What You Think About Millennials Is Probably Wrong And Risky For Your Business

Millennials love the city, hate the suburbs. Wrong.

The idea was that Generation Y would flock to old city centers like Detroit and Los Angeles and revive them, spurning the leafy exurban enclaves where many grew up. That has happened to a degree. But millennials’ migration to urban cores leveled off in 2015. In part that was because rents rose and availability of apartments tightened.

Another factor: It turns out millennials—like the generations before them—prefer suburbs for raising their children. “The oldest of them are starting their own families, at a later age than any time in U.S. history, and finding what other generations have found: that for families, suburbs are the best locale,” says Chuck Underwood, a generational-study consultant.

Dallas-based Winchester Carlisle is booming by building affordable starter homes for millennials in the suburbs of North Texas and elsewhere. “They’re a big part of the housing recovery,” Dix says. “And one way they are different is that they want more efficient homes. They want things that are more utilitarian than wasteful.”

Millennials don’t know the value of a buck. False.

After all, millennials are the Amazon Generation, shaking up traditional bricks-and-mortar retail chains from Toys R Us to Macy’s with their stay-at-home bent for e-commerce. They’re doing it for the savings as well as the convenience.

And millennials are the only generation currently increasing their use of coupons. “They grew up during the Great Recession and watched their parents live on a tight budget,” says Curtis Tingle, chief marketing officer of Valassis, a direct-mail promotion giant based in Livonia, Michigan. “They’ve gone through a decade-long recovery, but all of this made millennials the most promotionally sensitive generation.”

Meal-kit startups, one of the hot plays in the last few years, have found out painfully that millennials aren’t willing to pay through the nose just to have someone deliver a box of supper ingredients that happen to have been chopped up and portioned properly. Blue Apron and Hello Fresh are among meal-kit makers that are facing existential reversals, and Chef’d ran out of cash and suspended operations for awhile even with the high-profile backing of Campbell Soup and Smithfield Foods.

SC Johnson plays to this aspect of the millennial mindset by making sure its household-cleaning brands cover the price spectrum, not just the top tier occupied by its marques including Windex and Glade.

“You can’t just play in the premium-products segment,” says Fisk Johnson, CEO of the Racine, Wisconsin-based CPG giant. “You have to offer millennials more economic options as well, because some are very price-sensitive.”

Uniquely, also, millennials are dealing with the bulk of the student-debt overhang that has been rightly blamed for so much of their financial hesitance—and which, even amid the Trump Boom, still tremendously handicaps many members of Generation Y.

“Contrary to popular belief,” says Visa’s Reilly, “millennial women are more conservative spenders than previous generations. They’re more career-driven, but they also are concerned that they don’t make enough money.”

Millennials don’t want to own or drive vehicles. False.

Several years ago, automaker CEOs wrung their hands that millennials didn’t seem nearly as interested in owning or even driving cars—or getting their driver’s licenses, in fact—as earlier generations. Was this lack of automotive passion going to combine with a ride- and car-sharing future to pack a generational death blow to the car industry as they knew it?

Not so. It turned out that the financial constraints of the long recession hampered car ownership and driving. As Generation Y comes into its own financially, its members actually have been responsible for all new-car sales growth in 2018, according to Experian.

“Thirty-five percent of large SUV buyers are between the ages of 35 and 44,” a cohort that includes some GenXers, says Erich Merkle, sales analyst for Ford. “And as millennials age into this timeframe, there’s going to be even more of a need for three-row products.”

Spectrum Brand Holdings even sees a path to getting millennials to obsess over their cars’ appearance the way boomers do. Its Armor All brand has introduced car-exterior wipes that don’t require a hose or bucket. “Deep down, millennials have the desire to do this themselves and feel good about it,” says Jamie Kistner, vice president of Spectrum’s global auto-care division. “It’s about finding the time to do it.”