Babyseat Rental Program at Hanover Co-op

As you climb the stairs to the offices above the food store at the Hanover Co-op, you can't help but notice all the babyseats stacked to the ceiling on the adjacent ledge. People comment on them regularly, asking what they could possibly be doing in a food store. The answer in part, of course, is that the co-op is no ordinary food store. A number of years ago there was a call for a reasonably priced baby seat rental program in the area, so the Hanover Consumer Cooperative stepped in to provide another service needed by its community.

The program began in 1975 at the prompting of a local pediatrician and medical director of the New Hampshire child passenger safety program. Five infant seats were purchased with a $100 donation from a local foundation sponsored by the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. Originally, there was no charge for renting out the babyseat, but soon it occurred to those running the program that if they only charged a small fee, it would be possible to both maintain and expand the program. Today there are over 225 babyseats in circulation.

For a $10.00 deposit, a babyseat is loaned for a period of up to ten months. The service is available to both co-op members and non-members at the rate of $1.00 and $.50 per month, respectively, with a $5.00 minimum. The co-op doesn't make a profit on the rental of the seats. Any money that is generated from the program is used to purchase additional seats or to replace worn out equipment. The life of one seat is about 27 months or several rental periods. The availability of seats through the co-op is a real bargain, since the retail cost for a new infant seat comparable to those offered for rental ranges from $50 to $110.

Maintenance of the program is fairly streamlined at this point. Parents sign a rental agreement with the co-op, and then a staff member from the education department shows them how to use and install the seat correctly. When the child has outgrown the seat (20 pounds is generally the limit for the infant bucket seats), the seat is returned to the co-op, and the balance of the rental deposit is returned to the parent. If the seat is not clean when it is returned to the store, a $5 cleaning fee may be levied to help defray the cost of hiring a local teenager to clean seats a couple times per week. Insurance coverage for the program involves only a small addition to the premium already paid by the co-op.

Statistics show that the use of child restraints significantly reduces fatalities of children riding in automobiles. New Hampshire law states that "any child less than 12 years of age must be restrained." Mothers who have given birth at any of the hospitals are not allowed to take their children home without an appropriate child restraint seat. As a result, husbands and friends are regularly referred to the co-op to rent a babyseat.

Toddler seats are also available for shorter term rental from the co op. The toddler seats are particularly popular with grandparents in the area who may have grandchildren in for a holiday or vacation and who need to rent car seats for just a brief period. For as little as $5, parents can be spared the aggravation of sending car safety seats along with the children and all the gear. The availability of rental seats from the co-op saves some parents from purchasing two different seats; an infant seat rented from the co-op can serve until the child grows into a toddler size seat.

The co-op program has evolved as improvements in car seat safety technology have been made. Additional seats designed for premature children were introduced in 1982, at the prompting of staff from the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, who regularly update co-op staff about the safest seats to purchase for the rental program.

The Hanover Co-op does a few other things to make bringing children through the store easier. In our downstairs bathrooms there are changing tables in both the women's and men's restrooms. Also, three of our shopping carts are equipped with "baby sitters," infant seats that attach to the top section of the shopping cart, allowing parents greater mobility while providing an added sense of security. In addition, all of our shopping cai-ts are equipped with seat belts.

Loaning out babyseats to your community is a great way to gain visibility in your community and also to provide a highly valued service. Running such a program requires little maintenance and bookkeeping, and it is practically self-supporting. It also helps to promote child safety.

See other articles from this issue: #038 January - February - 1992