When entrepreneur Jennifer Saxton began researching business ideas in 2009, she learned that CRs presented multiple challenges for the average parent. For one thing, parents said they wanted clean car seats, but didn’t have the energy or tools to clean them themselves and/or didn’t want to spend precious free time that way.
At the time, Saxton was a Kellogg School of Management graduate student at Northwestern University looking for opportunities to develop a service business that would appeal to the work-life balance demands of millennial parents. She entered her idea for a car seat and stroller cleaning service into her school’s business plan competition and won. Later, she went on to win many other competitions, each time earning more seed money for her new business.
After briefly returning to her former job after graduate school, she began working full time on Tot Squad in 2012, which today serves four markets (Greater Los Angeles area, San Diego, Washington D.C., and New York City), has 25 employees, and contracts with hundreds of CPSTs across the country.
Cleaning and Education
Early on, Saxton became a certified technician herself. While prospective customers might come across Tot Squad by searching online for “car seat cleaning” or “car seat installation,” Saxton assured SRN that Tot Squad adheres to the motto of “every child leaves safer” by providing education and demonstrations to caregivers.
In some markets, clients can opt for a Safety Check (for caregivers who have installed the CR themselves but want someone to check their work) or Safety School (a more comprehensive lesson that might start with a new car seat out of the box). There are plans to expand these services to more areas.
Tot Squad Cleaning Methods
Saxton sought a cleaning process that was effective, efficient, and would provide a level of professional detailing that would exceed what caregivers could do by themselves at home. But, the method also needed to meet the strict guidelines for safely cleaning CRs. Harsh chemicals or excessive heat can reduce the strength of certain parts, including high-impact plastic. If fabric padding shrinks, it can cause the harness to misalign with the slots (and, therefore, with the child). Buckles and adjusters must be handled properly so that they continue to perform to NHTSA standards.
The Tot Squad method, therefore, requires quite a bit of old-fashioned elbow grease, but also employs specialized equipment, like high-powered vacuums and steamers. The cleaning cloths used are chemical free, and cleaning solutions come from Honest Company, which touts gentle, nontoxic, eco-friendly products.
These procedures were put to the test when Tot Squad began cleaning the IMMI Go Restraints used by the UberFAMILY program. IMMI performed various tests with the Honest Company cleaning supplies using Tot Squad’s agreed upon cleaning procedures to assure that degradation of the Go Restraint would not occur when cleaned accordingly. Based on achieving satisfactory results, IMMI approved the Tot Squad to clean its Go Restraints using these supplies and procedures.
Tot Squad Services: Today and Down the Road
Tot Squad clients can select from four levels of cleaning, starting with The Basic for $20 (vacuuming and a thorough wipe down) up to an intensive 90-minute cleaning for $100 or more. Additionally, Tot Squad cleans and repairs other gear, including strollers and car seat accessories. (A full description of service options and pricing can be found at www.thetotsquad.com.)
In 2015, Tot Squad began offering franchise licenses, and it has ambitious plans to expand nationally. Most recently, it opened an in-store service center at the buybuy BABY in New York City, a step toward Saxton’s dream of becoming the Geek Squad of the baby world.
Saxton is also working on projects with Babies “R” Us, two car rental conglomerates, and a host of other companies. She says CR education will be a major component of most of these projects. The company’s reach into new areas of the country means that Tot Squad will be enlisting more CPSTs to become contractors.