Robert Liparulo is a novelist and former journalist who lives with his family in Colorado.
8 Ways to Cultivate a Family-Friendly Company Environment
A booming kid population is spawning lots of homebuying. Here's how to win parents’ business, involve the kids in the homebuying process, and provide great diversions.
July 1, 1998
Like it or not, demographers say 38 million children in this country are playing an ever increasing role in their family's buying decisions.
“Kids are [now] the main decision makers in the family,” says James McNeal, a marketing professor at Texas A&M University. He says that kids influence between 25 percent and 40 percent of all household purchases.And with half of all households now dual income (up from 15 percent in 1960), parents are making up for their workday absence by bringing the tykes along when they do other things, such as shopping for a new home.
Brokers who actively accommodate the needs of their clients’ children report plenty of repeat business and referrals to other family-oriented consumers.
Fran Strawn, a salesperson with Ann Cross Inc., Winter Park, Fla., says being kid friendly, or at least involving kids, can affect a sale more directly than anyone would guess. She tells of the time a little girl toured listings with her parents, charming her way into the hearts of the sellers. When they made an offer on one, says Strawn, “the seller was so taken by that little girl, she rejected other offers in favor of my buyers’ just because she wanted to know that a child's laughter would once again fill the house.”
Today’s REALTOR® surveyed a handful of practitioners to find out what they’re doing to swing the kid vote their way. Spread the word at your next sales meeting.
- Suggest an alternative to bringing the kids on showings. Have baby-sitters or a day care lined up in case the parents agree to it, but don’t push it. At Florida Professional Real Estate, Fort Lauderdale, owner-broker Steve David set up a 12-foot-square kiddie room with toys, coloring books, kids’ videos, and tot furniture. The three salaried property management staff take turns watching any kids left there, whether for a brief meeting or a day of househunting.
- Feed them. Kids love snacks and can’t go as long without food as adults. Keep a cooler or the office refrigerator stocked with cheese-and-cracker snacks and fruit juices. If you want to treat the parentsto lunch or dinner out, most would appreciate your taking them to a place where their kids are welcome—pizza and pinball beat a steak dinner every time.
- Show them that their potential new neighborhood—or city—is great. Bob Latigona, a salesperson with Fox & Roach, REALTORS®, Cherry Hill, N.J., finds out what sports or hobbies the kids like. He then tapes snippets of local versions of those events—a hometown Little League game or even a visit to the zoo—and gives them to kids to watch at the office or at home. “Kids are very visual,” he points outs. “The videos convince them they’re not moving to Mars.” For older children relocating to the area, he asks kids he knows who are about the same age as the older children to call and welcome them to the neighborhood or tell them about their potential new school.
- Spread the word. Don't be shy about letting consumers know that you care about kids. Keep pictures of your own kids and those of your customers and clients around the office. Tout your family friendliness on Web pages and in print ads and brochures.Latigona's Web site, for instance, includes “Tips for Moving With Kids.”He says he has received calls from prospective customers and clients who were looking specifically for such information.
- Make sure your offices are parent friendly, too. Can a parent pushing a stroller maneuver into and through your offices? Make sure doors are wide enough and steps don’t hinder movement. Keep a box of baby wipes around for messy hands and faces. Also consider installing one of those fold-down diaper-changing tables; try changing the messy diaper of a screaming baby away from home, and you'll understand why parents love those tables—and appreciate the establishments that provide them.
- Let your salespeople partake of any kid services you have available. David said that giving his people access to the kiddie room has helped him secure several top producers who also happen to be parents. “It’s not a day care,” he says, “but every parent needs a handy place to put their kids for a while from time to time. Having that available to them on-site has been a tremendous recruiting and retaining tool for me.”
- Form affinity relationships with other family-friendly companies. Try getting discounts for your clients from consultants who specialize in making homes safe for kids, activity centers—where kids play in pits full of plastic balls—day care centers, and toy retailers. Have your salespeople hand out lists of those companies and the discounts they offer to clients and customers.
- Alert sellers. If you haven't already warned them of the possibility of rowdy kids in their home, do it before the little whirlwinds blow through.
Perhaps the most important thing you can do, says David, is “understand what it must be like to be a kid going through the process of buying or selling a home. A little compassion goes a long way.” And what parent wouldn't take to that?
For More Information . . .
- Moving With Children by Thomas Olkowski, Ph.D., is available in most bookstores or directly from the publisher, Gylantic Publishing, at 800/828–0113.
- Koala Corp. is a leading manufacturer of child care products for companies dealing with kids, such as bathroom changing tables and activity centers. For a catalog, call 800/666–0363.
- The Internet is loaded with tips for traveling with kids that your customers and clients might find handy. Search under “traveling with kids.” You, too, can get advice on handling their kids. Cyberparent's Web site (www.cyberparent.com/trips) offers suggestions for keeping kids entertained in the car.
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