Sarah Schaaf wasn’t expecting that having a child would inspire her to found her own company, she explained to Emerging Retailer on the first full day of Shoptalk, but her experience looking for durable, high quality baby goods for her son revealed an industry in need of new thinking.
Inspired to do something different, the former Google lawyer teamed up with her husband, Thornton Schaaf, and Chrissy Shea, most recently Director of Marketing at maternity apparel company Ingrid & Isabel, to create a concept that gives parents the opportunity to try, rent and buy luxury children’s products in a convenient way.
The result is Expectantly, which recently launched in California and has designs on spreading across and the rest of the country soon. The concept is stunningly simple: a curated list of high quality goods – from strollers to bassinets to high chairs – that often require a substantial financial investment, available to rent for 1, 3, or 6 month at a time. After the rental period, parents can return the goods and choose something more suitable for their growing child or buy the item outright.
Each time an item is returned Expectantly inspects, cleans (in partnership with method products) and refurbishes it to like-new condition for it to be rented out to another family. Finally, after 12 to 18 months of use, Schaaf is excited to say that Expectantly will refurbish and donate each item to families in need.
A Parent’s Journey
One thing that brings the Expectantly team together is their shared experiences. “We all as parents have [the] universal experience[s] of one: buying a lot of stuff that you don’t use for too long, and two: buying stuff for that you don’t know your kids are even going to like,” says Shea, Expectantly’s CMO.
To help parents with this, the founders are excited about the potential to personalize and automate the Expectantly experience for parents with children at different ages levels. As Schaaf points out, “what’s so great about a child’s development is that it’s highly predictable, which works so well for us because we’re about to utilize [our data] with purchase behavior [to suggest products].”
This means that a huge point of interest for Expectantly will be to give parents suggestions on what they’ll need for their child’s next step before they need it, whether that occurs through email touchpoints or when a user logs into the site and sees goods specifically chosen based on their child’s age. Data gathered from customers will eventually inform these suggestions, but today the heart of the curation process is the team’s own sensibilities.
For example, beyond the obvious focus on safety and durability, Expectantly is focused on finding products that parents will enjoy aesthetically, knowing that these products will be in their customers’ homes and livings rooms for weeks or months at a time. Schaaf is also planning on incorporating the experience and insights of the Expectantly team as well as those of their official product testers – for example, the site won’t sell any high chairs made with cloth because it makes inevitable messes more difficult to clean up.
“People are passing items down between each other and really only want to use them for a few months,” Schaaf says, “so we’re trying to create a concept that mimics what people are already doing.” She emphasizes that while some companies are doing work in the related category of children’s toys subscription eCommerce, Expectantly is focused on making parents’ lives easier.
This focus on fitting naturally into parents’ lives works in many ways as a rebuke to a Bay Area culture that has come under fire for its navel-gazing nature (summed up most succinctly in a tweet from 2015: “SF tech culture is focused on solving one problem: What is my mother no longer doing for me?”). Instead, Expectantly focuses on mitigating universal parenting issues – specifically “limited time, limited space, and limited money,” as COO Thornton Schaaf puts it, which should help Expectantly appeal beyond the insular, lookalike groups that many Silicon Valley startups stall in.
That being said, the company does trade in luxury goods, but even so its rental model puts high-end products within reach for a greater number of families who no longer have to worry about spending money on a purchase their children will grow out of in a matter of months.
Additionally, while it’s possible (though surprisingly difficult) to find companies offering long term child gear rentals, Expectantly’s stock of like-new, high quality equipment should actually make it easier for parents across demographic boundaries to feel comfortable renting rather than buying inferior products because of worries about cleanliness or existing damage to the rented products.
Beyond the customer benefits, the team is excited about the company’s potential to reduce waste: when parents can save money by renting a high end piece of equipment which is eventually donated to a family in need, they may forgo the purchase of a cheaper plastic product bound for a landfill.
Growing Up Expectantly
As the company grows, Shea is excited about the potential for an Expectantly community to form. “Everyone gets super passionate about this concept, because it’s such a real world problem, and enabling these people and real parents to express and share their experiences within our platform is going to be important,” she says.
While the current platform hasn’t enabled community sharing features beyond leaving reviews, Shea says that they’re on their way soon. “That will be part of our product roadmap in a big way. Being able to create and share their experiences, and have those experiences be able to be shoppable is a big part of our strategy.”
Another piece of Expectantly’s future strategy is a plan to drive online sales with offline experiences via showrooms and pop up shops featuring a limited number of highlights from their favorite lines. While a number of brands have been or are exploring this concept, the Expectantly team draws from their own experiences when they say that they know how important it can be to many parents to feel and vet products in person before they make those purchases for their children.