The Entertainment Factor

People aren't content to merely shop or consume anymore, so the smart businessperson also gives them an experience

By Bret Lamperes

I was reminded recently of how much even simple things have changed by the co-author of The Experience Economy. James H. Gilmore and I were speaking at the same conference, and he started talking about what birthday parties used to be like -– and how they are now. Having four kids of my own, this piqued my interest.

When we were kids, Mom bought eggs, flour, milk, and sugar to bake birthday cakes, Gilmore recounted. Friends were invited over, and that was the birthday party -- a commodity-based event.

Then Betty Crocker got into the mix, and it became birthday-in-a-box. Then supermarkets wanted in on the action, so they started baking cakes for all occasions. They would even squirt your name on the cake to let you know this was your special day.


  We've long left that behind, however. Now, we're in the days of the experience economy. When my kids have a birthday, it's not commodity-based -- it's experience-based. We might be able to blame it on commercial party emporiums like Chuck-E-Cheese. But whether it's his fault or not, the truth is most parents now spend $200 to $300 on a birthday party that used to cost $4.

How are you tapping into this great American desire to not merely consume, but also have an experience at the same time? Not convinced that you need to? I should drive you by the Golden Arches some time with my kids. They yell "McDonald's" as soon as those arches come into sight. It isn't because McDonald's has great hamburgers -– it's because they provide a great experience for my kids. Those giant plastic tubes my kids crawl in and out of are fun!

Other businesses are catching on to this trend -- and those that do stand out. Our kids' dentist is tapping into this concept by creating a whole building called Tooth Zone. It, too, will have tubes and slides and other fun stuff. He already has free video games and a cool play area for kids. His practice is thriving because he gives patients an experience -– not just a cleaning. My kids can't wait to go to the dentist!

Another dentist in town has a train theme all around his office. The lesson that these innovative dentists have learned is people want to have fun. And business is about giving people what they want -– not wearing a three-piece suit.


  My mother-in-law shops at a market in Fort Worth, Tex., that had a Mardi Gras Parade through the aisles of the store. They were providing more than shopping. Look at your business. What can you do to provide an experience? Men will tell you the only way to make going clothes-shopping with their wives bearable would be to have a sports TV channel on in a lounge environment where they could relax while their better half tries on 10 to 50 outfits.

My wife and I were joking about having a sports bar in the mall with a digital photographer in the dressing area of each store. She would try the dress on, the photographer would snap the pictures, and e-mail them to the sports bar. I would then make comments that are politically correct in my household and send them back to her.

Provide an experience in service. Provide an experience in people's everyday world. You'll stand out and be noticed. The opportunity is waiting. E-mail me your about your business, and let's come up with ways to apply the experience economy to your situation.

Bret Lamperes is an entrepreneur in Northern Colorado. He owns Dandelion Moving & Storage, Dandelion Mini-Storage and

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.