The Family Market: What Is It?

The term 'family' is frequently used in the location-based leisure (LBL) industry. Operators say they are targeting families. Some businesses describe themselves as family entertainment centers (FEC). A part of the LBL industry even describes itself as family-oriented facilities. Yet, despite its common usage, the term family is frequently misunderstood.

The Census Bureau defines a family basically as two or more people living together in the same household who are related by blood, marriage, or adoption. However, this is not what family means to LBL operators. To them, family denotes parents with children.

But is this rather broad definition, which would cover children from infancy to 17 years old, what the family market is? Not really. When you examine the market of families who visit LBLs, you find that the children within the family unit are not proportionately distributed by age equal to their distribution within the overall population. Instead, you find the age of children visiting LBLs with their families heavily skewed to younger children. That's because by the time most children become late tweens and teenagers, they no longer want to be with their families -- they want to hang out with their peers. Mall rats are just one example of this phenomenon. Roller skating rinks are another example where tweens and early teenagers want to hang out sans parents. The typical family that goes out will have only children about 10 and younger, with the highest proportion of children below age 8.

Most LBLs miss the mark when they target families, as they end up aiming at families with children from about age 9 and older. They miss a large opportunity by attracting only this smaller family segment. Yes, this is the smallest family segment. Why? Because the vast majority, about two-thirds, of families have at least one child 8 and younger. Half of families have at least one child younger than 6. And one-fourth of families have only one child younger than 6.

So, when LBLs fail to cater to younger children, they effectively exclude the majority of the family market. A family with both a younger child and older child is not really interested in visiting an LBL where the younger child will be bored. Nor does that LBL appeal to families with only younger children.

For years, White Hutchinson, through our market research, has been aware of this phenomenon and where the greatest market opportunity and revenue potential exists. That is one of the reasons we developed the children's edutainment center concept -- to tap the market of families with younger children. And when we produce other types of LBL facilities for our clients, we make sure they have a high appeal to families with younger children. (Also see this issue's article on family friendly audits.)