Many successful dealers and General Managers I know are constantly looking for ways to improve customer reach, add more value to their businesses, and make shopping at their dealerships the best experience possible. However, what you may not be aware of is families with special needs children are not able to come into an auto showroom AT ALL, and as a business you may not have a clue how to help accommodate parents of children with disabilities. I feel writing about this topic is an extremely urgent matter that could possibly have a positive impact on so many special needs families in Arizona and throughout the country, especially given the prevalence of autism alone in the United States is estimated at 1 in 59 births.* (CDC, 2018)
Many parents with special needs children can’t come to your dealership… ever.
Recently, I met an incredible woman who has twin boys with severe autism. It came up in conversation that my husband runs a Toyota dealership and she was quick to share that she and her husband happen to own two Toyota vehicles. When I asked about her last car-buying experience, she explained what the process was like for her family.
In addition to their family vehicles, they had invested in a small RV equipped with a refrigerator, a bathroom, changes of clothing, and everything the boys needed to stay occupied while their parents were inside the dealership. It was the only way their family was able to make time-consuming purchases such as home buying or purchasing a new vehicle. Not only due to time constraints concerning the dietary needs of the children, but also when they went into any large, loud building with noises, bright lights, or large crowds of unfamiliar people the kids would become overstimulated and get very upset. So going into the process, they had a plan.
She and her husband arranged with the dealership in advance so they knew the situation. Each of the parents would take turns staying with the boys while the other was inside with the salesperson. One at a time, they looked at the vehicle, test drove the vehicle, and asked any questions they had. As you can imagine, from the salesman’s perspective selling this one car was a very lengthy, repetitive process.
From the couple’s perspective, he had treated them with kindness and patience and they left knowing they would recommend him to other parents with similar circumstances. “But,” she added, “the problem with that is not everybody has an RV or even a minivan to facilitate this type of marathon car-buying experience.” She expressed that if even just one dealership had a sensory room, they would be a customer for life.
What is a sensory room and why should you create one?
Families with children that have sensory processing issues, ADHD, or autism have a very difficult time finding child care, so they typically have to bring their children with them to places that are less than ideal for the child. However, in their case, they literally COULD NOT take their children into the car dealership with them.
Can you imagine if your dealership was the only one in your area with a special needs room? What would happen if you created a safe, sensory-friendly space in order to make it possible for all families to come and do business with you?
Creating a sensory-friendly space in your dealership may be easier than you think.
Fascinated by her account, I asked her to tell me more about sensory rooms and what a business would need to create one. Here are a few of her suggestions:
- Typically, the room would have soft flooring, dimmed lighting and a soothing paint color on the walls.
- Perhaps a projector, some small tables, including seating for parents and bigger children.
- Beanbag chairs on the floor and quiet toys or puzzles would be a nice touch. I.e. items to keep them busy, avoiding crayons, play-doh, or anything messy or easily damaged.
- Overall, it doesn’t have to be anything too costly or fancy.
Her pediatric dentist in Gilbert, Arizona has a room with children’s furniture shaped like antique cars with video games in one area and a quiet, dimly lit movie theater room for kids who want to relax:
NBA stadiums are installing sensory rooms as well:
Airports have sensory-friendly spaces, too:
Here are examples of more elaborate sensory rooms:
Just image what a sensory room could do for Arizona families and your dealership.
Parents of special needs children may choose which businesses they visit and recommend to other parents based solely on the environment they create for their child, or don’t. In 2016, PBS did a featured story on “How Phoenix Became the Most Autism Friendly City in the World” and there are many families of kids with disabilities living in Arizona today. I feel this is a HUGE opportunity for dealerships to create spaces where families can come together and experience a stress-free environment while purchasing or servicing their vehicles.
Have you taken special needs families into account when designing your customer environment? Do you want to learn more about sensory rooms and other unique experiences we can help you create to make your auto dealership stand out from the competition? Contact Brooks Advertising to learn more about our customer experience strategies, auto dealership branding, display campaigns, and other Arizona automotive marketing services to find out what we may be able to do for you.