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FOR THE KIDS

Downloading Early

Educational software is luring young customers to local computer shows.

March 20, 1997|RICHARD KAHLENBERG | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

When Bevera Skelton talks about the "brand-new computer users" she sees at computer shows held at the Oxnard Performing Arts Center, she is referring to the customer's age as well as the state-of-the-art equipment.

Skelton, the Oxnard center's events coordinator, and Carolyn Adams, her counterpart at Seaside Park in Ventura, have noticed a big increase in the number of kids showing up at their computer shows.

"Parents now are bringing along the users of the future--some even in strollers!" Skelton says. "There's a tremendous selection for children, especially software, and some of the vendors have begun to specialize in it."

A Northern California firm, MarketPro, brings in representatives of 200 or more Los Angeles-area retail stores, who set up booths to offer new IBM-compatible hardware and software at discount prices. (There is also a limited selection of software for Apple-equipped consumers.)

MarketPro spokesman Ed Knapp says the goods on sale at the shows are guaranteed. And Skelton and Adams say they don't know of any show-related consumer problems going unresolved.

Seaside Park, adjacent to the Ventura County Fairgrounds, has hosted computer shows since 1982.

"The people who work in the booths are very helpful," Adams says. "I've seen the same faces [for years], and now they have lots of educational stuff and 'learning tools' for kids."

The trend Skelton and Adams have noticed has been measured statistically by Odyssey, a market research firm based in San Francisco. According to Odyssey's "Homefront Study" released this month, in 44% of households surveyed, computer online services or the Internet are used mostly by a woman or a child. Twelve months ago, Odyssey's survey indicates, men constituted almost three-quarters of the consumer base. Now they're down to just a little over half.

For kids, and parents who have to foot the bill, the attraction isn't just the general popularity of computers. It's the bargain prices. "Hardware is 10% to 50% less than normal retail store prices, and software is 10% to 90% less," Knapp says.

Many repeat attendees buy passes instead of paying the one-time $6 entry fee. A five-visit pass costs $20, and a 10-visit pass is $30. Kids under 12 are free.

BE THERE

Computer show Saturday at the Commercial Building at Seaside Park, 10 W. Harbor Blvd., Ventura, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (805) 648-3376. Sundaythere will be a show at Oxnard Performing Arts Center, 800 Hobson Way. (805) 486-2424. Admission at each show is $6. Kids under 12 free.

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