It can be tough for parents of young children to get to places like the gym or the grocery store. When they know it’s going to be a struggle to keep track of their kids, they often simply choose to stay home instead. Small-businesses looking to bring more parents in the door might consider offering free or discounted child care to patrons.
IKEA has offered free child care to its customers since the furniture chain’s launch in 1958. More recently, other businesses have followed suit. The concept makes sense for any business where adults are likely to spend a couple of hours at a time, especially if it’s distracting or unpleasant to visit with kids in tow.
Think this strategy could work for you? Here are some tips for running a successful drop-in child care service.
1. Meet or exceed state licensing standards. For short-term day care in which parents remain on the premises, your child care area is not subject to the same licensing requirements as traditional facilities in most states. Nonetheless, it’s important to provide a safe environment for children. Pay attention to your state’s teacher-to-child ratio, safe equipment and hygiene rules, and training requirements. Make sure that your facility meets or exceeds these standards, so you can reassure parents you’re providing a high-quality service. You may also need to update your business insurance policy; check with your broker to find out whether you will require supplementary liability coverage.
2. Keep the area secure. Make sure that you have an iron-clad sign-in and sign-out process to ensure that only the adult who checks in a child may check him or her back out. Many drop-in child care centers, including Norwegian Cruise Line’s Splash Academy, forbid parents from going past the entry gate, so they can easily keep track of who’s on the premises. What more can you do? The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services offers many helpful tips for maintaining security [PDF] at your facility.
3. Make sure you can reach parents when necessary. Generally, in-store child care services don’t deal with dirty diapers. And what do you do if a child becomes very upset or gets hurt? It’s important to make sure that you can reach a child’s parents right away for a diaper change or to deal with problems. Giant Eagle, a supermarket chain, uses walkie-talkies to reach parents or pages them on the store intercom.
4. Set a maximum time limit. If you offer free child care, don’t be surprised if parents take advantage of it. One single dad told The New York Times that he takes his son to IKEA every week just to get a break for himself. However, per IKEA’s standard policy, he must retrieve his son within an hour and a half of dropoff. By limiting each family’s child care time, you’ll give parents enough freedom to shop (or just browse), but they won’t be able to use your business as a substitute for a full-time babysitter.
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