By Joan Leotta
Bargains! They’re the clarion call of every shopper. The Internet has become an ideal platform for finding discounts on a multitude of goods and services. Although there were already many services offering deals and online coupons in the Washington DC metro area, Jamie Ratner, a Bethesda, Maryland mom and author of a popular blog on bargains for families, saw an unserved niche: She noticed that most deals offered on websites such as Groupon and Living Social were primarily aimed at young singles.
The idea for her website, www.certifikid.com, came to fruition when Ratner realized that she could make her wish for more coupons and services for families a reality. Her company was one of the first to provide deals on a variety of family-friendly items and services including amusement park visits, summer camps and more. And from the beginning, she also identified a more targeted grouping of families who might love coupons: those with special needs kids.
Jamie’s sister, a teacher of students with special needs, along with friend Sunday Stilwell, a popular DC/Baltimore area blogger, influenced Jamie’s decision to expand into this area. The disability deals are an option available in each city where CertifiKid has a presence. From the homepage, readers can find a “Special Deals for Special Needs” icon along the right-side column that leads to www.certifikid.com/special_needs.
What CertifiKid has to offer
CertifiKid works by offering subscriber families limited-time deals on local goods and adventures. The site aims to be, according to its “About” page, “an online playground for families to build relationships with each other and local businesses that will last beyond the initial transaction.” Once customers find and purchase a deal through the site, they can print out an exclusive coupon to be redeemed at the business. Other deals are also available at CertifiKid’s Facebook page and through Twitter. Families who refer others to CertifiKid.com receive referral credit through the site.
Ratner and her crew connect with their target market because they are the target market. Ratner, a mother of two living in a high-cost area, understood her market well—families with children, looking for a way to stretch their dollars and still enjoy activities together as a family. The site’s tagline, “Your playground for great family values,” emphasizes this search for family-fun activities at bargain prices.
Since its 2010 launch in DC, the coupon site already operates in six East-Coast cities. A May 2010 article in the Maryland Gazette quoted Ratner on the early progress of the company, indicating that the site garnered 1,200 subscribers and eight purchases on its first day alone. Speaking to SMG in July 2012, Lara DiPaola, CertifiKid Marketing Director, said that the company had 10,000 subscribers to the special needs portion of the site alone.
Why “Special Deals for Special Needs”?
CertifiKid is the first deal site to offer bargains focused on families of children with special needs. “’Every family deserves a deal’ is Jamie’s philosophy, so she immediately expanded into that direction,” says DiPaola. “When you go to that area of the site or when you click the ‘Special Deals for Special Needs’ logo on the site, you are prompted to sign up for a free account and then you will receive an email each time we have a new deal to offer.”
Bargains on the special needs area include general-interest items like amusement park tickets and moonbounce rentals but also feature deals such as 50% off for individual education plans (IEPs) and occupational therapy services and products designed specifically for special needs. While of course, many public school jurisdictions offer IEPs as a free service, the “for pay” IEP can be of help to a home schooling parent, those sending children to private schools that may not pay, and anyone wanting a second opinion on the public school IEP,
DiPaola explains, “What we want to achieve by creating the Special Deals for Special Needs site is more than simply bargains. We hope to achieve inclusion.
“So many people use that word when referring to this community,” she continues. “We want to make it a real, tangible thing. When Jamie founded the company it was because she didn’t see the needs of families being met. With Special Deals for Special Needs we are simply taking that and doing our best to be sure that all families can benefit from a great deal.”
She adds that sometimes the special needs portion of the site may not have offers as are available on the main sight. “The number of offers ebbs and flows. My advice is to check frequently. There is no charge to families to be a part of our community either on the site or in our active social media outlets.”
Expansion and honors
The CertifiKid program already offers deals in the Washington DC metro area, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Delaware, and Hampton Roads, Virginia. Says DiPaola, “We already consider ourselves national because we help introduce businesses all over the country to families in the cities we are in right now. We plan to expand, but we’ll do that slowly, taking time to focus on building the right team in each new market that is key for us.”
Media coverage and opportunities have been key to spreading the word about the site. CertifiKid was recently recognized as the “Best Deal Site for Parents” by Washingtonianmagazine. Their CEO was named one of the top 40 under 40 Business Leaders by the Washington Business Journal in 2011. Additionally, in August 2012, founder Ratner was a featured speaker at The Power Conference: Women Doing Business in the DC area.
DiPaola says that the company measures success not necessarily by numbers of subscribers but by connections made. “Every time we get an email or see a post on Facebook that says that a family used a deal and loved it, that is success,” she asserts. “It’s something you have to work to take care of every day.”
How do they approach that task? “We do things differently from most deal sites,” she says. “We don’t have call centers or huge marketing teams. We like to keep it local, employ other parents, and be a part of the community. When we’ve been able to do that in every city, everywhere—that will feel like success.”
Edited by Mary-Louise Piner.