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.
Slip-and-fall lawsuits are expected to increase dramatically during the next few years as the U.S. baby-boomer population continues to age, according to a study by commercial insurer and property and casualty company CNA. (Older people are not only more likely to experience a slip-and-fall accident, but their injuries tend to be more significant, the study found.) The good news is that retailers can have a direct impact on the ultimate value and outcome of slip-and-fall accidents both before and after an accident happens, according to premises liability and accident prevention expert Dennis Fetzer.
“The impact before a fall happens has to do with having accident-prevention programs in place. There is zero cost for an accident that never happens,” said Fetzer, who heads up Fetzer Consulting, Boise, Idaho, and is a member of the National Floor Safety Institute board of directors. Fetzer retired as VP corporate liability for a nationwide supermarket chain after 20 years of service where he was responsible for all customer accident claims and litigation.
Entrance mats remain a critical weapon in slip-and-fall prevention.
“Entrance mats reduce up to 91% of dirt and moisture, while also reducing floor maintenance,” Fetzer said.
Caution cones, produce mats (where applicable), and floor sweeps and inspections should also be part of a retailer’s accident-prevention program. Store employees should be instructed as to the importance of filling out the logs accurately and on time.
“Sweep logs are legal documents that can be produced as evidence at trial that the store operator was exercising its duty of reasonable care,” he explained. “They can make the difference between a case you are able to defend in court and a case in which you end up having to make a payment.”
A properly maintained floor surface also figures prominently in reducing accidents.
“The floor should be maintained with NFSI (National Floor Safety Institute) approved cleaners and waxes and products that meet ANSI/NFSI B1101.1 wet slip resistant standards,” Fetzer said. “Using products that meet these standards can dramatically reduce slip-and-fall claims.”
POST ACCIDENT: The way a person is spoken to — what is said and what is not said — immediately after a slip-and-fall accident can influence how the incident turns out.
“I know of instances where customers who had fallen in a store were treated so rudely by store associates that it sent them straight to a lawyer,” Fetzer said. “Always treat injured customers with respect, let them know you care about them, and make them comfortable.”
Store associates and managers should never — for whatever reason — falsify or withhold information from claims management, Fetzer advised.
“All accidents need to be reported to claims management immediately,” he said. “It’s crucially important that everyone be fully forthcoming with a slip-and-fall investigation and answer all questions truthfully. The fact is, ultimately, the truth will come out.
Associates should follow all rules and procedures established by claims management for reporting and investigating accidents.
Stores should have clear-cut procedures in place for what to do when an accident occurs, including referring customer questions (about a fall) to claims management.
“For example, a question like ‘Are my bills going to be taken care of?’ should be referred to claims management,” Fetzer added.
Fire safety presents extra challenges to retail locations. Stores are filled with combustibles that aid the spread of fire and smoke. And confusing store layouts impede escape during emergencies. The results can be expensive: loss of revenue from store closures, and worse, loss of life.
Chain Store Age spoke with three leading fire safety experts as to what steps retailers could take to avert fire disasters. Here are their top 10 recommendations.
1. WATCH THE STOCK
One rule that is an absolute among fire codes nationwide is that racks and displays should not put merchandise within 18 ins. of a sprinkler head.
“Any closer than that and you will block the spray pattern, which should cover a diameter of 8 ft.,” said Mike Rose, CEO of Maspeth, N.Y.-based Academy Fire Protection, which serves some 140,000 retail locations nationwide.
Rose also advises store managers to regularly check that sprinkler concealer caps are in place. The caps prevent the heads from clogging, a special risk in clothing stores with lint in the air.
2. GET SMOKE DETECTORS OUT OF CORNERS
Place smoke detectors a minimum of 18 ins. away from corners. Heat rises — which is why these units are on the ceiling in the first place — but heat levels remain consistent in corners and push smoke away, rendering detectors ineffective.
3. CHECK EMERGENCY EXITS
“Badly maintained exits are something that make fire inspectors particularly nervous,“ said Gregory Harrington, a principal of the National Fire Protection Association in Quincy, Mass., which designs model codes for fire departments. “Open the doors. Make sure they are not locked or blocked. Personnel may decide to store boxes in back of a little-used doorway.”
Red “EXIT” signs over emergency exits should be lit 24-7.
4. CHANGE BATTERIES AFTER POWER OUTAGES
If your store loses power for an extended period, you need to check and most likely replace batteries in exit lights and alarms. Batteries are drained completely when power is out for two days. Building fire panels should also be checked since their motherboards could be fried by a current surge when power is restored.
5. MAINTAIN THREE-FOOT AISLES
Another nearly universal fire code standard is that store aisles need to be a minimum of 36 ins. wide. Limit in-aisle displays, which can block an aisle during evacuation.
6. INSPECT THE BACKROOM
Backrooms can be tinder boxes. Too much stock piled too high, oily rags on the floor, empty cardboard boxes and smoking employees all add up to danger. Walk backrooms occasionally with an eye to safety. Secure all flammable liquids in storage cabinets.
7. EXTINGUISHERS, ALL RISE!
All fire extinguishers must be hung on walls, not resting on floors. Although fire codes for checking extinguishers are loosely written, experts say they should be checked monthly.
8. DO BASIC EMPLOYEE TRAINING
Few fire codes require emergency training for store associates, but minimal emergency education can save lives and lawsuits. The basic message: “Get out fast!”
“Extinguishers last 12 to 15 seconds and aren’t going to do much in a big fire, so the main point of training should be to just get everybody out as quickly as possible,” Rose advised.
Employees should be instructed to check dressing rooms for customers while evacuating, and they should know the difference between red pull-boxes that trigger building alarms and red boxes with white stripes that alert the fire department.
9. HOLIDAY CONSIDERATIONS
Decorations hanging from the ceiling can spread fire quickly if ignited. They should be treated with a fire retardant spray. And watch how you manage extra stock, advised Lt. Tony Mancuso, director of the New York City Fire Department’s Fire Safety Education Unit, who performed inspections in the Herald Square retail district.
“We were usually very concerned about stock areas,“ he said. “Are they blocking aisles, and are they storing things in stairwells or near elevators?”
10. MIND THE KIDS
If your store caters to moms and kids, be sure there are no cleaning materials or open electrical sockets to which children might gain access.
“So many people child-proof their homes, but a lot of retailers fail to child-proof their stores,” Rose said.
Al Urbanski is a New York City-based freelance writer.