SINGAPORE: Being advised by family and friends that having multiple strollers for their firstborn will be ideal was what prompted young parents Kenneth Tan and Tay Shixian to start toying with the idea of renting.
“Many of them recommend getting a stroller for each stage of growth,” recalled Ms Tay. “There’s one for babies around three to four months old but as soon as they can sit upright, you will need a different stroller and again when they get a bit older.”
A colleague of Mr Tan, for instance, had 10 strollers of different sizes for her four children.
Overwhelmed by the types and prices of strollers available, the married couple began searching for alternatives.
“The prices are steep and we don’t want to end up with prams idling at home,” Mr Tan said. “That was when Shixian asked if there’s an option for us to rent as and when we want, and return when we don’t.”
That planted the seed of PramShare – a business that the couple launched two years ago to meet the needs of parents like themselves. Apart from strollers, car seats and baby cribs are also available for rent.
While the idea of sharing cars, bicycles or homes may seem more prevalent in Singapore, the so-called “sharing economy” – underpinned by the idea of sharing access to resources, rather than ownership, through digital platforms – has been increasingly embraced by local businesses beyond transportation and hospitality.
These are companies – not necessarily technology start-ups – that hope to tap on the burgeoning space and get consumers to start sharing more than just big-ticket items. They facilitate the rental of commodities ranging from clothes to watches, and even on-demand services such as doing chores around the house.
One new entrant is Timeless Fleur, a two-year-old online retailer of preserved flowers.
Being natural flowers that have undergone a special preservation process, preserved flowers do not require daily maintenance, such as watering, and have a longer shelf-life of at least a year.
Given these merits, owner Tan Yining thought it would be apt to introduce a “flower sharing” service. As a start, the 23-year-old, who quit university to focus on the business, has set her sights on the wedding market where there’s “significant” flower wastage.
"Flowers are usually used then thrown away after the weddings. It is quite a pity so I thought given that preserved flowers don’t wilt, maybe they can be better alternatives to fresh flowers.”
Being reusable also meant the possibility of more competitive pricing.
Ms Tan says her wedding floral arches are available for rent at S$388 each, almost half the price of a similar item that uses fresh flowers.
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“IS THERE SUCH A THING IN SINGAPORE?”
Over at PramShare, rental rates differ according to products, brands and preferred periods.
For a stroller, daily rental fees can range from S$29 to S$49 or start from S$49 to S$69 for a week. Customers can choose to collect it from the company’s office in Pioneer, which is open 24/7, or opt for a delivery at a fee.
Thus far, its users are mostly tourists and the expatriate community here in Singapore. The entrepreneurs admit that it has been “more difficult” to attract local parents to use their service.
“The first response is usually ‘Is there such a thing in Singapore?’” said Mr Tan. “We will explain what we do but many will choose to stay status quo and proceed to buy a new stroller for their child.”
Hygiene concerns pose as one of the hurdles.
“We had many parents who asked how the strollers are cleaned but after explaining how we remove the fabric and all (detachable compartments), parents still find it hard to get over the fact that this item has been used by other children,” added Ms Tay.
“Because it’s not brand new, they still think it’s dirty.”
This changing of longstanding consumer habits is a common challenge for all businesses attempting to jump on the sharing economy bandwagon, said Associate Professor Zafar Momin from the Nanyang Technological University’s (NTU) Nanyang Business School.
“Whether people are looking at strollers or flowers, one of the biggest hesitations will be about the quality and condition of the product they might get. But it’s not impossible to convince consumers."
Citing how the concept of ride-sharing or home-sharing was unthinkable just a few years back, Assoc Prof Zafar highlighted the building of a sense of community and customer relationships as crucial factors.
"Like how you would rate a driver, allow your customers to rate your products or write testimonials. You can try to tell them all about what you’re doing but the collaborative dynamics of the shared economy means that a sense of community is the most important thing.”
While the trend of sharing economy moving beyond ride-sharing and renting accommodation is hardly surprising, the NTU professor noted that new businesses will need to be mindful of competition and find a niche quick.
“Compared to others in the industry like bicycle-sharing, the entry cost for some of these newer players is low. But because it is low, others will find it easy to enter your space.”
He added: “Millennials are embracing the shared economy; they like to use things and don’t necessarily have to own them. But just because they are open to sharing many goods and services, it doesn’t mean that it will work out for all players. To succeed, businesses still need to find a niche or fill real demand."
TAKING BABY STEPS, BUT OPTIMISTIC
Owners of PramShare and Timeless Fleur told Channel NewsAsia that they are hopeful of attracting more customers in the long run.
The former has plans to help parents “monetise” their idling strollers and car seats, revealed Mr Tan. PramShare will either acquire these used items or allow customers to leverage its platform to find a renter. The new initiative will start in a month’s time.
The couple is also banking on their complementary business, PramWash, to help spread the word. Despite starting a few months later, PramWash, which offers cleaning services for strollers and other baby items, has been racking in profits with growth of 250 per cent year-on-year.
Ms Tay said: “When our PramWash customers need a replacement stroller or car seat, we direct them to PramShare. We are hoping that this will help people realise that shared items are not dirty and will, in future, give them a try."
Over at Timeless Fleur, its two-month-old flower-sharing service has confirmed five orders so far – a result that Ms Tan thinks is encouraging given that consumers here know little about preserved flowers.
“When I started in December 2016, preserved flowers were almost unheard of. Now there are more (retailers) in the industry, but the concept remains quite new to most Singaporeans.”
Ms Tan thinks couples who are environmentally-conscious or on a budget will be tempted to rent her flowers for their big day.
"As long as there’s a clear communication from us to the customers in terms of what they can expect, I don’t see why people wouldn’t want to try something that helps to save money and reduces waste."