Lisa A. Flam
When Shari Brinkman moved to Arizona, far from her longtime friends in Michigan, she was retired, married to a man who traveled for his full-time job and found it difficult to make new, close friends. She was homesick, and a little bored in her new life.
Brinkman, who took a medical retirement from her job as a flight attendant about two years before her big 2016 move, began to notice that people in Arizona would often ask if she knew where to rent or borrow baby gear when they had young relatives coming to visit.
As the mother of two adult daughters herself, Brinkman, 58, wondered what she would do for baby equipment if she became a grandmother. And as a former flight attendant, she knew the struggle that young families often had when traveling with strollers and car seats.
Brinkman researched the baby gear issue and found no answers in her area. She also discovered BabyQuip, a baby gear rental marketplace with independent providers across the U.S. and Canada who rent, deliver and set up baby gear for traveling families. In February, Brinkman became a BabyQuip provider.
“It’s a wonderful way to get out of the house and to make a little extra spending money,” said Brinkman, who made more than $1,000 in her busiest month; about $50 in her slowest.
Through her online site, Brinkman rents cribs, strollers, car seats and toys that she owns and maintains. She delivers to hotels, homes and airports within about a 40-mile radius of her Queen Creek, Arizona, home, an area filled with retirement-age people. Her husband, Richard, a commercial airline captain, helps with the business when he is home.
Brinkman can block off time on her site when she cannot offer rentals. “I put three different vacations on there this year,” she said. “It’s been great.”
Her outgoing personality lends itself to the gig. Brinkman enjoys talking with clients, learning about who is coming to visit and knowing that she is helping people.
“I like meeting the people and seeing the joy that they get to meet their grandchild for the first time,” Brinkman said. “My last rental, a young mom was coming into town with her 15-month-old daughter to visit her 95-year-old grandma. That would be three generations in one house.”
It has become increasingly common over the last five to seven years to find retirees working in gigs, according to Diane Mulcahy, author of “The Gig Economy.” Studies suggest that about 30 to 40 percent of workers over age 55 are working independently in the gig economy, she said.
“There’s this popular perception or myth that the gig economy is all about millennials and I think that if you look at the data, retirees do make up a minority of people working in the gig economy, but a significant minority,” she said. “This makes sense because so many older workers need to continue to earn income to supplement their retirement savings, and want to remain active and engaged in their later years.”
Being a gig worker, or somebody who has left full-time employment for consulting, advising, freelancing or on-demand work, is a great thing for retirees, Mulcahy said.
“It gives them a way to control their work-life after they’ve left full-time employment and they can continue to earn income, which reduces how much they draw upon their savings; they can control how much and where they work, which matters a lot to people who are retired and might be living in more than one place; and it gives them a way to remain professionally engaged and active,” she said.
Being a BabyQuip provider has helped Brinkman with her homesickness by getting her out and meeting new people and it has helped fill a professional void. At this stage in her life, it is the perfect side gig.
“It helps fill the gaps because I’m sad I couldn’t be a flight attendant any more and the thing I miss about being a flight attendant is going to different places and meeting different people,” she said. “I might just be going to places locally, but I still get to meet different people. I still have some engagement with people and talking to them and planning and working on the computer.”
“It’s very rewarding,” she said, “and I love doing it.”