The sharing economy is reaching those who are still learning how to share.
Two years ago, Ranan Lachman, whose kids were then three and five, was spending thousands on Legos. His children would take two hours to build a $100 set and be done with it. Then they’d want a more challenging one.
Even though Lachman was a Wall Street investment banker at the time, he winced at spending that much and figured other parents did, too. Seeing an opportunity, he raised $17 million and moved from Manhattan to Silicon Valley. He brought on a former Netflix COO, and in 2013, Pley was born.
The concept is simple. For $20 a month, you choose from Pley’s 350 Lego sets, which show up on your doorstep. Keep each as long as you want, and send it back when the kids are done with it. Another set arrives within three days. (Between rentals, each Lego is cleaned with an environmentally safe sanitizer.)
A study of 1,500 U.S. families Lachman commissioned found that the average parents of a 10-year-old had spent $11,000 on toys. Those 10-year-olds owned 248 playthings but played with just 12 of them. What’s more, 50 percent of the toys had broken or stopped working within 30 days of being purchased.
“These are shocking numbers,” he says. “We’re cluttering our houses with things our kids don’t want.”
Taking the whole supply chain into consideration, each Pley rental creates 10.5 fewer pounds of carbon emissions than buying a new set, according to Lachman. Maybe more important, the 180,000 children who receive and return Pley sets are learning to share. Often, they enclose a note for a toy’s next recipient.The Pley website is pley.com.
“It’s amazing to see kids connecting,” Lachman says. “Parents tell me, ‘This is the only toy my kid actually cares about. He knows it’s going to another kid, so he makes sure to take care of all the pieces.’ ” (If a piece does get lost, Pley doesn’t penalize.)
Pley is not alone in the toy-sharing sector. Sparkbox ($20 per month) focuses more on babies and toddlers, working with more than 25 vendors, including Fisher-Priceand LeapFrog, to rent 268 educational toys to more than 1,500 families. Their website is sparkboxtoys.com.
Both companies do well around the holidays: As gift-shopping parents realize that a single Lego set can cost $400, Pley starts to look attractive at $192 for a full year. Lachman says that Pley will soon rent out other toys, including robots, Hot Wheels, and K’Nex.
Is it hard for little ones to return a toy? Not really, Lachman says. “Kids understand very quickly that if you let this one go, another will come. They’ll give it up.”
This article appeared as “Netflix for Toys” in the November/December 2015 print edition of Sierra, the official magazine of the Sierra Club.