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Kidding Around

Kids aren't just our future--they're fueling a billion-dollar market that has nowhere to go but up.

Everywhere you turn these days, there's something about Generation Y. You've read enough studies about this new wave of kid consumers to know they're the hot new market, and you're excited because you think you have a good grasp of what they want.

But do you? The one thing you must understand about the boomers' children's market: This group, the "echo boom," is growing up in very different times and, consequently, has very different needs. It's not enough to hand them a Barbie and a box of Legos, or sit them in front of a guy in a dinosaur suit. Kids today are more sophisticated than that. They'd rather surf the Net or chat online, play the newest Nintendo 64 game, or see the latest sci-fi action flick. "There's a lot going on in our society that's really driving [the market]," says Peter Sillsbee, senior project director of the Roper Youth Report at Roper Starch Worldwide. "Kids today are growing up in single-parent homes or homes where both parents are working. The percentages for both have actually doubled over the past 25 years."

As a result, kids now have more influence over family purchases. With their own hectic schedules to juggle, parents rely on kids to be part of the decision-making process. With so much access to information right at their fingertips, today's typical kids are also a lot more knowledgeable about the products on the market, from clothes to technology.

Fortunately for franchising, the echo boom is creating endless opportunities. After all, the steadily increasing birth rate heightens the need and demand for services and products that cater to this new group of consumers.

One thing franchises have discovered is that kids expect the same things from products and services as adults--but on their own level. In response, children's franchises are changing and creating programs to accommodate this new group by combining fun, technology and learning so children feel they have something all their own.

Kid-related franchises deserve an "A" for adapting to customers' needs. During the past several years, computer training centers have appeared, while many other learning centers are incorporating computers into their curricula to keep up with these tech-savvy tykes. Fitness programs are constantly creating new routines to keep up with industry trends and children's needs. The Gymboree Play Program has strengthened its brand by revamping its image with strong marketing and new programs and equipment. Here, the Gymboree Play Program and a few other "booming" businesses show how they're catering to the children and parents of the 21st century.

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This article was originally published in the September 1999 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Kidding Around.

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