Friday, August 30, 2013

Mom UN-friendly

When you have kids, you look for things to do and places to go that specify that they are "kid-friendly". Some places, just by the nature of what they do as a definition are supposedly kid-friendly. But to me, that term is very subjective and not necessarily true even if they exist as a child-centered activity place. What I'm getting at is that if you aren't MOM friendly, you're not really kid friendly either.

Who is dealing with the schedule, the payment, getting the children to and from? The parents. So everything has to work out for something to be truly family friendly. And make no mistake- if you're not family friendly, meaning that what you offer works for the whole family vs just someplace that happens to be designated for child related activity, then it really works for no one.

This is mainly what I never understand about child centered business. The same way advertisers target a certain demographic, it should be common sense that these places would also. But they don't. They target the child. And in most cases, the children who would be using these services are under six years old. Know what that means? They make little to no household decisions. So you want to strongly appeal to their parents. Yet, they don't.

Here's my example. I don't know why but there is pretty much nothing for kids to do AFTER their eight weeks of camp until school starts. In some cases, it's a week. But in others, like this year, it's THREE weeks. Well, if you work, that's a long time to be jockeying babysitting, calling out, or calling in many, many favors. Not as many people are using this time to go on vacation as you'd like to think. Trust me, you build it, they will come.

I was lamenting to a friend that I didn't know what I was going to do with my four and a half year old, VERY ACTIVR son for the next day. It was the one day I didn't have covered for childcare. I have to go to work. It's my store, but I still have to be there. She told me her son was going to a "camp" at My Gym in town. She said to call them and see if they had a spot. She also said she thought there might be a "registration fee" but they had a period of time they were waiving it so maybe they'd do it for me. I was thrilled that I could actually get him into an activity to burn off some energy. From 9-12 he could be there. Then it wouldn't be so bad for him if he had to sit in my store for a few hours after. I have a lighting store, not an indoor track. While he can amuse himself for quite some time, using all the staples, tape and paper we have is only going to take up so much time. So I called, all ready to sign him up.

Yeah, no. I called and was told that the "Lifetime Membership Fee" is $75 and it HAS to be paid. There is "nothing he could do". I told him that sounds insane for two reasons. One, this was sort of more of an emergency situation. I can't think about when I might need them again, which is a definite possibility, but I'd want to try it out first in this situation before I'm stuck with a fee. And for the one day, including the $40 it would be for the "camp", it would be costing me almost $40 AN HOUR. But he basically just said he was sorry. He didn't sound that sorry. I also went to their website & maybe I missed it but I couldn't find anything about this fee on there. Just that there were fun days added. From the site it reads like you could just sign up. If the fee was waived at some other time, you DO actually have the power to waive it THIS time. Maybe E would've gone and told me he loved it there. Maybe I'd sign him up for their other school break camps. I wasn't prepared to do anything right then except sign up for the next day camp. That moment I needed something for the next morning. But you don't know about the future. And part of your job is anticipating the future.

B says I have to respect the way other people choose to do business. But that's the thing. I really don't. Well, I can, and I guess I do, in the way that I will then respect my money and choose to spend it elsewhere. Because we own a business too. A small business that isn't the franchise of some big operation. And we bend over backwards for customers. We're dragging our four year old to your house, maybe a half an hour away, at his dinnertime, to see your room and help you decide the best kind of lighting fixture to put in there. We're dropping off a finial because you don't drive and can't get someone to drive you. We're picking up your lamp on a Sunday, our only day off, because it's too heavy for you to bring. You didn't like what YOU picked? We'll exchange it for you at no cost, even though we custom made it for you. THAT is customer oriented service. Telling me you want to charge me $115 for three hours of childcare, when I tell you it's kind of an emergency situation, is not. No, one was dying. I just needed to go to work. So it was an emergency to me and they had a spot for him. Seemed like it should work out if people are willing to work with you.

I'm sure they're not the only place that does this kind of thing. I'd say most of the issues I end up finding with kid oriented play places is with policy and management, not the actual places or activities themselves. The actual facility is clean and nice- I've written about them in a positive way prior to this instance. But- I sometimes think people open these kinds of businesses thinking it will be easy money. Then they've seemed angry or bewildered as to why it isn't that easy. Most parents that I know don't have just unlimited hundred dollar bills they're just wiping their asses with. We're very conscious as to where we spend our hard earned money. We all talk to each other, get recommendations from each other, and we all use the same places and services. I would think this would be something these places would take into consideration. Yet, it's always the same places doing the same things and it's baffling. Am I recommending the place that helped me out when I was in a sticky spot or am I recommending the place that just stressed me out? Come on. It's bad enough our workplaces in this country are so unfriendly to parents working outside the home, in a general sense. Then we get to contend with the places we want to send our kids to basically trying to gouge us because we need to be able to send our kids somewhere while we work. Find a way to PRETEND you care about my plight. Although, if you really cared, you'd have an option for care for the entire day....but that's another story entirely....

We have policies in our store. I understand policies. We make people pay upfront before we make something. But it's a tangible good they take home in the end. I don't really know what my $75 is used for. What I do know is that I don't actually get anything for it except the ability to pay more for any other time I use them. $75 is just excessive to me.

What I've found since having my son is that kid activity places don't seem to stay open long. I can name three off the top of my head who have been in and out since I had E 4.5 years ago. I used to see that kind of turnover in tanning salons when I worked in that industry. It was because a banker, lawyer or candlestick maker would think he could have an easy side business and thought money would just pour in. But if you don't know what you're doing or know how to best cater to your clientele, you fail. There is one kid place in particular (not My Gym) where the PLACE itself is awesome. I LOVE it there as just an activity. But I've held off on having an event or using their services because of the owner. He's turned so many moms off that I don't know how it's going to last. He nickels & dimes EVERYTHING and makes every parent request a whole production and wants to tack on more money. When parents use these places for parties or classes it's usually for the convenience! It's not because they particularly like basket weaving, doing the chicken dance or jumping for long periods of time. They are looking for easy, minimum to no work, a fun time for the kids, and no set up and clean up. For an affordable price. They are not looking to argue, fight, or to have to complain.

The point is, most moms will give places a real chance or few because they still need to entertain their kids and let them work out all their extra energy. We don't want places like these to close! I know so many people who were devastated when In The Swing closed. But we don't want to feel taken advantage of or like they think we need them more than they need us. It has to be a synergistic relationship. I was so furious after I got off the phone with My Gym because there was not even an offer to work with me. When I balked at the $75 fee, if you are going to refuse to waive it, tell me you'll take 50% off. Or even 50% off and if I need to do it again I'll have to pay the other 50%. I might have taken them up on something like that. If one of our customers really hesitates on price and they were nice, bought stuff before, seem like they might buy in the future, we totally give a discount if it's something not already discounted as low as we can do it and still make money on it. Because we'd rather make & retain the customer, not just get in the one sale. That's called looking at the bigger picture vs just the instant gratification of the full amount.

E has been to My Gym, but not in a year and I really don't know if it's too babyish for him now. But he did really like when he went for like 10+ birthday parties over the past two years. I just really don't like how they handled my situation and now I'm over them. I'm not boycotting or anything. I just am not paying that amount of money as just a fee.  I ended up hiring a fifteen year old babysitter, paying $28 dollars and getting more hours and my kid got one on one attention. Winning!


  1. Never been a fan of My Gym.It seemed like a lot of money and hype for not much in return. Your rec. center doesn't offer any other programs for kids to join after camp ends?

    1. There were a few things going on this week but not in my town. I was looking for something really convenient. Rec stuff ends before private camps do and I don't think he's even old enough. It's just crazy that the beginning of the summer is so weighted with options but then at the end of the summer when kids are stir crazy already, there is really very little.

      It seems like such an untapped market. I have 8 working moms out of 13 in my sons class this year. I'm pretty sure there would be plenty of interest in a "bridge camp" type of program where they do something in the week or two before school. My son actually enjoyed My Gym anytime he's been there. I just don't even understand this fee. It's hard to hand over that much money for something totally intangible. And it's also just too much for what I'm getting. Three hours- no. If they were saying this $75 would entitle me to some other service or a full day's care, well that would be something else. It just seems very cost prohibitive.