Rising consumer expectations have driven a corresponding increase in retail amenities, especially family-oriented provisions such as baby changing tables and child-seating products. Chain Store Age talked with Koala Kare Products’ Brendan Cherry about the evolution of family-friendly retail over the decades.
Since you introduced your first baby changing station some 25 years ago, how has the public’s perception of these types of retail amenities evolved?
We have seen increased family mobility and more family adventures away from home. With that increase, caring for the needs of an infant outside the home became more challenging. There was always the issue of where diapers would be changed during an extended outing. Oftentimes, the changing areas were in the car, a tabletop in a restaurant or the restroom floor. Responding to these growing trends by developing products that were responsive to parents and children’s needs away from home became of paramount importance.
Who were some of the earliest adopters of family-oriented amenities?
Operators of public buildings such as airports, stadiums and grocery stores led the way early on. Multi-unit retail and foodservice establishments and independent operators picked up on the trend and began installing infant products in their restrooms. Over the decades since, parents have developed an expectation that a baby changing station will be available in both the men’s and women’s restroom. It’s the family-friendly concept, which means that taking care of the child equals taking care of the parents.
So you don’t see family services and products as optional anymore?
Absolutely not. The inclusion of changing stations in restrooms is no longer a matter of courtesy — it makes good business sense. In fact, a recent study we conducted with parents confirmed their loyalty to retailers and foodservice operators with baby changing stations. They spent more money and returned often to where they were comfortable with the availability of childcare comforts.
I understand that this year marks the 25th “birthday” of the Koala Baby Changing Station. How have you evolved this product?
We debuted the first Baby Changing Station in 1987, which directly coincided with the trend toward increased family mobility and travel. Since 1987, retail operators have gained new respect for the public restroom and its impact on customers — both positive and negative. Interior designers are paying more attention to the consistency of finishes in terms of countertop tile, flooring, walls and ceilings. Accordingly, we expanded the color choices of our standard models. Stainless-steel units in surface mount and recessed models were also introduced, and for specific needs, countertop models fulfill the requirements when space is limited.
In 2009, we introduced a new flagship model, the KB200, which includes expanded contemporary colors and industrial design surfaces as opposed to “boxy” configurations dating back to the early 1990s. Features include a steel frame for strength and durability, multi-point mounting for stability, locking dual bed liner dispensers, and Microban product protection for cleanliness and sanitation between maintenance cycles.
When did your diversification into child seating come about, and what challenges and opportunities has it presented?
Because family-friendly products aren’t restricted just to changing stations, it was a natural extension to move into seating products. We were already providing foodservice establishments with changing stations, and there was a need for safe child-seating products. What restaurant operators have traditionally used are A-frame high chairs that stay upright for toddlers and are then turned upside down to hold infant carriers. As an infant seat holder, these upside-down A-frames were top-heavy, rickety and determined to be extremely unsafe.
After much research, we created a high chair that features a rounded seat back top to prevent it from being used incorrectly. It has a singular use as a high chair and should never be turned upside-down. There’s also a seat cradle that holds infant carriers, eliminating the use of chairs, tables and the floor, and keeping the infant at table height.