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Opinion & Essays - Dec, 1999 Issue #64

The Search for the Family Friendly Facility

Recognizing the power of parental consumers, businesses around the country have begun to add family friendly amenities to their facilities. So why hasn’t the store around the corner followed suit? 

by Nate Klatt

[Not all that many years ago, it seemed easier to find living arrangements that accepted pets than it was to find ones that accepted children. In the not too distant past it was fairly rare for fathers to be in the delivery room during the birth of their child, not because the fathers were uninterested, but because doctors felt they were unnecessary distractions. We still have what has been called the “marriage penalty” tax, which arose from political pressure in the sixties and seventies to provide benefits to childless adults, in the name of “fairness” of course. Perhaps these all are vestiges of a different era, one that is hopefully coming to a close. Although the following article focuses on efforts by businesses to be more sensitive and helpful to parents with small children, perhaps it suggests that the country is beginning to recognize the best way to encourage responsible and effective parenting is to offer support rather than criticism. Hopefully any such change in attitudes will result in more support for parents of teens, as well. – Lon]. 

(Published with permission of the Koala Corporation which retains all rights) 

It’s 5:30 PM. After nine hours of work, you are finally free to take care of the 25 or 26 personal errands that have been on your to-do list for the last three weeks. But before you get the break alignment done on your SUV, stop at the dry cleaners and then head over to the mall to buy birthday presents, grab a bite to eat and maybe sneak a peek at the new fashions, you have one more important thing to do: you have to pick up the kids. 

Modern parents take their kids everywhere. What choice do we have? When both parents work or, in some cases, live entirely separate lives, time is at a premium. Good childcare is difficult to find and more difficult to pay for. Besides, when your child is already spending eight hours a day at school or in daycare, it hardly seems fair to make them stay an extra two hours with a sitter while you run errands. 

Business is starting to recognize our little companions and is beginning to understand that serving adults means catering to their children. Companies from retail to restaurants to auto dealerships are installing baby changing stations, purchasing dealerships are installing baby changing stations, purchasing highchairs and installing activity areas to accommodate families on the go. 

“The smart way to conduct business” 

“American business is waking up,” says Mark Betker, President and CEO of Koala Corporation. Koala Corporation manufactures a full line of commercial products to make businesses more family friendly. Their most recognizable product is the Koala Bear Kare® Baby Changing Station. 

Betker continues, “Businesses are realizing that making their facilities accessible and attractive to families is more than just the right thing to do, it is the smart way to conduct business. It provides their company with a strong competitive advantage over the company that does nothing to serve families.”

Betker points to recent research to back up his point. In 1998, the Howell Research Group called 401 randomly selected parents of children under age 9. The results of this survey indicated that parents were indeed taking their children along when shopping and running errands. The survey also suggested that businesses that made efforts to create family friendly environments benefited from customer loyalty and improved profits. 

According to Howell, 68% of all parents said that they shopped with their children either all of the time or some of the time. Fifty five percent of all parents actively seek out family friendly stores. Of those parents that frequent family friendly facilities, 61% shop at those stores more frequently, 61% spend more time per visit at these stores and 52% spend more money. 

“While the data from the Howell Research report was not widely publicized,” Betker says, “It demonstrates trends that many businesses are becoming more aware of. Further, it shows that family friendly facilities are a profitable advantage. Hopefully, parents will start to see the benefits of these trends.”

The benefits of these trends: 

As business awakens to the profit potential of family friendliness, parents are beginning to see a change in the places where they do business. Parents are finding that their children are welcome in shops, restaurants and offices. Amenities such as baby changing stations, novelties a few years ago, are now becoming standards for any business that values parental business. Companies who particularly value customer service are taking the idea of catering to families even further, discovering creative ways to make parents’ lives easier in public. 

As businesses come to appreciate the value of baby changing stations, parents of young children are finding many more public restrooms equipped to facilitate diaper duties. Restaurants, retail stores, bowling alleys, amusement parks, convenience stores and many other companies have installed these customer service devices to make parents’ visits more comfortable. Some companies are installing baby changing stations in their men’s rooms as well as their ladies’ rooms to accommodate fathers on the go as well as mothers. 

Some businesses have expanded their family friendly efforts to include such parental conveniences as Child Protection Seats (a chair that is mounted on the wall of the restroom stall so that parents can easily keep an eye on their children while they use the facilities) and Infant Seat Kradles (four legged stands that hold child carriers to raise them up off of the floor). 

Companies that expect families to visit for extended periods of time are installing activity areas to engage children and prevent boredom among their youngest clients. Businesses from auto dealerships to home improvement stores to dentist offices are finding that block tables, wire and bead tables and activity walls give parents the freedom to engage in business while their children play. 

While some companies seek to entertain children, still others are finding the advantages of attracting them. Shopping malls, department stores and fast food restaurants continue to install play areas that make them destinations of choice for families. These businesses find that providing play areas gives parents more time to shop. Many supermarkets, in particular, have begun to provide in-store supervised child-care areas to allow their customers reduced-stress shopping. 

A long way to go... 

While trends are pushing more businesses to cater to families, several companies resist installing family friendly facilities because they do not understand the importance of these initiatives. As parents and consumers, we can help corporate America understand that we expect and appreciate creative initiatives that make us and our children more comfortable in public. As with most cultural changes, the most effective weapon we have is our voice. By telling the businesses we frequent that we would like to see more family friendly amenities in their buildings, we can make future afternoon errand runs more enjoyable for our kids and less stressful for the whole family. 

Copyright © 1999, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)

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