Child-related businesses aren't just kid stuff anymore. Companies catering to the little ones are big news, as you can see from the listing of 59 hot kids' franchises on the following pages.
What's all the excitement about? As baby boomers' babies are growing older, they are creating a demand for a wider variety of products and services. Where day-care and baby retail stores once filled all the needs of baby boomers' infants, today those babies are 9- or 10-year-olds, fueling demand for everything from science education franchises to companies that hold Victorian tea parties.
Trends affecting our society as a whole are also making their mark on child-related businesses. The baby boomers' interest in fitness is seeping down to their offspring, making children's play centers and exercise programs one of the fastest-growing franchise categories today. Parents want to tear their couch-potato kids away from television or video games, but don't always feel safe letting them play unsupervised outside. Instead, they cart them off to supervised indoor play centers for hours of fun. Some centers let parents and kids play together; others, located in shopping centers, take the kids off parents' hands for a few hours of uninterrupted browsing; still others offer birthday parties or other special events to bring in additional profits.
Besides physical fitness, parents are concerned about their children's mental fitness as well. Shrinking school budgets and decaying school systems have left a wide-open niche for entrepreneurs to fill. Companies that provide all types of extracurricular educational programs, from music lessons to science classes, are sizzling. Since many children don't get enough access to computers in the classroom-and since computer know-how is essential to any child's future success-programs that train kids in computer use are especially popular.
Computerization is behind another hot category: personalized children's books that entrepreneurs print on personal computers. And safety concerns are spurring the continued success of child identification services. Companies that provide children with ID cards, fingerprint them, or otherwise maintain records police can use to find a lost child are thriving.
Of course, traditional businesses such as children's apparel and furniture stores are still going strong. But there's a new twist on this old theme: shops selling used furniture or clothing. Today's two-income parents are willing to spend money on their kids where it counts, but they don't want to spend more than they have to. The value-conscious consumers of the '90s show no signs of returning to the free-spending ways of the '80s, so this could be a category to watch.
Text by Karen Axelton; listings compiled by Stephanie Osowski.