Volume 6, Number 2, 1997

Creating the WOW! factor

UD graduate Larry Lipman, Delaware '79, has found success by thinking like a kid. And, like a parent. Lipman creates and markets innovative play areas and toys that occupy children-and reduce moms' and dads' stress-in public places. Retail stores, supermarkets, fast-food restaurants- they're all perfect settings for Lipman's work.

If you've spotted a commercial-size Lego table in a physician's office or a toddler play area at McDonald's, you've seen some of Lipman's play corners. If you've experienced a play center- complete with a wireless beeper system and closed-circuit TV-in a local supermarket or retail store, then you've seen Lipman's work on a grand scale.

Kids love his creations because they're never static, he says. "We try to do things that are interactive, hands-on and use a lot of what I call the 'Wow!' factor. We use things that kids don't find at home," he says.

The Wow! factor must be working. Lipman has placed play corners in 22,000 U.S. locations, ranging from McDonald's restaurants to Midas auto shops to Stride Rite shoe stores. The more elaborate, state-of-the-art play centers in 35 locations are growing in popularity.

At play centers,parents check their children in before they begin to shop. The store hires a baby-sitter for the room. Lipman's company provides a security system with a wristband to monitor the child's whereabouts; a closed-circuit TV system that airs the center's goings-on throughout the store; all of the equipment for the room; and a software marketing package that the retailer can use to track the shopping habits of families who visit the store.

Like educational, indoor playgrounds, Lipman's play centers appeal to children and parents alike.

"Parents haven't seen their kids all day, and they want to be with them," Lipman says. "But, it really is easier to go through a store alone. This way, they can shop without the children, which makes the trip through the store quicker and less tense, yet they know their kids are in good hands and having fun."

The retailer benefits, too, Lipman says, noting that people with children are more likely to shop at a store where their children ask to be taken. In addition, the store is cultivating a long-term relationship with the child.

"If you entertain children and show them you care about them, you're building the next generation consumer, which is the kid," Lipman says. "That child will look forward to going to the grocery store, and when he gets older, he will have a warm feeling about the store."

Lipman, who majored in marketing administration at Delaware, founded the Resource Marketing Group in 1990. He marketed play equipment called PlayConcepts through that company until last September, when he sold it to Keiser Corp., an international manufacturer in Fresno, Calif. Today, Lipman is vice president of Keiser Corp. and vice president of international marketing and sales-and partial owner-of Keiser PlayConcepts. With a total of 81 employees, Keiser PlayConcepts places products in the United States, Canada and 16 countries overseas.

Lipman says he knew when he graduated that he wanted to own his own company someday. So, he set out to gain the experience he needed. Selling disposable cups and hospital equipment for a large manufacturer, he learned how to manage a sales territory and to leverage distributors. Then, for a uniform manufacturer, he gained experience developing sales programs that meet customers' image requirements. Finally, before branching off onto his own, he learned how to establish a business from scratch while working for a financial services company.

How did all of that lead to PlayConcepts? "I realized that kids are the future of this country, and I wanted to get involved in shaping the way children wait in commercial environments," he says.

Lipman's hours are long. Many of his days are spent away from his Houston home, where he lives with his wife, Debra, and their children, Bryan and Lauren. Still, his work is a family affair. Debra helped found the company, and today, she helps develop the marketing and advertising collateral used to lure prospective customers. The kids help, too.

"They take me to a lot of environments for children," Lipman says. "They give me the opportunity to study what holds kids' attention for the longest amounts of time. They are my research and development department."

-Marylee Sauder, Delaware '83