As more and more tire and auto service shops cater to the female consumer, it seems that a natural extension of their customer service ``extras'' would be to accommodate the children many customers bring with them into the stores. John J. Jennings' comments in the April 3 issue of TIRE BUSINESS reminded me of my own``positive experiences'' with retailers-those that prompted me to conduct some ``word-of-mouth'' advertising.
But as a mother, my positive shopping experience must include more than just knowledgeable, courteous personnel and a job done to my satisfaction.
I'm talking about a stress-free shopping environment for persons encumbered with kids who would rather be running around and playing.
Dealers can probably recall customers who were distracted during a vital sales pitch to quiet a whining child or prevent an imminent disaster with a merchandise display. A customer may have abruptly limited his or her purchases just to ``get the kids out of there.''
Add to this the heightened stress level when a customer with kids, sitting in a stark waiting room, is told the minor service job will take ``about an hour.''
Kids will be kids-and any amount of discipline won't eradicate boredom and subsequent misbehavior. It seems some retailers have become attuned to this and have included catering to children as a customer service.
What's the profit in this?-word-of-mouth advertising on the school playground or at the day care center? Highly unlikely.
But consider the parents who rate tire buying and car repairs right down there with root canals. A little Novacaine-i.e. pacified children-can go a long way toward soothing the ``pain.''
I speak from experience, as a mother of two pre-schoolers who have short attention spans and can't sit in one place for too long.
Forget the books and toys Mom brought along. They want to check out something new, such as the store's merchandise and display items-or, if provided, the store's toys.
So when I have to take the kids somewhere, I try to choose establishments that will make for a less stressful buying experience. Price is often replaced by convenience as a main factor in that decision-making process.
Most restaurants already cater to children by providing coloring books and crayons upon seating families at their tables.
But some have even gone beyond that.
A local Arby's, for example, has set up a play area at the back of the restaurant with a children's table and plastic building blocks to entertain children bored with their meal. As they play within view, Mom and a guest can talk.
Then there is a Friday's restaurant which caters to young adults, but also provides kids with coloring/game books, animal crackers, special drinking cups and balloons to take home.
But restaurants aren't the only retailers to placate children. In one shoe store I visit, parents are free to peruse and try on the merchandise while their kids play in a secluded play room.
A hair salon provides a play area filled with toys and books, and will play videotapes for the children.
Even a local car dealership developed a less tense car-buying experience by incorporating a small, glass-enclosed playroom inside the showroom. As the children play with the small basketball hoop and toys, their parents can sit and talk with the salesperson.
While these distractions prove popular with the children-and for that matter, their parents and other customers-from the proprietors' standpoint, these in-store ``play'' rooms more than likely are considered ``child-containment'' areas.
Whatever the motive, the means leads to the same end-fewer frayed nerves and distractions, and a positive impression on grateful customers.
Ms. McCarron is a reporter for TIRE BUSINESS.