Baby equipment rental
By Elizabeth MooneyFeatures Profiles
Sometimes necessity becomes opportunity. That’s the way things happened for Lesley and Shana Cherry, the co-founding sisters of Wee Travel. Lesley lives in Toronto, and her family comes from Vancouver, so in the first year of her son’s life she often travelled between the two cities.
|Is this the face of your new customer? Baby equipment rental has succeeded in major markets as a stand-alone business. Established rental stores may be able to add it as a sideline. Photo by Anna Davey.|
Sometimes necessity becomes opportunity. That’s the way things happened for Lesley and Shana Cherry, the co-founding sisters of Wee Travel. Lesley lives in Toronto, and her family comes from Vancouver, so in the first year of her son’s life she often travelled between the two cities. Lesley was lucky enough not to have to travel with baby equipment; it was all available through her family. She quickly realized that not having to carry all the equipment that goes hand in hand with a baby made the process of travelling with a baby far easier.
This realization led to a new rental business. Some quick market research showed them that although baby equipment rentals were a booming business in other countries, there was nothing available in Canada. They happily stepped in to fill that void in 2004 and now have three locations: Vancouver, Victoria and Toronto.
| Lesley Cherry is the co-founder of Wee Travel, a firm specializing in baby equipment rentals.
Wee Travel was successful from the get-go, particularly impressive when you consider that the company was basically founded on the fly. It was started with a bit of market research, feedback that it was a good idea, and a website. There was no business plan, no staff, not even an office. It was run solely by the sisters despite both already having full-time jobs and children.
Lesley told us that they were lucky enough to be able to establish in a pretty low-cost way. “We created the website ourselves and purchased equipment on an as-needed basis.”
It also helped that getting the word out was actually pretty easy in the beginning. There was, of course, some standard networking, including calling local hotels to let them know about their service, but the biggest advantage was that it was a new idea. “It was a new concept and people were happy to write articles about us so we got a lot of free press.”
In terms of clientele, while there are certainly rentals from vacationing parents, there are also a number of rentals from places like relocation companies and film companies to accommodate cast and crew travelling with children.
Their reputation goes a long way to reassuring clients. Word of mouth has always been key to them, and in an effort to expand that reach, this year they joined “RatePoint,” a website that gives people the opportunity to review and rate businesses. In the six weeks since they joined they’ve had 58 reviews and have an average rating of 4.8 stars out of 5. It’s that kind of reputation that helps them to be successful.
There are no government regulations for baby equipment rentals, other than the standard safety regulations for the individual pieces. She told us that they make sure all equipment meets Canadian safety standards and they keep on top of things like recalls, so you can be confident you are always getting a safe piece of equipment.
We asked Lesley how she deals with issues of liability and she told us that along with the rental agreement, each client must sign a liability waiver and it is up to the client to install equipment. To ensure the safety of their pieces, Wee Travel inspects each piece before and after each rental and will guarantee its condition. In fact, the administrative details don’t seem to be much of a challenge at all, nor are they much of a departure from the standard procedure at an ordinary rental store. Customers are clearly happy with the service.
As long as there are people travelling with children there will always be a market for this type of equipment, and, according to Lesley, the biggest challenge these days is in getting the word out and letting people know it’s
Regarding future expansion, Lesley said, “We don’t franchise per se; we have independent contractors, but are very choosey about who we will work with. We maintain a really high level of quality and service, and before we work with someone, we need to be absolutely positive that they will provide the same level of quality and service we do.” Location is also an important factor, as to be successful, you really do need to be in a major city or business hub.
Six years after opening, other baby equipment rental companies have come and gone, and, although now you can find baby equipment rental companies in major Canadian cities, Wee Travel remains strong as Canada’s original baby equipment rental company.
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