Have Child, Will Shop

David Leigh is director of sales and marketing, Koala Kare Products, Centennial, Colo., dleigh@koalabear.com .

Arecent survey of parents with young children underscored the importance of creating family-friendly retail and restaurant environments. Among the key findings: 75% of the respondents deliberately seek out establishments that have child-accommodation amenities. Chain Store Age senior editor Katherine Field talked with David Leigh, director of sales and marketing for Centennial, Colo.-based Koala Kare Products, which sponsored the study, about products and best practices for factoring in the family.

Chain Store Age: Why is it important to create a family-friendly environment?

David Leigh: Today’s consumers are a harried lot, with an abundance of dual-income families. The notion that one parent stays home with a child— or of getting a babysitter to do the same—doesn’t really exist. Kids go with their parents to do literally everything, and it’s expected that a retailer, in order to obtain a parent’s loyalty, is going to have to cater to the kids.

Creating a family-friendly environment, whether by widening the aisles or adding carts or incorporating other child amenities, entices the family to stay longer, do more shopping, and feel more satisfied with the entire experience—all of which translates to a larger ring for the retailer.

CSA: In terms of operator pay-back, one of the obvious benefits is a shopper’s tendency to stay longer if the children are accommodated, but what are some of the less-tangible benefits?

Leigh: We know from our latest customer survey—“Parental Attitudes Toward Family-Friendly Establishments”—that patrons whose children are accommodated are more loyal. Spending more time and more money is an obvious benefit, but loyalty speaks to a key issue that all retailers struggle with—maintaining a customer base when shoppers have so many choices.

CSA: Tell us more about the details of your nationwide study.

Leigh: It was a blind survey of 350 parents who have children under the age of six, and in that survey we asked about their shopping habits along with some of the issues they deal with in a general sense and some of the amenities in a specific sense.

CSA: Were any of the survey results unexpected?

Leigh: The extreme emphasis on sanitation was eye-opening. Certainly, comments related to the sanitation of high chairs and of the restroom opened my eyes to a level of concern among parents that I didn’t fully expect. While that has always been important to Koala, we didn’t fully grasp that sanitation remained such a big problem in the industry.

One of the things that we did as a result of some of the sanitation concerns about baby-changing stations was to put Microban into the plastic within our stations to help reassure parents that bacteria is not a problem. The use of degradable bed liners in the baby-changing stations also is a key point in protecting babies and meeting the parents’ sanitation perceptions. Clearly, operators need to go further in terms of reassuring parents that these products are sanitary and, to that end, operator-training, increased cleaning and reinforcing procedures are critical.

CSA: What other kinds of products specifically address concerns expressed in the survey?

Leigh: In creating a family-friendly environment, any place where a parent pauses is an opportunity for small child-activity centers—whether they be wire-and-bead tables or block tables—that allow a child to be engaged while the parent shops. They don’t take up a lot of square footage, and can be placed, for instance, by a shoe department or by the pharmacy counter.

IKEA is a great example of a retailer that knows how to use activity centers. In IKEA stores, activity products are put in places where parents shop. And anyone who knows IKEA knows that their intent is to have people in their stores for a very long time. They’ve obviously thought that through, and look at their results.

CSA: In summary, what should retailers ‘take away’ from this study?

Leigh: Ithink on the macro level it’s that catering to families is good business. And catering to families is not just providing crayons and coloring books, but it’s creating a child-friendly environment so that the parents can do their business in an inviting and comfortable and stress-free manner.

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