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KAI RYSSDAL: What do kids want these days? When it comes to goods and services, the answer is: they want what adults want and they’re often blessed with parents who are happy to oblige. Entrepreneurs recognize this and they’re opening business that have eager customers lining up. Steve Tripoli at the Marketplace Entrepreneurship Desk has been tracking one of those ventures, and it led him to a place where, well, you might say his presence stood out.
STEVE TRIPOLI: Just the assignment for a 6-foot, 50-something, male reporter.
I’ve been dispatched to the 7-year birthday party of Lilly Ferrin at a place called Wishes for Girls in Concord, Massachusetts. Lilly and her friends are having girl-fun. Her buddy Emma Cannistraro tells me what they’re up to.
EMMA CANNISTRARO: “Um, we were getting done our nails. And our toe nails. I got a pedicure.”
These girls represent a new market force. Kids are driving much of the booming demand for what used to be an adult luxury. Upscale salon and spa services are an $11 billion industry seeing steady double-digit growth.
RITA GREELEY: “We call this our Little Darlings Room so we do, haircuts, mini-manis in here . . .”
Wishes for Girls owner Rita Greeley tells me the Little Darlings Room is for the 4-to-8 set. You can get manicures called “mini-manis” for the youngest, plus pedicures, wash ‘n cuts and formal “up-do’s” where they put up your hair.
Wishes for Girls has been here since September and Greeley says all her kid- and teen-geared services are doing great. Birthday bashes especially.
GREELEY: “A salon birthday party was a market waiting to happen. People were calling before we even opened and we’ve done at least 60 of them probably since we’ve been open we probably do three or four a week.”
The International Spa Assocation says new salons, spas and day spas have teens and younger kids abandoning the ubiquitous nail salons in shopping malls. They want a better grade of service.
Rob Callender of Teenage Research Unlimited in Chicago says there’s a new kind of kid behind this growth.
ROB CALLENDER: “What we’ve found is that this is a very coddled, very protected, very nurtured cohort.”
Callender studies youth market trends from kids through the 20s. He says today’s kids are more mature. Their Baby Boomer parents have them thinking early about serious stuff like college and future careers.
But they’re also what he calls more expectant. Callender says kids know they’re marketing targets, and they’re not as ambivalent as their predecessors about consumerism.
He says this especially applies to today’s teens and the so-called “tweens” just behind them.
CALLENDER: “Tweens and teens actually see themselves as mini-me’s, as little adults. So, the way that this transfers into the spa phenomenon is teens have embraced the role as young consumers and they’re not interested in hearing that a luxury treatment like a spa is great for the parents but too good for them.”
Then there’s pure spending power. Callender says America’s 12-to-19 group alone has $159 billion in disposable income annually. That’s almost a $100 per kid, per week.
The youth movement toward upscale spa-type services isn’t without controversy. News stories both here and in Europe cite critics who say these services send kids the wrong messages about pampering and the pre-eminence of appearance.
Industry consultant Heather Lee designs spa programs for kids and teens. She says the industry should heed some of the critics both for kids’ sake and its own good.
HEATHER LEE: “I think we want to be careful not to have the image of spa aligned just with looking pretty, having pretty nails and a pretty hairdo. I mean there really is a wonderful opportunity at hand for this industry to integrate in some really simple but really powerful messages about how to care for yourself in a more holistic manner.”
Back at Wishes for Girls things are going so well that owner Rita Greeley’s already fielding franchising inquiries.
Consultant Heather Lee says demand for these services will likely continue its robust growth on the strength of eager Boomers and their kids.
I’m Steve Tripoli for Marketplace Money.