First of AT&T; Offspring to Go National : Southwestern Bell Plan Aims at Senior Citizens

United Press International

The break-up of AT&T; a year ago sparked speculation about how the newly independent regional phone companies might try to expand into new businesses.

No one talked much about publishing as a possible venture. But the first attempt by one of Ma Bell's offspring to go national has turned out to be a book.

The Silver Pages, brainchild of Southwestern Bell, will be published in 46 cities around the country by the end of this year, and Southwestern hopes eventually to cover 110 metropolitan areas.

Basically a discount directory, the Silver Pages includes lists of local merchants who will offer discounts or give-aways to senior customers who have a special "Silver Savers Passport" identification card.

"It's the first instance we know of one of the regionals announcing a national product," said Ron Jennings, vice president-general manager of Southwestern Bell Media.

Southwestern Bell is already publishing a Silver Pages directory in St. Louis, home base for the 5-state regional phone company. Kansas City Silver Pages are due to make their debut in March, and Dallas in June, followed by Tampa, San Francisco, San Jose and Oakland.

"Within the next 30 days we'll begin our effort in New York, northern New Jersey, Miami, Columbus, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Los Angeles, Chicago, Denver, Phoenix and Atlanta," Jennings said.

"We'll publish in 46 cities in 1985. We have exact plans for another 36 in 1986. We still have to get our hands around the rest."

The Silver Pages, when they arrive, will include three sections. The first, a listing of government programs for senior citizens and their phone numbers, will be put together by local or state agencies on the aging.

A middle magazine section will include articles and editorials, along with "hopefully, a lot of color advertising," Jennings said.

The third section will hold the classifieds, printed in large type and divided into 750 product and service divisions.

"We expect to have 6,000-10,000 merchants represented in those categories," Jennings said.

The merchants obviously will be encouraged to take out ads in the directory. But Jennings said any business will be included free if it is willing to make a special discount offer to seniors. The no-charge listing would include name, phone number, and five words describing the discounted product.

The books will be mailed or delivered to the homes of city residents 60 years of age or older, with a new copy arriving once a year. To take advantage of the discount offers, the seniors will have to fill out a form and apply for the "Silver Savers Passport."

Southwestern Bell estimates it will cost $500,000 to $1.5 million to produce each Silver Pages directory, depending on the size of the city. The sales force and management will be completely separate from Yellow Pages staff, even in Southwestern Bell's home territory. Still, Southwestern Bell thinks its Yellow Pages experience makes it uniquely qualified for the Silver Pages project.

Southwestern Bell hopes to break even on any given directory by its second year, and achieve a return on sales between 8.5% and 9% after taxes by the third year of publication.

Jennings said Southwestern Bell had been exploring the possibility of developing specialty directory products for several years. The seniors market was chosen, he said, because of its size and its economic potential.

U.S. businesses have been slowly realizing that the older segment of the population is not generally sickly, poverty-stricken and homebound. In fact, in an age of better medical care, Social Security and Individual Retirement Accounts, senior citizens are often willing and able to spend more on luxuries than their offspring.

"As a group, they have about twice the disposable income as the 18-34s," Jennings said.

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