A lesson for the future of the toy industry: sharing – OZY

For 36-year-old blogger and mother Jhie Velasco, having to buy toys for her children – Jem, 9 and Adriel, 3 – is a regular drain on her pocket. Toys, she says, also take up “a lot of space” in her apartment in Winnipeg, Canada. So when she heard about toy sharing services, she “thought it was a great idea.”

She is not alone. A growing number of millennial parents are turning to toy subscription services that promise kids fresh toys every month at a cost far less than they bought, while reducing the environmental impact of plastics in the industry. of the toy. More and more companies are now offering these services, in the United States and beyond, and they are growing rapidly.

Green Piñata Toys, which started in Boston in 2015 and launched nationwide in 2017, has seen 60% month-over-month growth, with more than 2,000 shipments. For a monthly fee of $ 24.99, you can choose up to four toys in each box, for kids ages 6 months to 5 years old. One of the forerunners of toy sharing, KiwiCo launched in Mountain View, Calif. In 2011, and has now shipped over 10 million cases, which are suitable for different ages and interests: Teens can choose between a “Doodle crate” if they are interested in art and design, and a “DIY crate” if they are passionate about science and engineering. Monthly subscriptions cost $ 19.95. ToyLibrary also lets you choose from a collection of around 500 toys that can be personalized according to the child’s age and preferences for $ 19.95 per month.

They [kids] enjoy a new experience every month – designed to pique their curiosity.

Sandra Oh Lin, CEO, KiwiCo

Little Passports, Spangler Science Club, Pley, Toy-Yo, and Rent the ToyChest are just some of the many other toy rental companies that have popped up in the United States, all within the past decade. Khilonewala, toys-on-rent, Toy Express, Funstation, Toy Box Monthly, Bambaram, and friendlytoyz.com offer toy subscription services in India. In Singapore, there is the Toy Rental Club. And while they’re all startups, the big guys are now joining them as well. In 2017, Amazon launched a STEM toy subscription service.

These businesses are responding to growing demand – Pinterest, the social networking idea-sharing site, saw a 441% increase in toy-sharing searches on the site last year. In the United States, the average parent spends $ 6,500 on their child’s toys over their lifetime, according to a 2016 study by the Toy Association, the trade body that represents the industry in America. And an average house has 71 toys – for $ 6,500, up to 260 Green Piñata toys would be available.

They are also carving out a new niche in the global toy market, which is expected to reach $ 120 billion in revenue by 2023, with annual growth of 4%. Likewise, the rise of these toy-sharing businesses is part of the overall increase in the market for subscription boxes of all kinds – from cosmetics to clothing – which grew by 40% in 2018.

For children, these services provide a simple attraction. “Parents tell us how much children love to receive mail! We see this fun regularly in our social feeds, ”says Sandra Oh Lin, CEO and Founder of KiwiCo. “They like to have a new experience every month, designed to pique their curiosity. ”

As a concept, toy libraries have been around for decades. Harlem had its first toy library in the 1940s. But while these libraries were built around the idea of ​​ensuring that children in the poorest families had access to toys even if they could not own them, the new move towards digital toy sharing subscriptions is driven by a set of concerns that have taken hold. only in this century.

The toy industry is estimated to generate more than a million tonnes of plastic waste per year by 2023. This plastic burden could be reduced if children share toys instead of parents buying them. Admittedly, this could hurt the overall sales of the toy industry. When Toys R Us decided to shut down all physical stores in America last June, it blamed millennials, who also have fewer children than previous generations, noting that “incomes depend on the birth rate.” But many of these toy subscription companies also provide the option for parents to purchase toys that their kids have tried and loved, opening up a new window of opportunity for manufacturers by first drawing customers to the market. through the sharing of toys.

For the most part, however, the idea is that you return the toys to the company at the end of the month, when you get a new box of toys. Toys should be cleaned before returning them, and toy-sharing companies say they disinfect returned toys before sending them to another family.

Certainly, the growing toy-sharing industry has its own problems. Some customers have complained that after they return the toys to the company, it takes a while for a new toy box to be delivered, infringing on their subscription period. Velasco is also concerned that “there is no sense of ownership” with the rented toys, with parents or children. And what happens when a child damages the toy or there is wear and tear? Green Piñata Toys, for example, offers insurance against such accidents and charges a “nominal replacement fee”.

Yet for many parents, the benefits outweigh the risks. You can choose toys for your child for a lot less than what they would cost if you bought them. Many parents are also interested in the fact that experts organize the toy box for children according to their age and interests. “We design our products to inspire these young innovators,” says Lin.

For kids, sharing toys also instills greater value in them, because kids know they’ll only have them for a while, some toy subscription entrepreneurs suggest. Bangalore-based Preeti Ramuka, 32, of Toys for Rent, grew up in a common family with many children around her. “We had a big pile of toys that we never played with except the first week,” she recalls. But in an ambitious society such as India where ownership – from cars to toys – is seen as a sign of success, these services have yet to gain popularity. “It still seems a long way off before Indian parents start to embrace the concept as a whole,” says Ramuka.

Toy-sharing companies aren’t just waiting. Amid the growing evidence that toys help children become more imaginative and creative, these companies are now designing products accordingly. Along with Hot Wheels and Barbie toys, they also offer toys like Eggspressions, where kids use wooden eggs to share their feelings. With gender awareness becoming a must, parents are also making sure toys “encourage their children to … participate in activities that are typically associated with the opposite sex,” a 2017 Pew Research Center study found.

All of this means that kids get a wider variety of toys through their subscriptions than most parents could buy. Every month there is something new to look forward to. “It’s the anticipation, the desire to explore the toy in front of them,” says Velasco, “that makes every child excited about toys. ”

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