Ask any family traveler to describe the most annoying part of traveling with kids and he or she will tell you quickly: schlepping the gear. Between strollers, high chairs, and Pack-N-Plays, moms and dads often exert more energy carrying baby accessories than they do carrying the babies themselves. That’s where Babierge comes in. The fledgling Albuquerque, N.M.-based company rents unwieldy gear of all shapes and sizes to parents in 22 different U.S. markets. For the inside scoop on how the service can transform family travel, we recently caught up with Kerri Couillard, the company founder, and Kathleen Chaput, one of the two women who run the Babierge outpost in the northern San Francisco Bay Area.
How did Babierge get started?
Couillard: As my two boys got older, there was a large pile of unused baby gear in my garage. My husband wanted to park the car in the garage again and asked me to sell the gear. Instead, I decided to build a quick web site to rent it. I had my first order in a few days, and the business was born [unofficially, in 2011]. After seeing how happy and grateful customers were to have this type of service, I decided to build a national collaborative economy platform to empower other people, often moms like me, to start baby gear rental businesses in their communities. [Babierge launched formally in May 2016.]
What pain points were you trying to resolve?
Couillard: It can be a hassle to have to trudge through crowded airports with luggage, babies, and bulky baby gear. It also can be expensive to have to check gear as additional luggage. However, when families have all the childcare gear they need, children are happier and sleep better, vacations are more relaxing, and everyone has more fun. Babierge helps families pack lighter, travel farther, and make happy vacation memories. We think families will travel more often as a result.
What does your customer base look like?
Couillard: We knew vacationing millennial parents would embrace the idea of renting over hauling baby gear, and they’ve proven to be our largest customer segment. The big surprise has been the way grandparents have embraced the concept. They make up a good segment of our customer base. It makes sense though: When a grandparent rents from Babierge, we deliver and set up the gear, explain how it operates (baby gear has changed over the years), and then return to pick it up. Grandparents don't have to spend a fortune on quality gear they will only use once or twice and they don't have to store it between family visits.
How does Babierge work for people who want to rent?
Couillard: We run our business like an Airbnb, but for baby gear. There are no licensing fees or franchise buy-in fees to get started. No one owns exclusive rights to a market. We help [what we call] our Trusted Partners set up their websites and go live on our platform. We train them about gear-quality standards, how to use our technology, and [we advise them about how to] market their business.
What kind of gear do these Trusted Partners rent? What are the most popular products?
Couillard: [As a company] we've rented more than 7,000 pieces of gear so far. Popular items in include full-size wooden cribs, car seats, strollers, high chairs, and toy packages [which comprise a handful of age-appropriate toys for kids to play with].
Chaput: We offer a popular bundled package that, for $60 per day, includes one full-size wooden crib with linens, one full-size high chair, a sleep machine, a monitor, a toy package, a book package [of age-appropriate books], a single BOB stroller, and a car seat to fit a child. We also have found hiking backpacks to be popular for [the San Francisco Bay] Area. We give discounts for longer-term rentals—up to 30 percent for more than 24 days.
Do you handle drop-off and pick-up? How does that work? And who’s responsible for cleaning the equipment?
Chaput: We offer the option for customers to pick up rental items at no charge or we provide delivery and pick up. The latter option includes set-up and break-down of all equipment. Delivery fees range from $30-$70, depending on the location. We are responsible for ensuring the equipment is clean. For gear, we use a mild bleach solution on everything, then we rinse with water. We finish the process with natural green cleaners from BabyGanics that are safe for baby fingers and mouths. For linens, we wash everything, every time. We use All Free Clear, which has fewer chemicals than most normal detergents. We also vacuum our products to remove any lint or debris.
What’s next for Babierge?
Couillard: Babierge is in 22 U.S. markets today and we are adding new markets each week. We'll be international very soon, too.
Matt Villano is a freelance writer and editor based in Healdsburg, California. In nearly 20 years as a full-time freelancer, he has covered travel for publications including TIME, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Sunset, Backpacker, Entrepreneur, and more. He contributes to the Expedia Viewfinder blog and writes a monthly food column for Islands magazine. Villano also serves on the board of the Family Travel Association and blogs about family travel at Wandering Pod. Learn more about him at Whalehead.com.