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A view of the industry through the eyes of independent and chain retailers.

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Love Me, Love My Kids

How to keep children happy in your store.

by Rich Kizer & Georganne Bender (September 21, 2009)

We've always been big believers in the adage, "Love me, love my kids" and not just because we've had some nightmare experiences while shopping with Georganne's children.

When George's kids were little, we hauled that double stroller into more stores than we can count. Sometimes it fit down the aisles and sometimes we destroyed an entire department. Not on purpose, mind you. A tiny aisle packed with product just doesn't cut it when you're shopping with kids. Nowadays, we "borrow" friends' children so we can keep up to date on the shopping dilemmas facing parents.

It isn't always easy.

You want to attract customers today? Adopt a "Love me, love my kids" attitude. It's a proven fact that a mother's stress increases when the kids are bugging her to leave the store. Her stress – and her ire – also rises when she finds herself faced with kid friendly signing, such as: "Lovely to look at, delightful to hold, but if your kid breaks it, we mark it sold"; "Letting your kids touch our merchandise will result in bad karma"; and our personal favorite, "Unruly children will be given an espresso and a free puppy." Yes, those are real signs from real stores. And yes, it's remarkable that they are still in business with that kind of customer care.

If your target customer has kids, then it just makes sense to have something for the kids to do while mommy and/or daddy shops.

Shopping Carts

Even if your store is small, shopping carts are a good idea. Carts not only keep the kids contained, with little opportunity to grab things off the shelves, they also allow mom to shop hands free. And when mom's hands are free, she'll stay longer and spend more money. (And you thought that big box retailer gave you a cart just to be nice.)

There are a variety of shopping carts to choose from, including carts meant to entertain the kids. These carts look like animals or trucks. You can also find kid-sized carts so little Suzie can push hers right along side Mommy's. Check out McCue Corporations' New Bean carts at www.mccuecorp.com/bean.

IKEA is a store that sells furniture and accessories. Its website boasts, "You shop, let the kids play!" Customers can drop the kids off at the IKEA supervised play area and ballroom, and then shop in peace. This way, everyone's happy. Or if you want them to help make furnishing decisions, strollers are available at the entrance.

We love that IKEA makes strollers available at the entrance for customers. That's a "What one more thing can we do for customers?" kind of idea. (The kids' play area, while a nice idea, is an expensive undertaking.)

Play Areas

This type of play area requires a lot of planning. You will need additional insurance, closed circuit security cameras, toys and furniture that's bolted to the floor, plus safeguards that include, but are not limited to, the following: specially trained staff personnel in the play area at all times; and a system that accounts for each child in the play area. Many places with kids play areas put a numbered bracelet on the child, and a matching bracelet on the parent. In addition, the parent must sign a form twice – when the child is checked in and when the parent takes the child out of the play area. We recommend that you speak with your attorney BEFORE you install a supervised play area in your store.

Some retailers have unsupervised play areas in their stores. This has always seemed risky to us. Kids can get hurt while playing if the retailer has not paid careful attention to whatever it is the kid is climbing on. Some parents will never use it, while others will drop the kids off to play, or watch a DVD, while they immerse themselves in the store. Who's watching the kids?

Your play area needs to be in a place where parents can always see their children. Make parents accountable with friendly, easy-to-see signing and specific guidelines about how the play area is to be used. And, again, it's a good idea to talk with your attorney before you put one in.

If you do decide to install a kid's play area, pay close attention to where you put it. Deep inside the store where it can be easily seen makes more sense than placing it near the front door. Why take the chance of a child running out the door, or worse, someone snatching a child while no one is looking?

An article which appeared in the National Automobile Dealers Association's (NADA) Auto Executive magazine (February, 2006), attorney Edward McCreery, partner with the Bridgeport, Connecticut, firm Pullman & Comley offered the following advice:

1. Tell your insurance carrier you have a play area. Otherwise, accidents there will not be covered by your liability policy.

2. Post a "Supervise Children at All Times" sign. Make sure it's in plain view.

3. Comply with all Americans With Disabilities Act requirements in play areas. For instance, construct ramps instead of steps.

So take a hard look at your potential liability and your sales floor before committing to a permanent kids play area. Can you afford to take square footage away from a selling area to dedicate it to a non-sales area?

Maybe a moveable way to amuse the kids is more like it. One of our favorite means for occupying the children while parents shop comes from a flooring retailer who provides customers with 3'x5' rugs she calls "Magic Carpet Kits."

The store has a handful of Magic Carpets Kits available that include an assortment of too-big-to-swallow toys, coloring books, and crayons. When a sales associate is working with a family, he or she grabs a Magic Carpet Kit and places it on the floor next to the product the customer is perusing. The Magic Carpets are portable so the children move from place to place as mommy and daddy shop. This places the care of the child in the hands of the customer, not the store.

Love me, love my kids. Ten years ago a retail executive laughed at us when we installed a baby changing table in his new store's restroom. He didn't laugh long – shoppers hate having to change a child's diaper on the floor.In fact, many will leave the store if the floor is their only option. Why not provide a changing area that's accessible to both male and female shoppers in your store? We googled changing tables for store and found a variety of distributors, including Baby Changing Stations Online. Visit www.babychangingstationsonline.com.

And while you're at it, add a comfy chair. Sometimes busy moms need a break from shopping to feed the baby. Why not make her feel at home?

Yes, kids are big business. Mommies and daddies shopping with children are even bigger business. Instead of dreading kids in your store, look for ways to make them comfortable. Their parents will thank you in dollars for your consideration.

(Note: Professional speakers, authors, and consultants, Rich Kizer & Georganne Bender are nationally recognized experts on customer diversity, marketing & promotion, and everything that affects and interacts with consumers in the retail environment. Each year Kizer & Bender speak to thousands through their "Retail Adventures in the REAL World™" keynotes and seminars. Their unique consumer insights are widely featured in the media, including the ABC National News special report, "How Stores Hook You." Their book, Champagne Strategies on a Beer Budget!, has helped thousands of retailers improve their bottom line, and their "Retail Adventures™" Blog is visited by tens of thousands of readers each month. In 2004 they were named two of the "Most Influential People in Retail Today," and their popular magazine column, "Georganne & Rich on the Road," won the American Society of Business Publication Editors (ASBPE) Award of Excellence in 2004 and again in 2006.

You'll find thousands of strategies, tactics, tips, and techniques to help you grow your business on their Retail Adventures™ blog: http://www.kizerandbender.blogspot.com. They mean it when they say to call if you want to talk about your store. They know how tough it is right now, and they're happy to brainstorm ideas with you – they want you to succeed! The website is www.kizerandbender.com and you can follow them on Twitter at http://twitter.com/kizerandbender. To read previous articles by Rich and Georganne, click on the titles in the right-hand column.)




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