Thrifty Bethesda mom launches site targeting family-friendly services
Certifikid gets 1,200 subscribers within a day of its launch
The lofty price tags on Vera Wang wedding dresses were no match for Jamie Ratner's bargain-hunting prowess.
Ratner of Bethesda managed to find a discounted dress from the iconic designer for what she said was 90 percent less than the regular price. After her wedding, she sold the dress for a profit. For the past four years she has maintained a blog that would zero in on good deals for young families in the Bethesda area or online.
Ratner is determined to bring her nose for good deals to a broader audience as she launches Certifikid, a website that will resemble online group discount services such as LivingSocial and Groupon, but with a narrower focus.
The site launched May 24. Ratner said there were eight discount purchases on its first day, and about 1,200 subscribers had signed up for Certifikid within a day of its launch.
Certifikid will try to carve out a niche market by finding and advertising group discounts for families with young children. The discounts will run five days a week and will be for businesses ranging from family photographers and child-friendly restaurants to play gyms, family entertainment, children's haircuts and birthday party packages. The site is also meant to appeal to child care providers, expectant parents and grandparents.
Certifikid has reached enough deals with businesses in the Washington, D.C., metro area to cover two months' worth of discounts, Ratner said.
"There's so much I need to buy as a mom with a one-year-old and a two-year-old," Ratner said.
As with sites such as LivingSocial and Groupon, people who sign up for Certifikid will receive an e-mail five days a week containing a discount. The deals won't become "official" until a sufficient number of people sign up to receive them (unless no minimum is required). Once that number is reached, people will be able to use the deal.
Ratner's website launches at the same time one of the prominent group discount providers, LivingSocial, is contemplating strategies to pursue more businesses from suburban areas. Tim O'Shaughnessy, CEO of LivingSocial, which is based in the District, noted that 85 percent of a person's non-Internet commerce takes place within five miles of that person's home.
"People go and visit and try out things that are closer to them," O'Shaughnessy said. "That's going to be hugely important for us, to begin to provide more offerings based on the exact kind of specific area where you live."
While using sites like Groupon and LivingSocial, Ratner said a large portion of the deals seemed to be geared to single, urban residents in their 20s, such as deals for restaurants not necessarily the right fit for toddlers. Families with young children, she said, would also have difficulty finding many entertainment options on other group discount sites.
Ratner began forming the business proposal in January, and the site has turned into a family-run affair: Her father is the accountant, her mother is a consultant, and her husband, an attorney, has provided legal advice. Much of the rest has been old-fashioned face-to-face recruitment, as Ratner has gone from business to business pitching Certifikid. Like other group discount sites, Certifikid takes a percentage of the money spent on purchasing the coupons.
Ratner declined to reveal what percentage her company takes from the group discount sales, and beyond expanding to multiple cities, she does not have defined financial goals for Certifikid. She plans to investigate if businesses participating in Certifikid also want to advertise on the website.
"We're trying to help mom-and-pop business, and we are a mom-and-pop business," Ratner said.
Businesses signing up for group-discount offers using Groupon and LivingSocial are more concerned about how their bottom line is affected by the promotion in the long term. Mandy Lemar, the owner of the My Gym children's fitness and play center in Potomac, offered a 50 percent discount for a "parents' night out" deal through Groupon as a way to promote her business, not as a money-making venture. She called the Groupon deal "moderately successful" but agreed with Ratner that the site seemed geared to younger people without children.
Lemar is scheduled to open a My Gym in Bethesda this summer. She has signed up her business to participate in Certifikid.
"It is like word-of-mouth, almost grass-roots marketing in today's age with the Internet," she said.
For potential suburban customers, O'Shaughnessy said LivingSocial was trying to focus more on variables such as commuter patterns and transportation options to determine which deals for suburban residents work best for different areas.
"Someone that lives in Bethesda isn't necessarily going to go to Alexandria," he said.
Having sold 1,100 coupons for a 50 percent discount in 24 hours through LivingSocial earlier this year, Melissa Ballinger, owner of Mia's Pizza in Bethesda, said LivingSocial even allows businesses to calculate how much they earned from the promotion, providing a spreadsheet program that only requires owners to input the necessary data. Many of her regular customers bought coupons as well, she said.
"It hasn't only been the 20-, 25-year-olds," said Ballinger, who has operated the restaurant for more than three years. "A lot of people who have redeemed their coupons are older. A fairly good percentage of our business is young families."
Rockville resident Dara Buchman met Ratner a few years ago at a support group for mothers and had been a fan of Ratner's blog when she first heard about the idea for Certifikid. The mother of two small children, Buchman said she was particularly excited about finding discounts for family photographers, and also suggested Ratner find a discount deal for a household organizer who could suggest ways to cut down on kid-related clutter.
"She finds deals that most of us would never know about," Buchman said.