The summer heatwave is over; the nights are drawing in rapidly and the ‘Back to School’ campaigns are in full swing on the high street.

These days kids are big business – whether through obvious marketing campaigns aimed directly at their own pocket-money or the even more insidious and cynical marketing efforts aimed at using children to nag harassed parents to spend on their behalf. A very large chunk of today’s marketing effort is designed to exploit children, and you, as retailers, are in the thick of it all. Just look at the offers that you’re being encouraged to push – fizzy drinks, savoury snacks etc– they aren’t really meant for adults at all. However much you might detest the trouble the dear little cherubs can cause, you wouldn’t survive without ‘em; there’s a multi-billion-pound marketing industry out there to make sure of that.

As a sales opportunity, the return of hoards of spotty, noisy kids to your shop at regular intervals throughout the day might be a mixed blessing, but one that shouldn’t be sniffed at. They bring cash into the store and seem willing to try almost anything at least once, provided it’s recently been on TV. Apart from the obvious ‘edibles’, they can form a good market for the mobile phone top-ups, DVDs and games console accessories that the more alert retailers now stock. The main problem with the latter categories is that you have to have the latest software in stock: no self-respecting teen will be seen dead looking at that Grand Theft Auto 2 you’ve had sitting in the rack since 1999 when their mates are all into the latest version – Gta Vice City. And, of course, they’ll eat and drink all that junk food your shop is designed to sell to them.

But that’s the catch: most of the stuff the kids want to buy from you isn’t actually good for them. Quite apart from any moral or ethical scruples you might possess, selling them some of what they ask for could get you into the brown and sticky stuff. Take that Gta Vice City, for example; it carries an 18+ certificate and Trading Standards will come down on you like a ton of bricks if a parent actually views the thing and complains. Naturally, those other childrens’ favourites, ciggies and alcohol, are also age restricted. And don’t even think of selling them any top-shelf magazines – Trading Standards might be the least of your problems if you’re found selling porn to children. And remember, it probably won’t be your staff on the till who end up in court for breaking age rules – you’re the employer, you’re liable (try renewing that alcohol licence you had to wait for all those years if you’ve just been up before the bench for selling alcopops to kids).

At least children tend to arrive at regular times when teachers and parents are each glad to see the back of them for a while; it allows you to plan extra staffing on the till as well as extra ‘security’ for all those goodies that might walk without visiting the till first.

A few years ago operators used to opt for the VLA (Very Large Alsation) security device, but today, where there’s a serious pilferage problem, retailers tend to look at human security guards to act as deterrents. Fine as far as it goes, but before you rush out and hire one, just think for a minute. A ‘legit’ security guard will cost perhaps £500 per week from an agency. They are only a deterrent – if they try to apprehend a suspected thief, they have no more ‘power’ than anyone else (refer to Citizens Arrest and watch your lawyer laugh all the way to the bank). In fact, just accusing someone of theft in front of other customers without very strong grounds for suspecting a theft could land you in court for defamation – and that includes children. The resulting costs and publicity won’t exactly do your business much good So, are you really going to stop £500-a-week of profit walking out of the shop by hiring ‘security’ just to deal with pilfering kids?

Like it or not, you need children’s spending. Be sensible: stock what they like, but sell it to them only if it’s legal to do so. Keep in regular, friendly contact with local schools (the teachers will take more notice of what you say if you don’t only ever contact them with yet another complaint) support some of their fund-raising events and you’ll be amazed how far they’ll try to support you if you ever have a problem with their pupils. Who knows, those kids might grow into the regular adult customers you’ll want, in just a couple of years from now.