Publicity turns toy-rental business marketing into child’s play

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Stephanie Weber, owner of BabyPlays.com, saw an increase in sales after The New York Times featured her business.

When Stephanie Weber launched her Springs-based Internet toy-rental business in 2007, she had a hunch it would be popular.

She didn’t know just how popular, though, until The New York Times featured her business, called BabyPlays.com, in a December story before the holidays.

The business operates like a Netflix for toys. Customers buy memberships, which cost about $20 a month, and shop and place orders online. Toys are then shipped. When toys are returned, more can be ordered.

The New York Times story shot her business’ name and concept around the globe. The Korea Times even published a story mentioning BabyPlays.com.

Business boomed, and sales tripled over the prior year.

Weber, a self-described neat-freak, said she stumbled on to the unique business concept when she saw her home begin to fill with her children’s seldom-used toys.

“In the 1970s, they had these toy libraries,” she said. “People could check out toys like they do books. I thought of that, but I knew it had to be more accessible — and I was concerned about cleanliness too. The toys had to be clean.”

After a lot of research, Weber and her husband, ventured into the rental industry.

“It’s like renting a DVD,” Weber said. “Sometimes, you want to buy a DVD to watch it over and over again — and sometimes you just want to watch a movie once. Kids are like that with toys. Some they become attached to, and want to keep. But others they get tired of — especially toddlers. Once they’re done with it, they’re done.”

BabyPlays.com was self-funded, Weber credits the Service Corps of Retired Executives, or SCORE, in part for her success.

“Those guys are great,” she said. “They are very helpful, very honest. That’s one thing I’d say everyone should do: research, research, research. And then seek out opinions. Even a negative opinion — someone telling you that you’re crazy — will add to your perspective.”

And sometimes that extra perspective is needed — BabyPlays.com is just one of several Internet toy rental companies. It’s starting to be a trend, Weber said.

“And our competitors, they have the backing of millions from investors,” she said. “We funded this ourselves, saved money for it. But we’re competing with them — and in some cases, doing better.”

The toy rental business is labor-intensive, but it’s a labor of love, Weber said. She has two employees, and relies on family members to help sometimes.

Weber hopes to open a physical retail location in Colorado Springs this year.

That could mean hiring a couple of additional people for the job, which is just right for stay-at-home moms.

The hours are flexible and moms can bring their kids.

“It’s a pretty good environment,” she said. “We have the toys.”