Moms' online swap meet
Website fosters exchanges, sales of kids' items, as well as friendships
Saturday, September 8, 2012
On the Web
An online community for buying, selling and swapping baby and children’s clothes, toys and gear. The site also includes calendars with family activities, organized meet-ups and awards prizes to frequent users. Click here.
The original Vancouver Kids Swap and Sale Facebook page was so popular that some members started separate pages for adult clothing and home goods. Check those out on Facebook by clicking here and “Vancouver Area Home Swap and Sale.”
Any mother of young children knows nap time is when you can finally get something accomplished. For most, a load of laundry, a sink full of dishes or dinner prep is sufficient.
For Erica Cyr, however, one little nap time chore managed to turn into something that now helps connect hundreds of Clark County mothers.
Cyr had shopped consignment stores and Craigslist at different times when hunting for clothes, toys and gear for her son, Tristan. But she was most drawn to an online group through Facebook that helped moms unload unwanted items and purchase others. The group was focused out of Portland, though, and many of the users were even farther from Vancouver, in Oregon suburbs such as Beaverton and Hillsboro.
So, one day in late March she created a Facebook group page exclusively for Clark County moms called Vancouver Kids Swap and Sale and invited a few of her own friends to join.
Two days later the page had more than 2,000 members.
"I'm not sure why this took off the way it did," Cyr said. "I have no clue."
The premise was pretty simple: Users post a picture and a description of something they want to sell. Then, other members comment, haggle on price, ask questions about the item and then determine where to meet to close the sale. It also worked for someone looking for a specific item as users posted requests.
"The deals are outstanding," Cyr said. "It's things people just don't need anymore. They want to buy something else. You can sit down at your computer during nap time and post a picture and sell something."
As the Vancouver Facebook group topped 3,000 members, Cyr and its users started to notice some challenges. The biggest was that their group was at the mercy of any changes
Facebook administrators wanted to impose. Posts were flooding in, and the constraints of Facebook were making it so that some of them were simply getting lost in the shuffle.
That's about the time Cyr, who, in addition to managing the Facebook site was balancing a job, coursework for a master's degree in special education and being a single mom to her 2-year-old son, decided to take the idea to its own website. So, she enlisted the help of a few friends, including Stephanie Wright.
Wright used to blog about couponing and knew the ins and outs of managing a website. Combine that with her frugal-savvy mantra, and she was a perfect fit for Cyr's mission to grow the site into a community for Clark County moms.
"My house is overrun with children's items. You're always swapping something out," said Wright, who has two kids under 2. And even though she works on the Vancouver Kids Swap site during those precious nap time hours and, sometimes, late at night, the site isn't a paying job for any of the women as of yet.
"It's a hobby," Wright said. "I just want to help everyone else."
And the site has proved helpful time and again for its users.
'Change is hard'
Yacolt resident Heidi Long was browsing the Facebook page one day and saw a post from a mother searching for a specific baby blanket that was no longer sold. It was simply a brown stretchy blanket with hearts on it. The mother who made the post wanted a spare because her daughter had become so attached.
"I had that blanket. It was just in a box at the top of a closet," Long said. So she contacted the other mother and got the blanket to her.
Long said she's had a few runs of bad luck buying clothes off the site, but she has found bargains on Legos, outdoor toys and other specific items she'd been searching for. She also sells a fair number of items on the site, as she always has things she no longer needs with four kids in her house. "I allow myself to spend as much as I've sold," she said.
Long is one of the users who joined the Facebook group early on and has made the transition to the new website. Not everyone has joined her, though. The website has about 800 users compared with the Facebook page's 3,400.
Cyr and Wright recognize that is one of their current challenges.
"Change is hard," Wright said. "But we're hoping that people will just see it and that it's enough of a positive that they will go with the new site. We're OK that some people are not going to want to switch over."
Cyr and Wright recently upgraded the site so that it is user-friendly on some mobile devices such as Android phones. While users can view the site on Apple devices, it's not yet possible to upload photos directly to the site from the device.
"That's No. 1 one our list of things to do because it's so important to so many people," Wright said.
Still, users such as Long said she's willing to put down her iPad and post photos from her computer instead because the site has been so valuable to her, proof that the site is about much more than selling used baby clothes.
One mom who was a regular user lost a baby. When other users found out, they organized a meal delivery schedule to help the woman's family.
Long said the reason the connections are so deep is that many of the users are in the same life stage — mothers at home (part or all of the time) with young children. And for most, that's the appeal. Users know when they arrange a meet-up to exchange bought and sold items that others will be there with kids in tow as well. And it's often done at public places such as parking lots in large groups. And while any transaction carries a small degree of risk, it's a far cry from other online selling methods such as Craigslist where many are uncomfortable going to an unknown seller's home.
While anyone can browse the site, users must register to begin posting items. The site allows its members to rate sellers and each seller has a profile they have completed. If a seller is late for a meet-up or has an item that doesn't quite match the description given, users can share that information.
And many users have made friendships through the meet-ups Cyr has organized at places such as JJ Jump, an indoor bounce house facility in Vancouver. Emmy Tripp moved to Clark County three years ago. At that time, her daughter was just 2, and Tripp found it difficult to meet other moms of young children. She's been amazed at all of the connections she's made in the past few months because of Vancouver Kids Swap and Sale.
"It's like a community," she said.
For her it has been just that. A couple months ago she posted on the Facebook page asking if anyone had one of the popular handmade girl's knot dresses for sale. Long, an avid seamstress, encouraged Tripp to make one herself and volunteered to help. Since then, the two have formed a sewing group of about six women who meet once a month to work on projects.
That, Long said, it the kind of thing you don't get out of selling items on Craigslist or visiting consignment shops.
"It's so much more personal," Long said. "I've built a lot of friendships from it."
And things continue to build: On Aug. 23, the women launched Portland Kid Swap and Sell, thanks to demand on the Vancouver site from users across the river.