After scouring the Internet to fill her house with only the best toys for her infant twin sons, Lori Pope hated to watch the clutter build as the boys lost interest.
If you can rent movies, video games and even handbags online, she thought, why not toys?
That's the idea behind Baby Plays, a Web-based company Pope launched in October that allows parents to receive four or six toys in the mail every month, assembled and ready for playtime. Call it Netflix for the toddler set.
Baby Plays subscribers visit the company's Web site to browse among nearly 200 toys for newborns through preschoolers. Customers build a wish list of toys they'd like to rent, and Pope's staff ships them to their door.
"It's going to take a load off of moms," Pope said.
Pope started with 10 customers, shipping toys out of spare office space in her business. Now she has about 200 customers nationwide, including about 40 grandparents, and is preparing to move into a 3,000-square-foot warehouse next door.
She has spent $250,000 of the money she's made from an oilfield supply businessto get the company off the ground, from buying toys and hiring employees to subletting the office and storage space. She hopes to begin turning a profit by this fall.
Customers pay $28.99 a month to get four toys a month for three months and $35.99 a month to get six toys a month for three months. Families willing to sign a yearlong contract can get six toys a month for $31.99.
Baby Plays' inventory includes popular toys by brands such as VTech, LeapFrog and Playskool, as well as more obscure European manufacturers.
Families generally keep the toys for one month and then send them back in the box they came in, using a postage-paid return label the company includes with each shipment.
But it's no big deal if families hang on to a couple of toys for several months, Pope said. New toys are shipped out as the old ones are returned.