To truly provide the best customer service for your clients, you have help them fit fitness into their busy lifestyles. And for clients with children, finding one or two hours a week to work out can border on the impossible.

The family market is growing, and a high-quality childcare program can make a significant difference in how many parents become—and remain—clients. Providing a safe, family-friendly environment for your clients can be a major competitive advantage.

Before deciding if childcare services would benefit your studio, consider the following:

When hiring babysitters and childcare employees, the criteria aren’t much different from hiring class instructors. Look for babysitters who are infant and child CPR- and first aid-certified and have experience with children of various ages. Diligently check candidates’ references.

You may want to consider reaching out to a childcare professionals placement agency to help you through the process at first. They will charge a headhunting fee, but the assurance that you are getting candidates with the correct experience and training may be worth it.

A low ratio of staff to children is also a big plus for parents. The ratio varies depending on the ages of children you will have in the program at once. The Child Development Council recommends the following staff to child ratios:

  • 6 weeks to 18 months — 1:3
  • 18 months to 36 months — 1:5
  • 3 years old — 1:7
  • 4 years old — 1:8
  • 5 years old — 1:9
  • 6 to 9 years old — 1:10
  • 10 to 12 years old — 1:15

Does your studio have enough space for childcare? The program should have a separate and secure area with plenty of room to run and play. The space you have will also determine how many children you can permit into the program at any given time. The room should also be equipped with childproof locks and either a large window or two-way mirror so parents can peek in on the kids at any given time.

You should also designate a child-friendly restroom area for the little ones. This means stepstools near the sinks and possibly floor potties or potty seats for standard toilets.

Childcare areas have to be cleaned and disinfected daily. Your clients will appreciate if you wipe down surfaces and toys with child-safe disinfectants. Seventh Generation and Honest Company make a full line of safe cleaning products, but you could also mix your own disinfectant by combining hydrogen peroxide with 10-15 drops of essential oil. You may also want to consider DIY green cleaning products.

If you have dress-up clothes or cloth toys, they should be machine washed once a week.

Adding a childcare service will be a sizable expense for your business. While it may be ideal to absorb the entire cost as a customer service expense, that may not be possible. Calculate how much it will cost you per child and consider asking clients who drop off children to pay a portion of that cost.

Before making childcare available for every one of your classes, you may want to launch a beta program. Poll your current clients to find out which classes have the most parents and which classes would be most convenient for parents. For example, if you have a lot of couples who like to work out together, a Saturday morning childcare program could be a great place to start. But, if you have working parents trying to squeeze in a weekday workout, schedule childcare for an evening session.

Regulations for drop-in childcare providers vary by state, so you should check with your lawyer and insurance company before you start any childcare program. Keep in mind, if a child wanders out on to your studio floor unattended or becomes injured while in the care of your studio’s babysitters, you may not be subject to state fines but could be at risk for a lawsuit from the child’s family.

After weighing all of these considerations, the next step is to decide how you will structure your childcare program. Here are a just a few options:

Babysitting is the most basic childcare service you can offer. To get started, equip the childcare room with puzzles, books and toys for a variety of ages so that children can play independently. Babysitters can engage children with activities, such as circle time with songs and stories or simple fitness- or health-related crafts projects.

Keep in mind that, as a fitness business, allowing the staff babysitters to put on the TV and let kids veg out while their parents are working out will not go over well. Your clients will expect their kids to be engaged in an activity or free play.

Design themed play areas dedicated to various creative play options. For example, set up a play kitchen stocked with pots, pans, a refrigerator and other kitchen essentials, a workbench with toy tools, or a dress-up area complete with costumes, a playhouse and a puppet theater. Or, set up a kid-friendly fitness circuit with a ball pit and obstacle courses.

While parents are taking class with your instructors, why not give the little ones a class of their own? Reach out to the local kids gymnastics studio, music and movement programs, dancing schools or art studios. Many parents would gladly pay a small fee to give their child a valuable, developmental experience while they get their sweat on. This is also a great opportunity to partner with a local children’s programming provider to cross-promote the businesses.