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March Madness - Launching Our Car Seat Hire Service
It's been absolute madness here as we launched our car seat hire service this month and introduced a new car seat into our Maxi-Cosi range.
Where it all started
One of the reasons we thought about opening Baby Box in the first place, was because we heard Plunket was closing all their car seat rental programs. It was a service we'd used as a family so we were gutted.
However, it formed the genesis of an idea for our family to start a baby shop. With Nicklyn's industry experience, and a lot of ambition, we set out to build Baby Box so that we could fill a gap for our community (you guys).
That lead to months of planning, and talking to lots of mums and dads who felt like we did: that there was something missing. We've defined it as "baby friendly retail" and it was actually bigger than car seats. It was a service gap.
Basically mums and dads felt like when they became parents their priorities shifted and the safety and well-being of this new little person was all important. But retailers weren't appreciating that and there wasn't a lot of space and time afforded to new parents. It was like parents were targets, or inconveniences, or sometimes even invisible. Have you ever felt that way when out shopping?
For us as parents, we wanted to go somewhere and actually have help working out whether the car seat we were looking at would work with our car and our other car seats, as well as the way we live our life. We wanted to talk to someone friendly who knew what they were on about. In short we wanted shopping to be easy and enjoyable.
A big part of this came back to car seats. By far they were the most complicated baby item out there. Scarily, car seat checks run by organisations like Plunket find that anywhere from 60 - 80 % of parents install their seats incorrectly or use the wrong seat given the age of the child or the specific make-up of the vehicle. Surely things could be easier, right?
Challenges getting there
Originally we planned to offer car seat hires from day 1. It was a big part of the business plan. But as things turned out our timeline and priorities got completely flipped.
Initially the renovations on our store ran over a month behind schedule. This is scary for a small business, as you've started already paying for a whole bunch of things and you have no income because you can't open the doors to make sales.
Because of this, we had to launch our online store a lot sooner than we'd initially time-lined, which took our focus off things like our hire systems. Now we're where we are now, we're actually so thankful this happened.
Our original time-line saw us launching our online e-commerce store in 2019. Instead we've been able to integrate our online and physical store set up right from go. This makes things a lot easier for our customers (there's a whole other blog post coming on this).
A further challenge involved securing the best possible brands. We're pretty picky and, quite rightly, so are our suppliers. We had some major wins early on with some fantastic brands, but again this took up our time as we had to ensure we won over the suppliers, then built our collection in store and took care ensuring our systems, website, and brand, supported premium products.
One of the absolute BEST things about operating your own small business is that you learn a lot quickly. It's also one of the most daunting.
To offer car seats for sale, we felt we should become expert Child Restraint Technicians. To achieve this we invested in the specific course required for CRTs, and spent a lot of time reading the rules, debating specific points and practicing installs.
We also hired a more experienced CRT to both support parents in the beginning, and (more importantly) to accelerate our learning. It's been a pleasure working with someone so passionate about car seat safety, and learning from both her and our trainer.
Our biggest lesson
Probably the biggest lesson for us was discovering the value we offered you online was super important - more important than we'd realised.
Our whole business is set up around the idea of "Baby Friendly Retail" (read more here). It turns out that for you guys, baby friendly retail also means "able to do it online".
Which led to our online booking system
Once we realised this, we knew we shouldn't rush things and offer hires without having a great online booking system available to support our hires. We spent time researching the available options and settled on an option which would allow parents to book their seat in advance.
This was a little different to what other car seat hire companies were doing. Most companies offer a booking system where you submit an online form and get a call back to confirm your hire.
The best online hire system was Phil n' Ted's. Their system is totally online, but we didn't like that if you submitted your booking through the checkout, you started it. It meant you couldn't book a month or two in advance unless you were prepared to pay for that extra time. Maybe this is something they'll change down the track.
After researching a few options, we decided on a system which allows you to book in advance. This means parents can check and secure their booking, confident the seat will be there for them on the day.
What happens when you book?
If you end up booking a car seat from us, the online process essentially allows you to place a reservation. When you show up to the shop, we install the car seat for you, and arrange for you to pay a refundable bond and sign off on the final contract and install.
We like this because it means we get to meet you, and we get to explain the car seat to you so that you can keep it installed correctly and fitted well to your child. This means your baby is safe, and you will be one of the 40-20% of parents with a correctly installed car seat (hopefully this figure will shift to 100% as more parents learn about services like ours). Pretty cool, huh?
We've had a few hires already and we're pleased as punch that everything's working well so far in terms of systems. We might not have the biggest hire range, but it's kind of cool to think that our seats are being shared within our Baby Box community.
Have you hired from us?
If you've hired from us please let us know how you've found it. Did you know that for every one person that points something out to a business, apparently twenty seven others have noticed and not said anything. So don't worry about our sensibilities. Tell us what works and what doesn't, so we can keep making things easier for parents.