First Impressions Do Matter! Does Your Facility Help or Hurt Your Business?
Center first impressions do matter! Statistics show that drive-by has surpassed word of mouth as the number one reason parents hear about us. Meaning, curb appeal is critical in gaining attention, and interior appearance, sounds, and smells are vital in making prospective parents feel that their children will be welcome, healthy, and safe.
Create an environment conducive to a center having a robust enrollment and overall wellness by implementing these three categories:
• Sign – Can they see your sign? Is it in good repair? Does it let parents know what you do inside your center? • Hint – Invest in a small, disposable helium tank and balloons in primary colors. Every few days put some balloons out on your sign. It catches parent’s attention and makes them think fun!
• Landscaping – Make sure your grass is mowed and free of weeds, your trees and bushes should be trimmed and neat, and make sure there is no garbage on the ground. • Hint – Plant some flowers. They cost very little and require minimum upkeep. Flowers make people happy!
• Parking– How does your parking lot look? Most lots take up a large amount of space and if there is disrepair with it, then there could be a lot of disrepair due to the large space. Paving and painting is costly, but it should only need to be done every 10 years or so. If the lines are getting worn and faded, you can purchase parking lot paint at a home improvement store. Paint will freshen anything up! • Hint – Have a visitor parking space clearly labeled. It lets your prospective families know they are welcome. If you take tour reservations, have a sign you can attach to the visitor parking place that has the prospective family’s name on it!
• Front Entrance – Make sure the doors are cleaned daily as you have many little fingers that come in contact with it. Have your front entrance clearly labeled so families don’t have to guess which door to go through and be sure to place a WELCOME mat and potted greenery near the entrance. This will give a warm “homey” feeling. • Hint – Invest in two large ceramic or ceramic looking pots that are available at your local home improvement store and be sure to look for taller ones. You can then change these seasonally so that they are always different. Fall with cornstalks and scarecrows; Christmas with evergreen trees or limbs with lights; Winter with small birch branches with faux cardinals; Spring with large silk flowers (monster-sized) or real flowers, and lastly; Summer with opened, small beach umbrellas with beach balls and small beach chairs sitting next to them.
• Foyer – **SECURITY** New parents want to know that their child is in a safe and secure center, so make sure the doors that lead into the facility are shut and locked. Have the prospective family fill out the visitor book, and do not be hesitant about asking to photocopy a license. Explain that you need to know who is in your center at all times. They will appreciate that extra level of security, especially since most centers do not ask! • Hint – You can use the information they provide to follow up with them after the tour. A handwritten note is an added touch!
• The Greeting – Nothing else will put someone at ease better than a warm smile. If the tour was scheduled ahead of time, then be sure to greet them by name and if they have their child with them, make a big deal about their child. While you may have over 100+ children on the other side of the door, this is the only child that they are concerned with when touring. • Hint – Have a small sticker book for any child that is old enough for stickers. Make a small “passport” book so that the child can receive a sticker for every room or area they visit. Not expensive and will win the child over!
• The First “Senses” Experience – • What does your reception area look like? Is it balanced between a professional office and Disney? The front desk area should be clean, organized and free of food and drink. You must always be professional but you must also catch the attention of a child. This is a great place to make an investment. • Have a mural painted on the wall. • Have glass windows installed that look out to your playground or other fun area. • Hang large items from the ceiling. There is a center that has a slide for the children to enter the building! You want them to feel like they have entered Narnia! • What does your center sound like? Does it sound calm? Do you hear sounds of laughter, or sounds of crying? • What does your center feel like? Are there toys a child could touch and play with while you have a conversation with the parents? Are there informational resources the parents can touch and take? Not just your brochure, but general health and educational information that can show you are “in touch” with current trends. • What does your center smell like? It should smell like grandma’s kitchen during the holidays with a slight touch of bleach. You should not be able to smell diapers! • Hint – Use plug-ins! They are a subtle way to get the results you seek. • The last sense, taste, is a tricky one due to concerns with food allergies. You could have fresh baked cookies or fresh fruit in the reception area, or provide a free cookie or ice cream cone coupon to a local bakery or ice cream shop.
• Tour Time – Make a tour route! Create a map of your center (or use the evacuation map) and mark an “X” at everything you consider as something that adds value or sets you apart from the competition. Stop at every “X” location and know what you are going to say. One key is to always point out security that is in place, and when entering a classroom be sure to always introduce the teachers and share something positive about them. You can then switch places with the teacher and let them “sell” themselves and their room. You can even provide training classes for your staff on how to interact during a tour. They should show all the curriculum and great examples of everything they are working on and how they are learning from that. While the teacher is talking, make sure you are watching and interacting with the children. Parents want to see you have a relationship with the kids you care for too. Don’t forget the sticker for the child’s sticker book and your center should be hospital worthy clean!!! • Hint –Tell your teachers in advance of all upcoming tours so that they can keep their rooms somewhat picked up, presentable, and ready.
• The Close– At the end of the tour most families will be begging to enroll. You should always have a waiting list even if you don’t, as it provides a heightened sense of urgency. This also gives you an out if during the tour you have observed that your center may not be the best fit for this family. You want them to leave with a positive, lasting impression, so invest in a high quality brochure. You may also want to include a parent handbook, a welcome letter, and supply list specific to the room of choice. As long as staff turnover is not a big concern in your center, you could also include a teacher biography and photograph.
• The Follow-Up– If you have the space and you liked the family, then reach out and call them the next day to tell them you were able to work something out for them. This makes them feel you went above and beyond just for them. Schedule a follow-up time to get all paperwork and necessary deposits. If they did not want the spot when you follow up, then make sure you ask them why. This is a great way to make your center a better place. [Hint –When a new family starts, you can put a personalized welcome banner or sign to hang over their classroom door and have a small welcome gift. You can also let the whole center know when a new family is starting. Most teachers and parents will make a point to welcome them into the “family.”]
For more information on how your center can make its best first impression, please feel free to reach out to our Hinge Team at firstname.lastname@example.org