Transforming an Office into a Space for the Youngest Customers
A shop is no place for horseplay or fooling around, but try telling that to your youngest customers — the kids that come with Mom and/or Dad to get the car serviced. Even the “quickest” service can seem like an eon to a small child, and all too often, this can be a problem for parents, other customers and even the shop’s employees.
While, ideally, parents come prepared with a coloring book, a toy or a video game, this isn’t often the case. Next thing you know, you have bored children climbing on furniture, parents losing their cool and maybe even a little one in tears.
At Freedom 10 Minute Oil Change & Car Wash of Lafayette, Louisiana, the crying might still occasionally occur, but now it tends to be when a child doesn’t want to leave! It isn’t because this is a future tech considering his or her options while studying what the employees are doing, but rather because Dawn Ortega, co-owner with her husband, transformed an office into a kid-friendly zone.
It is complete with a small “bus,” with a TV on top that is attached to a Roku box and can stream children’s programming, as well as puzzles and other activities that make a day at the quick lube shop a small adventure.
“My husband (Koury) has owned the shop for 14 years, and we’re the only type of oil change shop in our area,” Ortega said. “I started helping him last March (2018), and I quickly noticed a lot of parents would often repeat, ‘Stop touching that,’ or ‘We’ll be done soon.’”
Ortega said this gave her the idea to do something to make the shop more inviting for families.
“My husband had this big office, but he didn’t spend much time in it,” she explained. “We also had a large enough kitchen area that I suggested he move his office to the kitchen and he could do his paperwork there.”
Small Investment, Big Improvement
Instead of calling in contractors, the Ortegas rolled up their sleeves and transformed the office into a playroom. It took about a week, including after-hours work to create a safe and comfortable space for the kids.
“It was only a week, start to finish,” Ortega said. “We are open Saturdays, so we couldn’t start painting until after the shop closed at 4 pm, as we couldn’t paint when customers were here.”
The investment was modest and included new carpeting that was a few hundred dollars, an LCD HDTV for $200 on sale and the rest, the Ortegas said, came from pure sweat equity.
“We did all of the work ourselves,” Ortega said. “We had the wood, and we had the paint. My husband sketched it out, and we came up with a theme that would appeal to everyone. It was a more sweat-and-tears investment, but it has been worth the payoff from the customer base.”
As Ortega is a trained nurse, she put safety first in this inviting playroom.
“We made sure we took the cords off the blinds, and that there were no sharp objects,” she said. “Kids are only really in there for 15 or 20 minutes, but we wanted to make sure they’d be safe.”
The room has plenty of windows, so parents can look in and keep an eye on their children, who can also look out. There is even a window to the bays so children — and even teens or adults — can watch the work being done on the cars from the playroom. Some teens will go in there to watch TV when younger kids aren’t around.
The space is also a “safe room” in other ways.
“We took the handles off on the inside [of the door], so kids can’t open the door and run out; that way they are completely safe,” Ortega explained. “We also made sure there is nothing that they can swallow or hurt themselves with.”
Instead of tears of boredom, many children don’t want to leave. However, Ortega said that actually came as a surprise.
“As soon as the first kids cried because they had to leave, I wasn’t sure if the playroom was, in fact, a good idea,” she said.
That’s when she took a cue from banks and other service-oriented businesses.
“I was surprised that the kids didn’t want to leave, so we offered them — or, rather, their parents — Dum-Dum suckers,” Ortega said. “This is like what you get at the bank when you leave, and that managed to convince the children it was time to go. But, I have seen a few kids who have had to be dragged out!”
After visits from families, Ortega said the playroom gets a quick “turnaround” to help ensure it is a safe space for the next visitors. This includes keeping it clean, especially in the winter during cold and flu season.
“It is very important that we sanitize the room after it is used; and while there is nothing a kid can put in their mouth, we like to make sure everything is as clean as possible,” she said.
The room is vacuumed regularly, and an employee wipes down all of the surfaces. The carpet is shampooed every couple of weeks.
“I don’t have small children, but I know I wouldn’t want my kids crawling on a carpet that isn’t regularly cleaned,” Ortega added. “So, we make sure the room is regularly maintained.”
Marketing the Room
About 40 percent of customers have come in with kids, and many have said in the past, they have had to hire a babysitter or have someone watch the youngsters. Now, the kids look forward to getting to go to the shop.
“We have gotten a lot of compliments about it,” Ortega said. “Saturdays are really busy, and we’re one of the only places to do this sort of work in our town of around 200,000. There was a need for parents — especially fathers who are running errands with kids going crazy — to be able to get the oil changed or the car washed. This gives the parents a way not to stress if they have young kids.”
The shop has used its new playroom as a way to increase its customer base of mothers. Ortega said they did research on what demographics they could target. She found that many mothers during the week, and fathers on Saturdays, tend to have kids in tow.
The playroom has certainly paid off, and it has helped spread the Freedom 10 Minute Oil Change & Car Wash name on social media.
“Some moms have taken pictures of kids in front of the bus, and that has been shared on Facebook and Instagram,” Ortega said.
The room can double as a safe place for mothers with even younger children. The blinds can be closed, and it can also be used as a place to breastfeed infants.
For the future, the only concern is that the playroom might get too popular. It can fit four children and two adults comfortably — or up to eight kids. While there have been two different families with kids using it at the same time, so far, it hasn’t reached maximum capacity.
“Fortunately, we’re still about a quick service, so people come in and out all day,” Ortega said. “We’re really happy with this room. It is a place for kids to play and older children to watch the cars, and it has made everyone a bit happier. It has really been a great investment.”