This baby equipment rental helps parents save money – and reduce waste

When she gave birth to her daughter in 2018, her Philadelphia mother Bo Zhao felt like she was “stepping onto this very different plane of existence.”

As a new parent, she experienced both the love for her daughter and the worry that she would take care of her, the excitement about every new movement her baby made and the fear that she might be hurt. And the exhaustion of sleep deprivation made everything seem even more overwhelming.

“I didn’t realize how difficult it is to be a new mom,” says Zhao. “Even when you have financial support, when you have support from friends and family – it’s incredibly difficult.”

Shrouded in responsibility to care for a new little person, this truth is: Babies need a lot. Cots and inflatables; Bottles and breast pumps; Car seats and luggage racks; Socket outlet covers and cabinet locks; soon full-fledged clothes and shoes … and so much more. Zhao found that she bought tons of new baby equipment every month – and it was hard to know if it was it to the right Gear or even necessary.

“You’re not sure about anything,” says Zhao. “To like, do i really need this? Not me? You know, things are expensive and things have different price ranges and you don’t know whether the more expensive thing is worth it. “

A former materials engineer who moved to Philadelphia a few years ago to study, Zhao was used to researching the answers she needed. But she found a lot of conflicting advice on what she really needed in various articles and new parenting groups on Facebook. Plus, there are seemingly an infinite number of different models and brands of every item – and Zhao had a hard time determining what would work for her baby (what if a purchased stroller didn’t have enough bumpers for the bouncy streets of Philly?) Until she used the products.

“You’re not sure about anything,” says Zhao. “To like, do i really need this? Not me? You know, things are expensive and things have different price ranges and you don’t know whether the more expensive thing is worth it. “

On average, American middle-income families spend between $ 12,000 and $ 13,000 on their baby’s first year of life. In northeastern cities like Philadelphia, that number is often much higher. Zhao found that her daughter used many items – such as clothes, toys, and bassinets – for only a few months before she grew out of them.

“I thought, I wish there was some kind of service where I could just try things out and use them for as long as I actually need them“Says Zhao.

So she decided to start it herself, and founded the Baby Gear Group, which allows parents to sign up for a monthly membership to rent baby and toddler equipment, ranging from large items like strollers and cribs to smaller staples like toys and sleepwear is enough. In its sophomore year, the company is looking to increase membership with the ultimate goal of expanding beyond Philadelphia into its suburbs.

This is how the Baby Gear Group’s membership model works

Although the idea for the business came to Zhao in the months after her daughter was born, it wasn’t until November 2020 that she officially founded Baby Gear Group, something that would interest her.

“It seemed like a very common problem that a lot of people had,” says Zhao. “The response I got was overwhelming, oh my god i wish i had something like that too. “

These conversations helped her refine the logistics and business model. She found that parents preferred a delivery service where an item would show up on their door and then “magically disappear” when they no longer needed it. This spurred them on to create a membership model. For a monthly fee, parents can have a certain amount of equipment delivered. The company offers three different membership plans – mini, basic, and premium, from $ 49 to $ 199 per month.

The Baby Gear Group’s articles are divided into the categories Regular, Premium and Premium Plus. Regular items include small products such as baby slings, toys or baby carriers, while Premium and Premium Plus items include larger, long-lasting baby items such as strollers and bassinets. In the mini plan, parents receive five items and one premium item; the basic plan offers 10 items and three premium items; and the more plan offers a total of 15 items, including five premium or premium plus items.

On average, American middle-income families spend between $ 12,000 and $ 13,000 on their baby’s first year of life. In northeastern cities like Philadelphia, that number is often much higher.

To encourage parents to choose to rent equipment rather than buy it, Baby Gear Group has an overpayment guarantee. At the end of a membership, Zhao adds up the cost of all items that parents used during that time. If the membership fees exceed 50 percent of the sales price of these articles, she will reimburse the difference. That way, parents know they’ll save 50 percent on all items by renting through Baby Gear Group instead of buying them from a store.

Parents can choose a mix of new or used items based on availability, or choose all new items if they prefer. Parents who opt for all new items pay a 50 percent increase in their monthly membership fee.

If parents want to swap one item for another or their baby has outgrown a product, simply contact Zhao via email or text message and she will arrange pickup or return. The frequency with which parents can swap items or schedule pickups is limited by their subscription plans, but parents can keep items for as long as their babies are using them.

If parents love a product, they can also buy it from Zhao so they can keep it for their current or future children. Between users, all items are disinfected with baby-friendly detergents according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Zhao says baby clothes are perfect for reuse as much of them are durable and easy to clean as babies can be messy.

In addition to saving parental allowances, Zhao hopes that in a few months or years, her company can reduce the amount of waste parents create when purchasing brand new baby items that are meant to be landfilled.

The power of word of mouth

It can be a challenge to hang this equipment up for reuse; small apartments in the city often do not have a lot of storage space. Zhao said she found that renting a storage room for her daughter’s items to store for a future child would have cost her more money than just buying new items. She thought about buying and reselling the items used on sites like Facebook Marketplace, but it felt like a full time job.

“20 people answer in the first five minutes. You have to be great [tuned-in] 24-7, and who has the time? ”Says Zhao.

In addition to saving parental allowances, Zhao hopes that in a few months or years, her company can reduce the amount of waste parents create when purchasing brand new baby items that are meant to be landfilled.

Zhao self-funded all the costs of starting the company, including purchasing the equipment. She buys a lot of the items on Amazon or Target, basically “just like any other new mom would buy,” she says. She also buys from her parents – people who have gently bought used items in the past two years can send them to the Baby Gear Group library by emailing Zhao with photos of the items and proof of purchase. If accepted, it will offer parents membership credits that they can use for themselves or give to a friend.

So far, the Baby Gear Group has just over 100 members. Many members became aware of the business through word of mouth. Zhao is now promoting her business on the Baby and New Parent Facebook groups, where Zhao used to seek advice on buying products. She is also linked up with several local doulas that she is friends with to keep her clients informed.

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“At the moment everything is very organic,” says Zhao. “I’m trying to share it with other people who are in the same new mother room.”

The word of mouth was enough to grab the attention of Philadelphia Family Magazine, which named Baby Gear Group the “Best Baby Gear Rental” service at its 2021 LOVE Awards.

Although the business is not yet profitable, Zhao made Baby Gear Group her full-time job in January 2020. She hopes to expand to other parts of the city and the suburbs this year and eventually have people to help the business grow. Currently, most of the company’s members are located in Center City, South Philly, and Fishtown.

“Right now it’s a matter close to my heart,” she says. “That’s the thing I feel so passionate about.”

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Header photo: Bo Zhao, founder of the Baby Gear Group

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