For these businesses, success really is child’s play

Rene Wisely
Special to The Detroit News

Metro Detroit entrepreneurs have lowered their sights — to about five feet or less.

With nearly a quarter of Michigan’s population younger than 18, and with children increasingly influencing family spending habits, more new Metro Detroit businesses target children as their primary customers.

They include a kids-only manicure and pedicure salon, an ice cream shop that doubles as a children’s theme-party mecca and a roaming enrichment class that kindles a kid’s interest in going to medical school.

The potential for profit is there, said Dr. Anna McAlister, assistant professor in advertising and public relations at Michigan State University and an expert at consumer behavior involving children.

Digitas, a marketing agency, reported in 2012 that kids have buying power of $1.2 trillion per year, though McAlister said she believes it’s a more conservative $452.6 billion for the value of the global children’s market, with $300 billion coming directly from the United States. Nearly 20 percent of the global money hails from a child’s own pocket, so not all of it is “pester power,” in which kids campaign for something on their own behalf, she noted.

Nonetheless, pester power is the force behind return visits to year-old My Pretty Nail Studio, a manicure/pedicure salon in Lathrup Village complete with karaoke, said salon owner Yolanda Haynes.

“It’s usually mom who initiates the first visit because she wants to surprise her daughter,” Haynes said, but once the girls discover the “pampering playdate,” they remind their parents to return.

“I have one customer who told me every time she drives on Southfield Road, her daughter recognizes the area and asks to go to My Pretty Nail Studio,” Haynes said.

To keep clients 10 and younger engaged, Haynes has outfitted her salon with entertainment options, including a karaoke stage, extra-large touch-screen tablets at the drying stations and free juice boxes.

Each girl also gets to pick a prize when she leaves the salon.

“Parents like that we have a separate room where they can hang out while their child is there for their pampering playdate or when we host a birthday party,” Haynes explained.

A separate room is also one of the secrets of success for Sweet Spots in Farmington Hills, said owners Monica and Chris Ciagne.

While the month-old business appears to be an ice cream parlor with 32 flavors of Hershey’s ice cream, baked goods and smoothies, the heart of the space is a 2,000-square-foot party room that is transformed with moving lights, hot pink tulle fabric, zebra print and the like.

Parents hold children’s birthday parties in the room, priced at $350-$375 for 10 kids, with various themes including diva, princess, superheroes or pajama party.

“We went with a business for kids because kids are so much fun,” owner Monica Ciagne said. “They like the fantasy and when they come in, they smile so big and that’s priceless.”

Ciagne’s husband, Chris, a former school principal, handles the ice cream part of the store. He’s helping market the business by inviting local schools and sports teams in for fundraisers and as a bonding experience.

The Ciagnes envision their business as being like a community center, where families can gather and students do their homework.

“We have Wi-Fi and I always offer free ice cream toppings to anyone who can answer a trivia question,” which might help the homework lesson, Chris said.

MSU’s McAlpine notes that more single parent and two-parent working families are fueling the trend of making sure children are happy.

“Parents want their kids to be happy, and part of that can be exhaustion and some of it is that concept of mother’s guilt,” McAlpine said.

Cat Massof, owner of Kitty Deluxe, a boutique featuring handmade jewelry and gifts in St. Clair Shores, finds pleasing both mother and child is the key to long-term retail success. The small, brightly painted pink shop has been open 12 years and about 40 percent of her merchandise is geared toward children.

“I wanted a place where mom and daughter can shop together, and what better place than a little pink house,” Massof said.

Longtime customer Leah Griffith, a full-time Wayne State student and mother from St. Clair Shores, agrees. She spends about $50 a month there with her four children.

“I love to contribute to a small business and Cat has such wonderful, unique gifts,” Griffith said.

Another kid-centric business parents are pleased with is Nicole Matoian’s new adventure, the state’s first Little Medical School franchise.

Matoian, a teacher, hosts after-school enrichment classes, camps and parties throughout Oakland County that explore the world of medicine through hands-on demonstrations, role playing, crafts and games that use real doctor’s instruments.

Parents have embraced the concept, some clamoring for a preschool version of the program, Matoian said.

She’s adding a Little Veterinarian School in January and expects to add nursing, dental and pharmacy schools.

“I think it’s a generational thing,” Matoian said. “Kids are priority and parents want to make them happy.”

Rene Wisely is a West Bloomfield-based freelance writer.

Big Spenders

Children’s spending has skyrocketed through the years. Kids ages 4-12 spent:

1968: $2.2 billion

1984: $4.2 billion

1994: $17.1 billion

2002: $40 billion

2012: $1.2 trillion (includes influence and buying power)

Sources: James U. McNeal, professor emeritus, at Texas A&M University; Digitas