Toddlers and preschoolers exchanging toys through the sharing economy – no, it’s not a scene from Portlandia’s recent sketch spoofing collaborative consumption, but the idea behind a startup that rents out Lego sets to kids and other fans of the iconic plastic bricks.
Billed as a “Netflix for Legos,” Pley ships its members a new-to-them Lego set, lets them play with it as long they like and sends customers another set once the previous toys are returned. The company offers a 15-day free trial and has three subscription plans that include all shipping costs: $15 per month to rent out small Lego sets, $25 a month for medium-sized sets and $39 a month for the largest sets.
Worried about the cleanliness of playing with rented toys? Pley sterilizes the plastic bricks with an eco- and kid-friendly solution that kills 99.99 percent of germs and bacteria and meets the same standards the Food and Drug Administration applies to restaurants, according to the company’s website.
The environmental benefits of lending Legos – rather than producing and disposing of new, individually-owned sets – are obvious, but Pley boasts on its website that each set it rents out saves a tree over the lifetime of its rental. To date, the company said it has prevented 90,200 pounds of ABS plastic from being manufactured, which has avoided 3.9 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions.
The startup also helps members get rid of their own unwanted Legos in an environmentally responsible way: Customers can ship old Legos to Pley for free and receive credit towards the service. As part of a special offer for Earth Day, the company will give out $10 for every pound of plastic bricks – double its standard $5 trade-in rate.
Pley’s co-founder Elina Furman came up with the idea for the Lego lending service when the mom of two felt overwhelmed by the amount of the toys her children had and was concerned their copious material possessions were turning her kids into “little monsters,” Furman told Fast Company. Furman, who founded the daily email service A-List Mom that boasts 70,000 members, also wanted her children to turn off their TVs and computers and engage in play that stimulated their minds – like building with Legos. But stocking her home with Lego sets was expensive: Furman estimates she spent $2,000 dollars on the plastic bricks. After searching for a Lego subscription service and finding no such company, she decided to start one herself.
Because children’s clothes, toys and gear are, by nature, only used for a brief amount of time, they seem like perfect candidates for the burgeoning sharing economy. But rental companies for baby’s clothes haven’t had success: Plum Baby Gear shut down two years ago, and Good Karma changed its name and rental model and became the online consignment store Moxie Jean. Lending out toys is much different than renting clothes, however, which come in so many different styles and sizes that it makes it challenging to base a subscription service on them.
Starting at $180 a year, Pley’s membership fee may seem pricey – until you realize how expensive Lego sets are (a Star Wars Death Star will set you back $400) and how quickly kids get bored with and neglect their toys. And 15,000 families agree, all signing up for Pley subscriptions since the company launched last year. The startup, that has shipped 75,000 Lego sets from its warehouse in San Jose, Calif., is clearly still growing: It just secured $6.75 million Series A funding and has expanded from a two-person founding team to a 23-person staff, Fast Company reported.
Image credit: Pley
Passionate about both writing and sustainability, Alexis Petru is freelance journalist based in the San Francisco Bay Area whose work has appeared on Earth911, Huffington Post and Patch.com. Prior to working as a writer, she coordinated environmental programs for Bay Area cities and counties. Connect with Alexis on Twitter at @alexispetru