Coming of Age


On the lighter side, parents are also willing to pay top dollar for their kids' enjoyment. TV shows like My Super Sweet 16 illustrate the trend for over-the-top birthday celebrations. Perhaps not all parents are financially able to go to those lengths, but many are increasing the budget for their child's birthday bash. According to an online poll by BabyCenter LLC, 25 percent of parents spent between $200 and $500 on their child's first birthday party alone, and 11 percent dropped more than $500. Where there's a need, there's an opportunity, and now the franchises aimed at taking the hassle out of party planning are celebrating their own unheeded growth.

Shelley Blackhurst, 33, owns an Oogles n Googles franchise. While she does offer preschool programs, her business is largely focused on organizing themed birthday parties for 3- to 10-year-olds. Open since February 2006, Blackhurst's Pittsburgh-based franchise has experienced solid growth every month, moved into an 1,100-square-foot facility six months into business and is always booked at least six weeks in advance. Says Blackhurst, "We're always going to have parents with dual incomes and moms who really want to plan a nice party but just don't have the time."

Marking the Future
The kids' market is backed by significant support: parents' love for their children. And as all signs indicate, this industry will only continue to flourish. There are new concepts sprouting up all the time, and the possibilities are limited only by the imagination. For example, The Party Image offers luxury via spa parties for preteen girls, Halstrom High School specializes in individualized instruction, and Chyten provides test preparation courses for older kids. These are all franchises we have recently added to our growing database.

But which ones will prosper most in the maturing market? The experts agree that the most successful concepts will have a strong educational focus. They'll be concepts with value that is obvious to parents. And they'll be good for children. "There's a new burden of proof in the kids' market that we didn't have 10 years ago, and that is in the area of health, wellness and wholesomeness--being able to pass the litmus test of whether this is good for a child, on whatever level," says Kurnit. "It can be healthy, it can be learning, it can be an active lifestyle, but for new businesses, that is one of the new standards to which they need to be able to attach their flag."

Rogers also foresees a growing demand for lifestyle centers that offer something for all members of the family. "Community centers across the country are becoming a destination spot for families," she says. "The family can go to that center; the parents can take a class or listen to a theater event while the children are involved in an art, music or dance program, so it addresses the needs of the whole family and not just part of the family."

Meanwhile, kids are growing up faster than ever. They're also becoming more important than ever in the purchasing decisions of their households and are, therefore, much more of a target for marketers. They're even changing culturally. Says Brown, "A tremendously high proportion of the growth in the under-18 population over the next 10 to 20 years is going to come from Hispanics and Asians as well as African-Americans."

In other words, the kids' market is not one-size-fits-all and is as dynamic as the children who constitute it. Says Kurnit, "Businesses always have to be up-to-date with what parents and kids are looking for." The franchises that take the time to adapt to and truly understand their target population will enjoy a very real opportunity to grow by leaps and bounds.

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This article was originally published in the August 2007 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Coming of Age.

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