Do you remember the scene from Pretty Woman, when Vivian was doing some shopping on Rodeo drive? She started out shopping in her “work uniform” visiting high dollar stores. In one of the first stores she visited, the sales associates were so appalled someone of her stature would come into their establishment that they asked her to leave. Extremely upset, Vivian left. The next day after having received a complete makeover and purchasing thousands of dollars worth of merchandise, Vivian returned to the original store and proceeded to tell the sales associates about the huge mistake they had made by sending her away.
Last year I had the pleasure of accompanying a family who has a son with autism and a service dog to the mall. The family’s son was at the mall doing a CBI (Community Based Instruction) trip with his school. These trips are a remarkable idea as they give students with special needs a chance to experience the mall and locate different stores. During our time at the mall, we couldn’t help but discuss some recent events where store managers had asked individuals with special needs to leave. It is amazing the response company executives give to the media when they are questioned about asking someone with special needs to leave their store. I’ve heard: “It’s because we have sensors on our doors that measure our sales quota.”, “We didn’t think they would buy anything.” and my personal favorite “The employee was afraid of the service dog”. Here is why these are very ignorant statements:
- The large and growing market of people with special needs has $220 billion in discretionary spending. The special needs community’s consumer spending power is double the spending power of teens and more than 17 times the spending power of tweens (8‐ to 12‐year‐olds) –the two most highly sought after demographic groups.
- More than one in six people in this country are potential customers for businesses that are special needs friendly. 25% of all customers have a special need, or a close friend or relative who has a special need.
- Diners with special needs spend $35 billion in restaurants a year. More than 75% of people with special needs eat out at restaurants at least once a week.
- Millions of people with special needs regularly travel, shop, and eat out with family and friends. 20.9 million families a third of the population in this country have at least one member with a special need.
- A 2006 survey commissioned by the American Association of People with Disabilities and conducted by Public Opinion Research Inc., revealed that more than 70% of the associations members choose to shop with retailers that demonstrate their support for people with special needs.
A new state of mind I chose to live by is “People are not malicious, they are just uneducated.” Having this new state of mind helps keep my faith in humanity as well as reminds me to use every negative experience I hear or see as an opportunity to either educate myself or someone else. Special Needs Communities(www.specialneedscommunities.com) was created in the hopes of educating businesses to better understand and serve their customers with special needs. By educating yourself and your company about the largest group in our population today, you are opening your doors to the largest and most loyal customer base you have ever targeted. You are also drastically lowering the chances of one of your executives having to make a statement to the media of why one of their employees asked someone with special needs to leave their store or restaurant. I would love to see every business become educated about the population with special needs because it is simply the right thing to do, but in this day and age I am not sure if doing the right thing is enough motivation. However, increasing your customer base by 25%, now that is innovative and brilliant and is what propels a Marketing Director to becoming the President of a company. No matter what your motivation is, I encourage you be proactive and not wait until you have a negative article shared about your company on social media over fifty thousand times in a week to become educated on how to treat the largest group in our population. The choice is yours and I can assist you in both scenarios, however I must admit, crisis prevention is much easier than crisis management.
If you clicked on this article just because you wanted to watch the scene from Pretty Woman…here you go.
December 17, 2015 – Written by: Lindsey Turner, Founder of Special Needs Communities