Toys

We wish to rent you a Merry Christmas

Dec. 7, 2011 at 7:36 AM ET

Rachel Denny Clow / AP /
Who needs Toys R Us when you can rent toys instead of owning them?

Hey, kids! Santa wants his toys back.

And he can have them back. Many parents are choosing to rent toys this holiday season instead of dishing out big bucks to buy the latest and greatest playthings. In addition to potentially saving money, toy rental is a way to keep down the toy clutter.

Stephanie Weber, owner of BabyPlays.com, a toy rental service founded in 2007, said she is seeing more customers turn to the service during the holidays. “We have people who sign up just so they can put six toys under the tree. It’s a great way to save,” she said.

Call it the season of regiving. Toy rental is part of a growing trend in recent years for renting everything from designer handbags to big-screen TVs.

It’s about stretching your holiday dollars further, said Nikki Pope, founder and CEO of Toygaroo, a toy rental company with 11 employees that launched a year-and-a-half ago.

“We don’t do tricycles and dollhouses, but we do filler toys that moms and dads feel pressured to put under the tree,” she said. Things like puzzles, educational electronic games, and wooden toys.

Pope compared her company to DVD rental giant Netflix. Members pay from $24.99 a month for four toys up to $50 for eight toys, and every box that ships contains $120 to $300 in merchandise. Toys offered include everything from products that carry well-known brand names such as Fisher-Price to items from lesser-known toy makers that don’t show up at Toys R Us. If a customer wants to swap out a toy during any given month that can be done for an additional charge.

It’s her answer to cluttered playrooms and expensive toys kids don’t want to play with anymore.

“I have 11 brothers and sisters and 13 nieces and nephews, and I was noticing the problem my siblings were going through,” Pope said. “Why spend the money if you can rent?”

The rental market for consumer products has been growing in recent years thanks to tough economic times and the desire of a growing number of Americans to buy less. The consumer product rental industry generates about $20 billion in annual sales and is growing at a 3 percent annual rate, according to First Research, a unit of Hoover’s.

“Today’s ethos of frugality and minimalism makes product rental seem to fit the zeitgeist,” wrote Forrester analyst J.P Gownder in his consumer products blog.

There are risks for parents who have children who are rambunctious or don't value the gifts they receive — or want to hold onto their loot. 

If the child loves the toy, Toygaroo will sell it for a discounted rate. Damaged toys will also end up on the parents' dime.

But at BabyPlays.com, Weber said, if a child breaks a toy or loses a piece customers won't be charged, unless it's "something egregious."

Michelle Madhok, founder of the buying guide website MomFinds, sees toy rental sites as a good alternative for parents who are trying to cut back on spending and those who want to do their part for the environment.

“Who wants all that plastic to end up in a landfill?” she said.

She also pointed to toy sharing sites such as ThredUp.com, which allows individuals to buy and sell used toys and other children’s items in a digital “hand me down” way.

“These services are great for kids who are sick of toys or are aging out of toys," Madhok said. “The problem I see is if a kid gets attached to the toy.”

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