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Show Me the Love

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A  story in a Brooklyn newspaper about a new trend born of the area’s obsessive coffee culture created quite a stir a few weeks back.

A “babyccino” is a drink for tots, made of either a mini decaf cappuccino or just steamed milk and foam with some cinnamon or chocolate powder sprinkled on top. The off-menu drink, which sells for $2, was reported to be gaining popularity among parents, several of whom said they visited coffee shops daily — some even spending hours there working.

Critics were foaming at the mouth, with some raising health concerns. I’m no fan of giving coffee — even decaf — to preschoolers, but steamed milk with foam and cinnamon seems reasonable, even soothing. It’s something Europeans have done forever.

Regardless of the babyccino banter, the story made me think back to when my children were that age and constantly in tow as I ran errands and shopped. Retailers who made my kids feel welcome — those who offered a small butter cookie, a slice of bologna or a bit of child-appropriate chatter about the Disney character emblazoned on their shirt — quickly became favorite stops along the way.

Finding a way to engage a child and cater to them in some small way can go a long way toward winning parents’ loyalty. And it doesn’t mean you have to ply a child with food. I can recall a specialty shoe store that had a small children’s corner tucked in the back. The play area provided a few extra minutes to try on pumps and determine if they actually fit, rather than just grabbing my size and hoping they would “work.”

IKEA was way ahead of its time when it introduced the supervised play area. I’m well versed in the pros and cons of depositing kids in these fun zones, but IKEA figured out a long time ago that if they wanted parents’ business they need to show the kids some love.

Say what you will about how kids should be taught to sit still and be quiet, and in plenty of instances that’s entirely true. Still, there are times when it’s appropriate to let a child walk around and explore the “fun stuff” displayed on the walls. Think how much more pleasant the experience could be for all.

Some may be put off by the babyccino concept, but I think it’s a trend more retailers should explore. A small gesture on the part of a retailer — something that doesn’t cost very much in the way of time or resources — can win over parents in a big way. And being child-friendly is not the only deed that pays off: Providing a bowl of water outside the door for those shopping with Fido in tow is likely to win “best friend” status for merchants, too.