Hey, Mama!

Writer’s Note: I know this is a terrible way to begin, but before I get this article rolling, let me issue a few disclaimers.

Disclaimer #1: I’m a new mom. This means I’ve been brainwashed by months of hormones, hundreds of tiny pairs of blue socks, many sleepless nights, and countless beautiful smiles from my self-proclaimed “world’s cutest baby” into thinking that the world now revolves around this little person who has recently rocked my universe. While my “new-mommy-tunnel-vision” probably makes me a less exciting conversationalist, it has also made me extremely passionate about all things “family.”

Additionally, it’s made me an extremely educated consumer, and has dramatically changed my purchasing decisions.

Disclaimer #2: This is a new programming effort, so please don’t use this as a how-to guide--at least not yet. This is more of an invitation to join the launch of a new initiative, and hopefully it will encourage you to start something similar in your community.

This is the first installment of a two-part series in which the goal is initially to inspire a new programming approach and marketing movement in a department. Hopefully, part two will look like a success story, although it could read like a cautionary tale. Either way, I hope you’ll come along for the ride.

The Female Consumer

If there’s one gender stereotype current with its feet planted firmly in reality, it’s about women and our love of shopping. I don’t necessarily mean spending every Saturday strolling in the local mall, but recent studies do indicate women are truly economic powerhouses, making more than 85 percent of the consumer purchases in the United States and influencing over 95 percent of total goods and services.

In fact, female consumer spending is approximately $3.7 trillion (Retrieved from www.she-conomy.com/report/facts-on-women/ ). A study conducted by GE Money reveals that women actually spend more than eight years of their lives shopping. This means the average woman will shop for 25,184 hours and 53 minutes over a period of 63 years!

Women aren’t some niche market. Most of us don’t buy into “girly” marketing ploys and aren’t any more attracted to pink flyers or websites.

We’re making informed financial decisions for ourselves and on behalf of our loved ones. We’re conducting extensive product research and asking our friends what they think before we use our plastic.

Smart recreation departments understand this and will proactively program for and market to “the mighty female dollar.”

Women are also emotional investors--in both meanings of the term. We will devote endless time, energy, and funds to people and ideas we’re passionate about.

If we feel like a product or service will improve the health of our children, increase family time, or offer solutions to the trickiest of child-rearing quandaries, we are more likely to spend.

If there’s a program that offers additional support and “networking” opportunities with other like-minded moms--show me where to swipe my card!

Various market reports indicate the infant/toddler/preschool market to be a $20-billion industry, where parents will spend more than $7,000 on baby before they blow out the candle on his or her first birthday cake!

If you’re concerned that focusing additional efforts primarily on women will alienate male customers--it won’t. While men still obviously have programming needs, they know what they like, and they certainly don’t require the vast array of options that women enjoy choosing from.

Ultimately, when departments begin raising the bar by marketing to, and programming for, this highly knowledgeable, more discriminating female consumer, everyone wins. The product typically improves across the board. Revenues increase. Offerings expand even further.

Hey, Baby

If my persuasive ways have convinced you of the importance of initiating this program expansion, but you’re not certain where to begin … I say why not start before baby even gets here?

“Be Prepared” may be the official motto of the Boy Scouts, but I assure you that we ladies like it and use it, too! Prenatal programs and products that offer education and support to expecting moms is a rapidly booming business.

There’s definitely room for parks and recreation departments in the mix too. Many of us have offered prenatal swim and yoga classes for years, but we’ve stopped there, and I’m not sure why. Maybe we thought we should only offer programs that look like traditional “recreation” activities, like swim or yoga.

But during tough economic times, when recreation departments must prove both their community value and fiscal worth, it’s exactly the time to grow our bag of tricks … and to market that bag to the women who do the shopping.

We’re already in the business of helping people become healthier, better versions of themselves, so in order to target new moms we have to use the same type of thinking. What classes or programs will help moms feel like stronger, happier, more capable parents?

Here’s where we decided to start our first time out:

Becoming a Coupon Mom! The skills that moms learn in this class will actually pay for themselves during their next grocery trip!

Lessons in Greener Mommyhood! There are invaluable tips on reducing your family’s carbon footprint and setting an eco-smart precedent for your children.

Happiest Baby on the Block! The geniuses behind this best-selling parenting “bible” have certified instructors in almost all 50 states who will run classes in your area to teach new moms about the magical “5 S’s” that can soothe a crying baby and add hours of much-needed sleep for newborns and parents. Learn more about locating an instructor or becoming certified at www.happiestbaby.com .

Create a partnership with a local lifestyle photographer, and offer a Shutterbug Babies Workshop. Teach moms inventive tips and tricks for putting their baby in front of a camera and enjoying the results.

Babies are what they eat! In an organic-conscious society, teach moms how to make their own baby food--free of artificial ingredients and preservatives, and stored in BPA-free containers.

This list could go on and on. While the ideas listed here may be somewhat “baby-centric,” there’s certainly room for many others that focus more on a mom’s physical, social, and emotional well-being that are of equal importance. This is really where the beauty of this new branch of programming lies--in the endless possibilities.

Our department will market these programs together, asking ladies to “Join the Mama Movement” with us. This will include welcoming “mommies-to-be, rookie moms, and masterful mothers”--opportunities for any stage or state of “Mom.”

No babysitter is needed either--many of these classes will be set up to welcome toddlers or babes-in-arms.

We will also add other special services, like hosting a diaper-drive for local families in need and a charity baby shower to benefit an area children’s hospital. A Facebook contest will encourage our fans to Nom’ a Mom during the month of May, where we’ll award deserving area mothers with spa packages in celebration of Mother’s Day.

We’ll send our message out loudly and clearly that we value Mom as a consumer by offering her a wide array of quality programs designed to improve both her leisure time and her life.

Keep Them Coming Back For More

Get ready for the synergy because here it comes: Now that we have Mom in the building for herself, it’s time to show her all that we have to offer her precious darlings. You may have outstanding preschool programs, but unless you build yourself a filter or feeder system, you could be losing some of them to local competitors.

Here are a few suggestions for that smooth transition from prenatal to preschool:

Offer enrollment in a short, free “Mommy and Me”-style class that lasts 30 minutes and runs for 2 or 3 weeks. It should follow your general preschool outline to serve as a sneak preview of what’s to come if participants are enrolled in the “next step” of paid preschool classes. Mother and child will get to know your wonderful instructors, as well as other participants and future friends. Use the end of each class to educate everyone on other great preschool or recreation programs they might also enjoy.

Thank your prenatal participants with a coupon to a “Try-Before-You-Buy” experience, offering them a chance to try out a one-time preschool program or event for free. Track your registrants, and if your participants end up enrolling in a future program, offer a small discount for that first paid class. Letting them sample the quality of your product will demonstrate the confidence that you have in your programs.

Itunes offers the “Genius” system, and Amazon tells us what products other customers have purchased. They’ve built in recommendations for the consumers who already have the money in their hands … encouraging them to buy something else that they’ll probably also enjoy. Can’t we capitalize on this genius idea too? Is there room at the bottom of our receipts, or time at the end of our classes, to encourage guests to try the next program? Why not make your own suggestions? “If you liked today’s Family Nutrition class, we think you’ll LOVE our Littlest Chef program.”

Reward Mom with discounts or coupons for bringing or recommending your service to a friend. Even better, offer special “Bring-a-Friend” program days and opportunities.

If past and current customer behavior is the best predictor of future customer behavior, the math should be simple:

1.) Target the “most likely to purchase” through both your programming and marketing efforts, in this case, Mom.

2.) Offer Mom quality programs to meet her needs and those of her family.

3.) Create programming and marketing mechanisms to move these participants from one class or program directly into the next logical programming step.

4.) Seek feedback from Mom, and develop a reward system for customer loyalty.

5.) Keep all of this going, and one day your former preschool participant will be climbing on the bus for one of your senior-center trips!

I recognize the obvious “pie-in-the-sky” nature of these ideas: However, customer retention is very real, as is the undeniable pattern of female consumer-spending and the booming “baby” business. The time is now to look at the potential for long-term relationships with our residents and customers; to attract them from the beginning; and to help them move through the life-cycle of our program offerings.

Mom may know best, but help her know even more by offering her and her children a literal lifetime of opportunities to be their best selves through our recreation and leisure programs.

Jennifer Provenzano is a Recreation Specialist for Canton Leisure Services, which is a CAPRA Accredited Department and a 2008 NRPA Gold Medal Award Recipient located in Canton Township, Mich. She can be reached at jennifer.provenzano@canton-mi.org.

Bryan BuchkoComment