From Babyplanet to Bugaboo: more and more baby and children's brands are joining the sharing economy by offering a lease or rental programme. Julie Munneke from the online sharing platform Tiny Library and sustainable branding expert Juliëtte Schraauwers are closely involved with this development.
Julie Munneke was an early bird when she founded Tiny Library in 2019: a circular platform where brands can offer their baby products for rent. "I came up with this idea when I had children of my own and found out that parents need so much stuff that they only end up using for a short while. I was looking for a more sustainable solution, but I couldn't find anything."
That gave Munneke the idea of launching an online platform where customers can rent baby products. "As a user, you choose the product or products you need and select your preferred delivery time. Our rates start at just a few euros per month. When you no longer need the products, you can send them back or ask us to pick them up. Everything is then professionally cleaned and inspected, before being sent to the next user."
Easywalker, Medela & Bugaboo
To date, several major brands - including stroller manufacturers Joolz and Bugaboo and retailer Babyplanet - have partnered with the Tiny Library. Getting these brand partnerships off the ground after the company's foundation in 2019 was not easy, Munneke says. "Many of the brands I reached out to were not interested in my idea. Stroller manufacturer Easywalker was an exception; they were immediately convinced. Medela, a manufacturer of breast pumps, already had its own rental programme and was also excited to get on board. That inspired me to continue my search for brands with a sustainable brand strategy. Over the years, I have partnered with more and more organisations."
What kind of preconceptions did and do you face? Munneke: "I find that people over the age of forty mostly tend to see problems. Many believe it to be too much of a hassle. They also believe that most consumers would still rather buy new products, even though young people often tell us how wonderful our solution is - for consumers and for the environment."Participating in the sharing economy offers brands a number of benefits, Munneke continues. "As a brand, it lets you seize a piece of the market - i.e. the second-hand market - that you would not normally have any control over. In doing so, you extend your customer journey. It is the same for us, because consumers stay with us for a long time. Besides renting products from us when their baby is born, many also use our services when they go on holiday. Then they come back when they have their second child."
Tiny Library also receives valuable feedback from users at the product level. "We share this feedback with our clients, so they can use it to improve and further develop their products." Today, more and more brands are trying to extend the life cycle of their products, Munneke explains:"For example, Joolz has launched a repair centre where consumers can purchase individual components. In the past, many components were not available, especially for older models.If one of those components breaks, your stroller is unusable. That is such a waste!"
A different process
More and more brands are trying to launch their own rental or leasing programme. This can be successful if you truly set it up as a separate organisation, Munneke knows. "Just look at what Ikea tried, or pharmacy Etos' attempt to get a diaper subscription off the ground. Brands often overlook the fact that it involves a completely different process than the regular sales process. They think they can get their programme off the ground by bringing in a few external experts, but fail to see just how much time, money and expertise are needed to develop the necessary infrastructure."Tiny Library knows from first-hand experience how difficult it is to find the right partners for warehousing, cleaning and shipping. "By now, we have everything figured out, which saves the brands who want to collaborate with us the trouble of having to invest all that time and expertise into setting up their own programme."
Bosch and Auping
Munneke therefore advises brands to join up with parties who already have an infrastructure in place. "Otherwise, you have to launch a separate company in addition to your regular business, like Bosch did with BlueMovement and Auping with Bedzzzy. You have to have the right expertise and enough time and financial means to do so."
Based on the large number of requests for advice from international parties, the Tiny Library founder can tell that the Netherlands is quite far ahead of most other countries in this regard. "Brands and organisations from Germany, Switzerland, Scandinavia and the United States frequently come to me for advice. I can use my own extensive network to help the brands I work together with build up an international network of their own. I recently helped Bugaboo gain a foothold on the German market."
In the future, Munneke would like to expand her operation with toys and products for children up to the age of ten. "My ultimate dream is to become as large as Prénatal is in the retail sector and offer our customers everything they need for children up to ten years old."
Branding expert Juliëtte Schraauwers helps brands develop a sustainable brand strategy. She loves online platforms like Tiny Library. "The sharing economy ties in perfectly with our zeitgeist. We have to embrace these kinds of solutions, share more and let go of our urge to own things. Twelve years ago, when I first decided to help brands generate a more positive impact, many people thought I was crazy. Today, more and more brands are focusing on the sustainability of their operations."Where does that caution come from? "Our fear of change is wired into our brain. That's a shame, because there are myriad benefits to being an early adopter. Today, a brand or organisation sabotages its own success if it chooses to largely or entirely ignore the issue of sustainability."
Schraauwers also sees opportunities for a major brand like Ikea in this regard. "They are already doing a lot when it comes to sustainability. However, the only way for them - as a one-stop shop for baby and children's products - to generate impact on a truly large scale is to offer the option to rent or lease their products." Brands should not underestimate how much money they can earn with such business models, Schraauwers says. "We often feel like it is wrong to earn any money from the sustainable changes we make. It is high time we get over that outdated notion. The money you earn from sustainable initiatives should be put to good use to realise further growth and solidify your position in this world."
By implementing a sustainable brand strategy and especially by participating in the sharing economy, you can not only increase your revenue but also, as Munneke indicated above, extend your customer journey. Schraauwers: "It is absolutely essential to maintain that connection to your target group or audience. Ultimately, everything you do is for them and for the world. Especially when you are dealing with young families and the new phases of their lives they enter into; it is not just about stuff, but also about emotions."
The sustainability expert emphasises that it is therefore a good idea for sustainable baby and children's brands or platforms to have those young families play a major role in their branding. "Have users tell your story, instead of doing it yourself. You can e.g. create videos of families renting a stroller, talking about their experiences and sharing their story. Viewers can then watch the stroller's journey from one family to the next. This is a great way to explain the process of sharing products to your target group."
Circular sharing economy
Schraauwers concludes by saying that it would be even better to realise a circular sharing economy. "The next step I envision is for a stroller to be used by a thousand families before being returned to the manufacturer, who recycles it and uses the materials to produce a new stroller so the cycle can begin all over again.''