Baby gear rentals appeal to traveling families

Terry Loomis needed a car seat. The Oldsmar, Fla., grandfather wanted to take his 4-year-old grandson to Walt Disney World while he was in town from Maryland. After a quick Internet search, he came across Visiting Baby Inc., a baby equipment rental company catering to residents and guests of Florida's Gulf Coast.

One phone call later and owner Terri Ryan was at Loomis' doorstep, car seat in hand. "She offered to install it for me, which was nice, because it's been a long time since I've used a car seat," he says.

Baby equipment rental companies can be found in dozens of U.S. cities, offering gear for the traveling family or anyone preparing for a toddler's visit. While most are owned and operated by a sole proprietor in a specific locale, there are a few offering locations across the country. San Francisco-based Travel BaBees Inc. recently opened its 13th franchise in Seattle.

"Families traveling with youngsters need only pack a suitcase and diaper bag," says Roseann Bonnar, manager of Travel BaBees Seattle. "No more schlepping car seats and portable cribs on the plane. When they arrive at their hotel or Grandma's house, a crib and bouncey seat can be there, ready for use."

Baby's Away, founded in Breckenridge, Colo., in 1990 has more than 70 locations. Laura Dennis, mother of two and operator of the Baby's Away franchise in Chicago, empathizes with parents on the go. "Traveling with children can be stressful," she says. "It's helpful to know there's equipment available to keep your child safe and comfortable while traveling."

As owner and operator of the highly rated company Visiting Baby Inc., Ryan will deliver and set up any number of pieces from her vast inventory, then pick them up to sanitize the gear before its next use. Weekly prices range from $59 for a full-sized crib to $19 for a box of toys. As a former pediatric nurse with three young boys of her own, Ryan anticipates parents' concerns when they're out of their comfort zone. Anxieties about renting equipment and visitor hot spots are issues Ryan addresses on a daily basis.

"I've had a lot of conversations with a lot of moms," she says. "I assure them my gear is safe and clean, and that there are plenty of entertainment options for all ages in Tampa."

W. Ranelli readily admits she was anxious about planning a trip to her family's vacation condo in Florida. "When my husband and I traveled with our daughter for the first time, I panicked thinking of all the things we needed to bring," she says. "I found and thought it was an amazing service. Terri delivered everything to our condo and even brought a car seat to the airport car rental agency."

Ryan's above and beyond approach to customer service is something Ranelli depends on, especially since she's hoping to add to her brood. "It just makes it so much easier," she says. "I feel confident traveling. In the future, I know I'll be able to travel by myself with a toddler and a newborn because Terri will be there with everything we'll ever need."

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