Thursday 24 August 2017

Millenials: the cause of all our woes?

Yesterday's Independent ran an article entitled: 'Psychologically scarred' millennials are killing countless industries. This in turn was based on Business Insider UK's item. While there is some truth within this article, it is basically a load of codswallop trying to apportion blame to the so-called Millenials.
[Image description: screen-shot of the web-page article in the Indy ©]
The writer points to nineteen areas in the US where Millenials are apparently to blame for the demise or destruction of one industry or another. It is gross hyperbole. I am going to take a look at fifteen of the areas from a UK perspective.

Restaurant chains: I reside in a town where the town-centre Pizza Hut and McDonald's closed down years ago, to be re-sited on a retail park on the edge of town. Whilst Altrincham does have some chain restaurants, such as the recently opened Nando's, there are far more independent eateries, especially in our revamped market-hall.
I am middle-class and middle-aged: we despise many of the chains for the way they treat workers and fail to pay their fair share of taxes. Loch Fyne failed to treat their employees fairly and was punished by diners boycotting some of their restaurants. Smaller companies find it much harder to avoid paying taxes and additionally have to compete for the best staff, so wages and terms tend to be better than the zero-hour contracts pushed by the mega-chains.
(The exception here would be Starbucks and the other major coffee-chains, which seem to be an addiction for everyone, including the propensity by nigh on all users not taking in their own beakers but instead using the non-recyclable one-use cups.)
The other advantages to boutique restaurants are: range of dishes available; individualisation of dishes; seasonality; quality; and, service. Small chains such as Carluccio's and Côte Brasserie seem to survive and prosper because they behave much like independents.

Beer: Whilst the internationals & nationals may be registering drops in sales & consumption, there seems to be nary a town these days that does not have at least one micro-brewery pub. Real ales are popular because they use traditional ingredients and as few as are essential to creating a great tasting ale. Who wants mass-produced chemical concoctions, when a natural brew can be had.
Traditional pubs may be dying - partly their own fault for failing to reach out to their communities via advertising or for example not staging community events to draw in folk. The corollary are speciality bars. In Altrincham inter alia we have Riddles which specialises in cocktails in the setting of a jazz-era speak-easy and two specialist European beer bars. Young folk mix with older generations.
Many bars in my town now offer live music, which has been a godsend to the industry and this August bank holiday weekend will celebrate its annual festival attracting hundreds of extra pleasure-seekers. A diverse music scene has led to audiences across the age spectrum coming into the town-centre to enjoy the 'free' entertainment.
Another benefit to this mixing of the generations is a reduction in weekend drunken violence which for a while blighted the town, especially at weekends. Of course there is still trouble, but not to the same extent. If one might bump into one's parents, grandparents, etc., one tends to not want to be caught making a fool of oneself!

Napkins: Paper-napkins are extortionately priced for what they are, so Millenials are not the only ones spurning them for kitchen-towel. These days the latter products have become much better quality and are really good at soaking up spillages. Additionally one can purchase plain or patterned varieties, which look the part of a napkin. Whereas paper-napkins, if they become too wet, leak colour and stain. Kitchen-towel is to all intents & purposes designed for several usages, if not uses for the more expensive versions!
I have to admit that we have a drawer full of linen napkins, which get used whenever we have guests round, except when its a curry - this is one of the few occasions for which we pay for paper-napkins. After all, curry stains never come out!

Cereal: Once again, I know of several of my peers who prefer to have a breakfast bar or biscuit on the go or at work. I have one friend who gets early to work to avoid the rush-hour traffic and then fills her time prior to her official start-time by making and enjoying some toast with her fresh coffee. Porridge-pots (made with oats - which as far as I know is a cereal) have taken off as they can be quickly prepared and the paper carton disposed of without feeling too guilty. So perhaps folk are trying to avoid the gluten-rich wheat varieties?
One of the big issues with cereals is the amount of sugar added to give them a cheap flavour rather than using more expensive natural flavourings like vanilla extract or cocoa.
Another is the increased awareness of gluten-intolerance. I myself suffer terribly from IBS whenever I eat mass-produced bread and rarely from artisan sourdoughs. I have discussed this with relatives, friends and neighbours and across the board others seem similarly effected.
I have to say that the big food brands took the middle-classes for granted for far too long. My town is a mainly wealthy suburb. Our ALDI's car-park though is often filled with recent Beamers, Audis, Volvos and other expensive cars. Whilst I am not a fan of all of ALDI's products, their cereals are way cheaper than the main supermarkets and taste, in some instances, better than top-branded versions. It would be interesting to see whether it is simply the international cereal brands that are finding reduced sales & consumption or whether the small operators like ALDI and LiDL are likewise seeing such falls. Additionally, I wonder whether organic sales are up or down?
Golf: I am no fan of the sport, especially when areas of historical or scientific significance are destroyed to make way for the courses. The water-consumption to keep the greens up to scratch is immense and a waste of valuable resources, especially in areas where there is a need from farms, the local population or to preserve the local environment.
Furthermore, from the individual competitor's perspective, it is an extremely expensive sport to pursue: equipment; clothing; membership fees; course/ground fees; lessons; practice (practise) fees; and so on.
Whilst the sport is gradually changing, it is still considered sexist, at least on this side of the Pond. As I understand it, Millenials are averse to supporting such attitudes.
Whilst I did try golf prior to becoming disabled, I much preferred to simply go off for a walk and take in my surroundings. Even better if done with chums.

Motorcycles: Back in the late 1980s, early 1990s I loved sitting behind a friend on their motorbike motoring down the empty motorways around Greater Manchester. Nowadays there is a heck of a lot more traffic on the roads and motorways. With the increase in volume has been a concurrent increase in road-rage. Everyone is tired and weary from struggling to make ends meet during this extended period of austerity. The landscape is ripe for accidents. Statistically, riding a motorcycle is the most dangerous form of transport.
Motorcycles are costly, plus all the safety clothing and crippling insurance premiums. Perhaps the blame ought to be laid at the feet of the manufacturers and insurance companies?
Whilst my disability now precludes my mounting a bike, were I able I certainly would not countenance doing so here in England. Spain, on the other hand, between cities has open and quiet motorways - I might have been tempted there.

Home-ownership: Again this issue is not just an issue for Millenials, the vast majority of folk are now priced out of owning their own home in England. Due to the lack of housing supply, house prices inexorably rise further and further out of the reach of the many, especially as salaries have stagnated or, worse, dropped.
Not being able to afford a house in the community in which one grew up is not new. In the 1980s I moved to Sale, one sibling to Salford and the other to Northwich as none of us could afford properties in our home-town of Altrincham. What is new is that this is the current situation for nigh on all folk in the vast majority of English wards. No wonder bitterness & resentment are growing.
I was in some ways fortunate when I purchased my first home in the 1980s. I was able to document and prove that what I would need to pay in monthly mortgage costs was less than what I was paying in rent plus what I was saving each month. The mortgage agent was impressed that I had accounted for my income & outgoings and demonstrated that I contractually expected my salary to increase over the forthcoming few years. I was granted a one-hundred-percent mortgage. I do not think that such are even available now, which is a shame.
In a town like Inverness, in the Highlands of Scotland, rents are now actually higher than the costs of paying a mortgage on a small home: but laws and financial rules will not permit any flexibility - like that which I was shown. This is a scandal of the financial institutions, the housing industry and the politicos making. Time they sorted out the situation to the benefit of citizens and not big business.

Yoghourt: Well, more precisely low-fat yoghurt. Well, given what we as consumers now know about the lies of the health-benefits of low-fat diëts, this can hardly be a surprise. Recall that Sweden now recommends a diet high in dairy fats but low in carbohydrates, the opposite to what we Brits have been told for the last couple of decades or so.
Add to this the fact that the big companies (just like the cereal manufacturers) added large quantities of sugar to add cheap flavour, rather than more expensive - thus less profitable - fruits or natural flavourings. No wonder sales have plummeted.
Again, though, is it only Millenials who have changed their preferences and thus diëts? I doubt it very much. I also have switched to full-fat Greek yogurts as they are tastier, creamier and more satisfying.
I am old enough to recall the Ski yogourts from the 1970s, wishy-washy and watery. In the 1980s an aubergine was considered exotic, now it is a common-place nightshade alongside tomatoes, potatoes, peppers & chillies.
Tastes change. What is a loss for one part of the food industry is a gain for another sector.

Bar-soap: I have not used bars of soap since the 1980s when liquid-soaps first became widely available. For me it was because I found bar-soap left residue on my skin which exacerbated my eczema and acne. Switching to liquid-soap meant my skin calmed down and my conditions greatly ameliorated. The only time now I use bar-soap is in hotel-rooms for washing my hands after going to the lavatory. In public conveniences (wash-rooms) I will only use liquid-soap if available - I have the same aversion as the millenials to possible germs on shared bars.
Going into the homes of family, friends & neighbours, I cannot think of any that still use bar-soaps, other than in bowls/jars for display only.
This is another of those areas, like the coffee-shops' unrecyclable beakers, where environmental-consciousness takes a back-seat for supposed (?) hygiene.

Diamonds: I have to admit to being attracted to diamonds in the same way I love cut-crystal. I wonder at the reflections & refractions of light. If someone were to give me a diamond ring, I probably should not decline it.
However, to be honest, the ring I have always wanted is a prehistoric creature or piece of flora encased in amber. Magnify everyone's dreams for their ideal ring and I imagine there would be countless variations. It is better for jewellery artisans that this is so.
The diamond industry to all intents & purposes is a "quasi-cartel" per The Economist (15th July 2004). As I understand it, diamonds are plentiful from a global perspective, but the diamond-mining companies ensure supply is restricted so prices remain high.
Millenials, like everyone else will be aware of this, but the economic situation for the majority now is restricted disposable incomes and high debt, from amongst other things, tertiary education fees. In such circumstances it is only natural that folk seek out less costly alternatives.

Fabric-conditioners: Interesting that the article fails to point out that much clothing these days specifically advises against using fabric-conditioners (fabric-softeners). I wear a lot of Rohan clothing, which is often constructed from man-made fibres (fibers) or mixes with natural ones. Their labels are very clear about avoiding using conditioners/softeners. If one does so by accident, one is supposed to immediately rinse the clothing again in order to remove the unwanted product, otherwise the fabric might not do what it is designed to do. Natural cotton towels, which do not soak up water as well when conditioners are used, is another example. My woollen jumpers (sweaters) are finally rinsed with a teaspoon of oil; conditioners would ruin the natural water-resistance of the wool.
A further factor is that one can purchase special laundry detergents for specific fabrics or types of fabrics. Using the right detergent for any given clothing item militates against the need for a separate conditioning/softening liquid.
No doubt any company specialising in fabric conditioners is going to suffer; but more generally the detergent industry has been producing more targeted products.

Banks: This is laughable. Hardly anyone trusts the banks or bankers now. Millenials certainly cannot be blamed for the demise of high-street bank branches. That is the fault of profit-before-community attitudes within the financial industry. There is no valid reason why several banks cannot branch-share. Or the banks could jointly pay for free financial centres, where any bank customer could go to try to sort out any problems. It is true that many issues can be sorted out by simply going on-line and reading some advice. However, as anyone who has ever tried to call a foreign help-desk with a complicated issue well knows, nothing can replace face-to face meetings to sort out matters.

Department Stores: I think the day for middle-brow department stores has indeed passed. In the UK we have lost British Home Stores, Lewis', Woolworths, and this probably means chains like Marks & Spencer, Debenhams and most branches of House of Fraser are ultimately going the way of the dodo. Luxury department stores like Harvey Nicholls and Selfridges will probably find a niche vending to the top couple of deciles of the population as defined by wealth.
My housemate & I used to be regular users of John Lewis department stores, but as they have reduced their offerings to more and more own-label produce, we find less and less need to pay a visit. One of our local stores downgraded its food offering - we have not been to eat there since. In fact, we now mainly use JL for their bureau de change because it is convenient to use when our local Post Office is closed.

Designer Handbags: I suspect once again that it is the fashionable brands that are in trouble, for fashions come and they surely go. I imagine that the de luxe end will still be wanted by the very rich.
However, bag-makers and bag-retailers now have double the market they used to have in the last century, for men are now quite content to walk around with a man-bag. We need to put our wallets, mobile (cell) 'phones, cleansing-gel, tissues, etc. somewhere, and, let's face it, trousers are currently too tight to cram everything into one's tiny pockets!
Millenials only turning on designer labels - I doubt it as most folk are having to draw in the purse-strings, are making do with wardrobes bursting with hardly worn clothing. Most of us now have enough. We do not need more.

Gyms: in the last couple of years, my locality has had at least four new gyms open up and succeed. They do not charge joining fees or monthly fees, but rather use a pay-as-one-uses model. From looking in the windows one can see the gamut of ages and rather than being represented predominantly by men, many have sizeable numbers of wimmin users.
I realise this is anecdotal. It may be due to my residing in a middle-class, fairly well-to-do area. However, this may be the model of the near-future at least.
Long-term, I do not know whether gyms will survive other than for hard-core practitioners. My estate has its own community forum. There are: walking groups; a litter-collection group; a weeding group; a planting group; etc. These are activities done with one's neighbours for the benefit of oneself &/or one's community. They involve natural exercise. Folk get a gentle cardio-vascular work-out usually without causing damage to muscles, bones, etc. I suspect this is the way of future exercise.
I know some young chaps who are into parkour, where they use the local environment as their gym. This sport seems particularly popular with younger folk. Again no need for an actual please-pay-us gym.

In my opinion we have all changed our attitude to brands: they had and have no loyalty to we customers, so we now shop around for the best deals, the best products and so forth. Yields in the UK on a whole gamut of goods & services have been way above those of our Continental allies. This is slowly being corrected by consumers who now have the power of the internet to check up, to research and to educate ourselves. Millenials may naturally use this technology, but the rest of us are doing our best to catch up. We are all in this together.

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