Minorities spending clout up sharply

Friday, September 8th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

The buying power of blacks, Asian-Americans, Hispanics and American Indians living in Texas will at least double between 1990 and next year, according to a study published Thursday by researchers at the University of Georgia.

For businesses, that represents a $56 billion pool for potential sales.

"The Hispanic story is a powerful one, but it's not the only really interesting thing," said Jeff Humphreys, the study's author, who is with the university's Terry College of Business. Among the states, Texas' African-American market "is huge – the third-largest in the nation – and the Asian market is the fifth-largest. The American Indian market is the third-largest.

"I don't think the average person is aware of it."

In the United States next year, according to the study, black consumers will account for two of every three dollars spent by minorities, with a buying power at $572.1 billion. Asians will have a buying power of $253.8 billion, with American Indians at $34.8 billion. Hispanic buying power will amount to $452.4 billion.

"There are two remarkable things: The size – they are really extremely large," Mr. Humphreys said. "The second thing, and perhaps even more important, is the rapid rate of growth. It's one thing to have a large market. It's another thing to have a large market that's growing fast. It's very attractive.

"What it really says is that the targeted markets represent major opportunities," he added. "The Fortune 500 have recognized these for some time, but small- and medium-size businesses are still catching on to those trends."

Overall, minority buying power nearly doubled in the 1990s and, by 2001, is expected to reach more than $861 billion, according to the study. (Because Hispanics can be of more than one race, the Hispanic buying power number is not included in that total.)

The study, "Buying Power at the Beginning of a New Century: Projections for 2000 and 2001," is Mr. Humphreys' ninth state-by-state study of minority buying power since 1990. Buying power, or disposable income, is the total personal income available after taxes for spending on goods and services.

The population of America's minority groups is growing. By 2001, the study notes, the Asian and Hispanic populations will reach 11.7 million and 33.1 million, respectively. In Texas today, minorities make up an estimated 45 percent of the population. That steady growth contributes to the strength of their buying power, Mr. Humphreys said.

It's not lost on the nation's marketing executives.

"Corporate America is well aware of the fact that sometime in the 21st century, whites will become a minority group," said Daniel Howard, professor and chairman of the marketing department at Southern Methodist University. "They are very, very aware that the ethnic distribution of the country is changing. They have no intention of getting left behind."

At Seattle-based Nordstrom Inc., tapping into the minority buying market could be as simple as providing more petite-size clothing in regions with large Hispanic and Asian populations, said Paula Weigand, a Nordstrom spokeswoman.

The store is acutely aware that its customer base is becoming more diverse, she said.

"It's very important who our customer is," she said. "We have to respond to the needs of these customers and the growing power of these customers. It's who will be shopping with us tomorrow and the day after that.

"Perhaps 10 years ago or so, it was a separate initiative in our marketing efforts," she added. "Now, it's a part of our overall marketing strategy companywide."

What's interesting about black Americans' buying power, Mr. Humphreys said, is that the fastest rate of growth will occur in Idaho, South Dakota and Utah. Those states, with predominantly white populations, are seeing a steady influx of blacks and other minorities and are feeling the effect of these groups' buying power, he said.

Asians will account for the fastest increase in buying power from 1990 to 2001, at 124.8 percent. Hispanics closely follow at 118 percent. Overall, U.S. buying power will have grown 70.4 percent to $7.1 trillion, the study reports. In Texas, total buying power is expected to reach $530 billion.

Unlike the Hispanic market, where the Spanish language serves as a unifier, plugging into the Asian market is more difficult because there are so many cultures and languages.

In American Indian buying power, Texas will be both the third-largest market and the second-fastest-growing market by 2001.