The Mommy Niche

Cultivating the Mommy Niche
In the last few postings, we have detailed the trends negatively impacting downtowns as the economy constricts, but we have also discussed strategies for overcoming those negative trends.

One such strategy for downtowns is building and/or strengthening the “Mommy Niche.”

The reason is simple: Women are our nation’s shoppers. Though they comprise little more than half the population, women make over 80% of the consumer purchasing decisions. Mothers with children make up about a third of all households and they are spending a lot of money.

Why will mothers be attracted to downtowns instead of regional malls or big box retailers? Mothers employed outside the home are the most time-pressured group and the one most likely to give convenience a heavy weight within their purchasing decisions. These mothers are looking for shorter shopping trips and are more inclined to “satisfice” (compromise between price and convenience) with merchandise available in their downtown shops. They are also looking to spend “quality time” with their children as conveniently as possible, and downtown restaurants and activities can provide the perfect venue.

Activity-Driven Retail
While women’s apparel and children’s apparel shops are very helpful, activities seems to be driving a lot of mommy niches. Family friendly restaurants are key. Restaurants that encourage children with play areas, baby and child-friendly restrooms – even toys – and affordable prices and kid-friendly food will attract mothers with young children. Another key factor is children’s learning centers – dance studios, art studios, kids yoga, karate, even the town library. Mothers can spend time with their children at these activities or drop their children off and be free to shop and catch up on salon needs, grocery shopping or buying presents.

This mix of services and activities provides a customer traffic flow of moms that downtown retailers and restaurants can capture.

Mommy Networks
Through their own social activities as well as their involvement in those of their children – car-pooling, preschool, soccer, etc. – mothers need to be networked with other parents. This need is especially strong for those who work outside of the home and rely on the networks to provide some level of care or supervision for their children. Consequently, in most communities there are strong “mommy” social networks that provide word-of-mouth communications channels.

Local “Mommy Merchants”
Over the past year, DANTH has noticed increased reports about local mothers opening commercial establishments in New Jersey downtowns. These “mommy merchants” have many assets that give them a higher probability of success. For example, they usually bring along networks of local friends who constitute a close-in customer base and cadres of likely store apostles. They are also more likely to be attuned to local mommy needs, tastes and shopping habits. Even more, they are sometimes friends of other district “mommy merchants” and these connections provide a spine for referrals and informal cross promotions. Many mommy merchants can probably use technical assistance. DANTH estimates that between 7% and 25% of downtown merchants are interested in obtaining and actually using such assistance. However, because of their high education attainment and prior professional experiences, it is likely that mommy merchants will have a higher participation rate in such programs.

Despite all this, few downtown revitalization strategies have a “mommy” focus.

How To Make A Mommy Niche Happen?

Downtown organizations need to think about how to make their districts more convenient for visitors, especially busy working mothers and /or stay-at-home moms. Thinking about physical improvements in terms of a “convenience analysis” is the first strategy. Downtowns need to have streets that are easy to cross, public toilets available and kid-friendly, parking that is easy and safe for mothers with children and strollers, short-term parking that generates lots of quick customer trips, and a reasonable distance between parking facilities to shopping and activity. Downtowns also have to cultivate relationships with their local mommy networks. This means identifying the networks and the women in them who are the opinion leaders and message transmitters. Hold focus groups with local mothers or arrange discussion groups between downtown business operators and local moms. Finally, help potential local “mommy entrepreneurs” prepare viable business plans, find downtown locations and link them to other sources of assistance such as business schools, the SBA and state economic development agencies.

This posting was condensed from my longer report by Mary Mann. For the full report on “Cultivating the Mommy Niche” and for a full citation of sources, visit www. after June 17, 2008.