The Store Room: “How do you deal with unruly children or teens in your store?”

Michele Whitaker
Paper Players
Dunedin, Fla.

When we are working on an order, our customers sit at a table with us to discuss their ideas for wording, typestyles and ink colors. I always have crayons and paper ready for children that are tagging along. I ask them to draw a picture to take home and a drawing for my refrigerator. When they’re through, we walk back to the break area and put their drawing on the fridge. I have quite a collection!

On another visit, I’ve had several of our smaller customers run back to see if their artwork is still there.

Keith W. Klarin
(former party columnist for Rental Management Magazine)

The late, great Pat Chose of C & M Party in Walnut Creek, Calif. first conceived one terrific solution. He gave every small child a helium balloon as soon as they entered the showroom. In that way, he could always tell where they were.

Linda Crawford
Confetti Party Headquarters
Chico, Calif.

For pre-teens and teens, we keep a clipboard. We cheerfully ask for their names and write them down. If they ask why we say, with a smile, “We like to hire local kids and we want to remember you if you should apply here someday.” Trust me, the behavior changes. And yes, I have hired a few down the road.

Deb Kerkstra
Creative Events
Allegan, Mich
We have a three-step guide:

Step 1. We head straight for the parent(s) and find out what they are looking for. Odds are, they have their hands full with their kids already, so we try to make it as quick and easy for them to shop and be on their way.

Step 2. If the parent is ignoring the child, we will involve the child in a conversation or hand them an unbreakable 'toy' to occupy their attention.

Step 3. If they get too rowdy, we speak up and tell them to settle down for their own safety. If we have to speak up, the parent usually gets the message and we revert back to the first step.

Sad to say, but a lot of parents look at your business as a babysitter, so it’s a real joy to get kids in the store that behave!

Gina Hampton
Miji Corp.
Burr Ridge, Ill.

We’ve had customers literally walk in and leave their small children at the desk area as if we’re there to sit for them. After realizing they aren’t coming right back, we decide to explain to the customer that we don’t recommend children be left unattended since we are very busy and unable to attend to the child if something were to happen.

Teens can be snotty and rude, but we generally joke with them to keep it calm. In one recent incident we simply said in a firm but friendly tone, 'Alright guys, that’s not cool. C’mon.' Speaking their language helps to diffuse the situation. We don’t have many incidents occur, but the couple we do usually end calmly.

Lee Andress
former owner of Shapiro’s
Ellensburg, Wash.

My store was across the street from a university that hosted many conferences involving teenagers. Most were well behaved, but occasionally one student would come in with mayhem in mind. My display of tutus always created interest, and one young man began a march around the store with a tutu on his head.

I approached him and remarked he obviously was in the wrong store. It was a less confrontational method than throwing him out. His friends laughed at him, and he left of his own volition with a red face.

Another local teen had the mouth of a long shoreman on him. I told him we had many little children as customers and his bad language was not appropriate. He grumbled but knew better, and that was the end of trouble with him.

Little children with doting mothers were more of a problem. I had to tread lightly in those situations, since no mother thinks their child misbehaves. Usually, I herded the child over to his mother and said something to the mother about keeping her child close by, since there might be a safety issue if the child was given free rein in the store. Safety is usually a compelling reason for a parent to be more aware of a child’s behavior.

One attorney’s wife often came in with her two out-of-control boys. When a plastic sword fight ensued between the brothers, I had had enough and charged her the enormous sum of $6 for the two broken swords. She was offended, but by then I was ready to show her the door. She did continue to come in, but minus her sons! It appears you can teach lessons sometimes as a storeowner.

Erin Anderson-Hickey
Chicago Costume
Chicago, Ill.

We are located near two elementary schools and one high school, so in the after-school hours on warm days we often have children walking past the store. We posted a sign many years ago that says, “No children under the age of 16 are allowed in without a parent or manager’s consent.” This, combined with a strong front of the store presence, has been very successful for us.

My husband or I will keep a watch on the kids if they do come get permission to come in, and we usually chat with them. If they do start to act out or not listen, we have to tell them if they are not going to shop, we are not a toy store and they have to leave. That being said, we also get some of the best behaved kids coming in too, and their good attitude can promote a fun, playful atmosphere for all of our customers.

Tom Grassley
PartyLand, Inc
Utah (multiple locations)

We have a special room in the basement with shackles on the wall and snakes and spiders all over. We use an electric cattle prod in the main store when the parents aren’t looking…I wish!

With the little ones we will usually ask the parent if we can give them a free balloon or piece of candy. On the way out the door, I pop the kid’s balloon we gave them, kid starts crying and parents have to BUY another balloon. Okay, not really.

We have a children’s play area in some of our stores that have wall mounted activities, mazes, puzzles, etc. Teens are an entirely different problem. If possible, we try and get close-by and look like we are re-arranging or straightening product. When we determine they are just here to play and not buy anything, we will tell them it’s time to leave. If that escalates, we tell them we are calling the police and do if necessary.

That’s why my wife keeps me way back in the office, so I don’t offend too many people. Hey, I’ve been at this for 30 years and my patience is gone…

Phyllis Langsdorf
The Write Impression
St. Louis

We always have paper and pens for children to use to draw on so that they’re not into everything in the store. For the little ones, we have offered crackers or chips in paper cups so that they could munch. We’ve found that this has worked 95 percent of the time.

Barb Wicker
The Station House
Colleyville, Texas

Since we are a stationery store in an upscale area, we generally don’t have unruly teenagers. However, we deal with unruly younger kids by taking them by the hand and having them go sit with mom at the table or get them a pad of paper and a pencil (depending on age) and let them sit and draw. Or sometimes we will follow them around the store talking to them and taking their mind of ‘destructing the store!’

Daniel Hazen
Ozzie Dots
Los Angeles, Calif.

We absolutely love to see the happy expressions on children's faces when they walk in our store, but our expressions turn to sour when the parent let them loose to frolic as if they have arrived in Toyland.

If the child is racing around unattended, we approach the parent and ask if they need any assistance and then tell them that they must keep their child with them at all times. I would say about half of those feel we are being too constrictive and say so, but from our observation, the parents that behave in this manner are the ones that actually use our store as some pacifier for their children and usually do not buy anything.

Teens are a whole different situation, and we can’t help but notice the shortages in the areas that they gravitate to. They are the ones you must keep your eyes on or have an employee follow at all times. If you don’t have the extra help, our rule is to watch their eyes. If they’re watching to see if you’re paying attention, there are only two reasons—they need assistance or they are up to no good.

You approach them quickly before the deed is done. It is always better to prevent it than trying to get it back off their person. Handling teens in this manner makes them aware that you’re not an easy mark. We are also are aware enough to handle situations carefully, because these youngsters are our next generation of shopper.

Ellen Prague
The Paper Shop, Inc.
Winter Park, Fla.

When children are making a scene or a mess in the store, we strongly urge them to stop because we are afraid they might hurt themselves. Unfortunately, many customers today think, “I’m spending money here, so my children can do what they want.” The reality is that you can choose to ask the parents to take them and leave, knowing you won’t ever see them again and they’ll tell some tale of how rude you are, or you can just suck it up and hope they never come back.

Long ago, when confetti was the rage, we had two women in the store with their two six-year-olds running wild while the women picked out invitations. Eventually the children knocked over our entire display of confetti, two levels of 24 different shapes, all over the carpet. All we could do was vacuum it up and throw it out. One of the women grabbed her child and left the store, never to be seen again (thank goodness). The other woman apologized and insisted on writing a check!

Lori Blake
Celebrated Occasions
Springfield, Mo.

For unruly children, we offer them a coloring book, crayons and a table to sit at and that usually occupies their time. If it’s something breakable, we tell them that we don’t want them to get hurt and they better be careful, and typically the parents will step in. For teens, we ask them if they need any help locating what they are looking for and then we stay close by, straightening shelves and doing busy work, so they can see us. That usually works.

Christopher Ruch
The Party Corner
Shrewsbury, N.J.

We have signs around the store with a cute picture stating, “Unruly children will be sold as slaves.” It seems to work and it makes parents smile.

RC Ike
Party Time
Horseheads and Auburn N.Y.

We hand out balloons to the younger children and this accomplishes two things. First, they are happy to have a balloon. Second, they have one less hand to tear the store apart with.

As for the teens, we just talk to them and let them know we are there to help them. It also lets them know we are watching! If the teens do get out of hand and are unaccompanied by an adult, we just ask that they leave, but this has happened only one or two times.

Henry Miller
Captain Henry’s Pirate Store
Portland, Ore.

We first approach them like they were children of guests visiting in our home, with “Calm down kids, this isn’t a playground,” “Where are your parents?” or whatever is appropriate for their behavior. If they do not respond favorably or at all, we’ll ask them to leave or to please come back with their parents. We do not respond timidly and take a very strong posture, because it’s our store and they are our guests. If they continue their unacceptable behavior, we call mall security.

Kathy Dalton
Simply Unforgetable Party Shop
Ocala, Fla.

I like to start with the positive approach. If the child is given a free balloon to behave and play with, this helps to limit some of the disruptiveness. As anyone in retail knows, there are times when the children are just acting up and the parents are ignoring them or letting them wander away. When this becomes too much of a problem, like product being opened or destroyed or too much of a mess being made, I then allow my staff to tell the child that they need them to go find their parents, because we don’t want anything to happen to them.

Hopefully the parents then keep an eye on them, but if they don’t then we inform the parent as nicely as we can that if the child opens or breaks anything, that they will be charged for that item. Around 95 percent of the time the parent pays attention to what their child is doing. The other 5 percent get upset and leave.

This is a very sensitive subject that requires some tact in dealing with because you don’t want to upset the parent, but you can’t have your product or store destroyed either. The best way to keep this from happening is to provide great customer service, because you can usually nip this in the bud before there are any issues.

Adriane Brandenburg
Fun Party and Wedding Services
Shawnee, Kan.

With children, I usually tell them they need to stand close to their parent. I have no problem telling them to stop inappropriate behavior. If they pick something up and throw it somewhere, I tell them I will help them put the item up. If they are blowing in a balloon, I tell them it spreads germs and that they have to buy it. Usually the parent will step in and tell them to stop, too.

As for teens, I follow them around and let them know they are being watched. Usually they get bored and leave because they can’t play.

Paula Schlow
Favor-It Shop
East Brunswick, N.J.

Since we are a home-based business and we have lots of glass shelving, my customers are usually pretty good about holding their children close to them. We do have coloring books and crayons for the younger ones.

If it becomes a problem, I will let them know that there is a lot of glass and that their child could get hurt. If that doesn’t work, then we ask that they set up another appointment when they would be able to leave the child with someone else. In 10 years of being in business, this has only happened on a few occasions.

Betsy Ross
Betsy Ross Costumes
Clarence N.Y.

Since business is so tough now, this is a bit of a touchy situation. One hates to offend, but we can’t afford to have kids damaging merchandise, since in our industry we can’t send stuff back. I also can’t afford staff to run around and pick up after kids who throw things around.

First, I don’t allow children under 18 in my store without a parent. If the teenagers are fooling around, I tell them directly that my store is not Walmart and they need to treat it and me with respect or they can leave.

With little kids, I say to them within ear shot of the parents that in my store that they can “look with their eyes, not with their hands.” This usually gets the parents to keep track of their kids. Since rarely do parents take responsibility for their kids’ actions, the response is usually, “See, I told you that the lady would yell at you!”

If it’s a baby or toddler throwing or damaging things, I tell the parent directly that they need to keep the baby from touching. If I get a nasty look, I explain to them that no one wants to buy damaged merchandise, and if they would like to buy that item for their child to play with that I’d be happy to ring to it up. I also point out to people that everything in the store belongs to me until someone buys it and hang signs that say, “Parents are responsible for watching their children,” but who knows if they read them.

Those that get offended when I reprimand their children usually leave in a huff, which is fine because I won’t tolerate it. It’s so costly to run a business now, and profits are small. Even though you don’t want people to get offended and leave, you also can’t afford to throw out damaged merchandise.

Originally posted Friday, May. 7, 2010