consumers in less populated areas, major chain retailers such as Kmart, Sears, Wal-Mart and JC Penney are opening approximately 50 percent of their new stores in small towns of 8,000 to 20,000 population outside metropolitan areas. These stores are typically in the 30,000 – 40,000 square foot category rather than the 60,000– 90,000 square foot variety found in big cities. The rationale for this move is that metropolitan centers are saturated with large retail stores, which contributes to slow sales growth for these companies.
Geographic Mobility of the US Population:
Another characteristic of our population and one that is potentially useful segmentation dimension is geographic mobility. The average American will move at least eleven times in his lifetime, compared to, for example, five times for the average Japanese. Counting those Americans who move more than once in a year leads to an, average of twenty nine moves. About 17 percent of the US population moves annually, down from the all time high of 21 percent from 1960 to 1961. During a recent year, 39 million Americans changed their place of residence at least once. Of those who moved, 24 million moved within the same county, 8 million moved to a different county in the same state, 6 million moved to a different state, and 1 million moved from abroad. Such movement adds up to significant shift in our demographic geography.
People move for the following reasons: a job change, 23 percent; a job transfer, ,20 percent; a larger residence, 13 percent; a better location, 11 percent; to own a home, 10 percent; to be closer to relatives, 5 percent; for retirement, 3 percent; for health, 2 percent. Mobility varies from region to region. For example, the northeast has had about one half the percentage of its families moving as has the west. There are indications, however, that the game of musical houses is, slowing down in the United States, particularly because of recent increases in energy and housing costs.
In spite of the decreases in mobility in the United States, those who do continue to move are seen as a very attractive segment to be cultivated by many marketers because they generally have more income and live in costlier homes. Studies of mobile consumers have demonstrated that people varying in degree of mobility constitute distinct market segment.
The mobile segment has been found to be a potentially superior market for such products as furniture, clothing, drapes, slipcovers, other dry goods, and consumer durables such as automobiles and appliances. Once relocated, mobiles must rebuild shopping patterns in their new community. They learn about new supplier primarily from talking with friends, neighbors, and co-workers. However, mass media sources such as newspapers and the yellow pages are also important, as is personal observation while driving around. Mobiles tend to rebuild shopping patterns rapidly, in part because of holding charge accounts with national retailers which allow them to transfer their store and brand loyalty to the new community.