Interview with Ben and Cyndal Norment - Founders of Stork Exchange
Ben and Cyndal Norment bring wide-ranging life and professional experience to their work as entrepreneurs and founders of Stork Exchange, a curated marketplace for secondhand baby goods. Cyndal, who grew up outside of Charlotte and received her bachelor’s degree in Communication from the University of North Carolina Wilmington, has a background in commercial television sales and hotel management, as well as previous entrepreneurial experience as the owner of a successful dog daycare. Ben, who holds a bachelor’s degree in International Relations from Pomona College and a master’s degree in Conflict Studies from the London School of Economics, worked as both a dive boat captain and a corporate management consultant before having the idea for Stork Exchange. The couple – who have a fifteen-month-old daughter and are expecting their second child in June- met while working on the island of St. John and lived in London and Boston before settling in Charlotte to raise a family and launch their business.
Q: Where did the idea for Stork Exchange come from?
A: Our nephew was born in July 2019, and when we visited their home in D.C., the house was just FULL of stuff. Three strollers, two swings, a Snoo, etc. They had a decent-sized house, but there just wasn’t room for all that stuff. And with most of it, you’re only using it for a short amount of time. And then when you start talking about pricing, it’s like – whoa.
At that time, we weren’t parents ourselves (yet), but we knew we wanted to start trying for a family, so we were paying a lot of attention to what other parents were doing. And that was part of our shock, thinking, “we’re going to need ALL this stuff.” As we started talking to more of our friends who had kids, we asked if they were able to buy any of their baby goods secondhand. And the response was always the same: they’d love to buy more stuff used, either for the cost savings or to be more sustainable, but at the end of the day they didn’t because Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace were the only options and they were such pains to use. And we thought there had to be a better way to do it.
Q: When did you officially launch Stork Exchange?
A: We launched our online store (www.storkexchange.co) in March of 2021 and opened our first retail store in March of 2022. March is a good month for us.
Q: What are the core values of your business?
A: I think our most important value is trust. We want to be a place where parents can buy something from us and trust that it’s going to be in the condition we say it’s in, that it’s going to be clean when it arrives, and that if there’s a problem, we’re going to fix it. That if something shows up and it’s damaged or a missing a piece, we are going to make it right. When I think of the standard marketplace for resale, I think a lack of trust is so prevalent that it makes parents afraid to buy things secondhand. Earning trust by standing behind our products and our process is a hugely important value for us.
Trust is also important because as a parent, you have such little free time. Think about the time you spend scouring Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace, messaging the seller to see if the product you want is still available, waiting to hear back from them, potentially losing out to another buyer, or picking it up from the seller only to find it’s not in the condition you thought it was going to be in... it is such a time-consuming process. If you’re not buying secondhand from someone you trust, you’re wasting your time and your money. With Stork Exchange, we want to help parents save that time and money, while also helping them reduce their impact on the planet.
Q: Speaking of the planet, why is sustainability so important to your brand?
A: Our modern consumer culture is driven by convenience, with very little thought given to what we are actually consuming or the broader impact that consumption has on the world around us. Everything we throw away goes somewhere: it doesn’t just disappear. And when we think about the world we want to leave our children, it’s not a world full of discarded junk. Finding a way to make the most of everything we have and giving products a full life rather than constantly buying new things and tossing older things aside when they’re still perfectly good is a big step toward being more conscious about what we consume.
Q: How did you come up with the name Stork Exchange?
A: That was Cyndal’s idea. Cyndal: I sat down and made a good old-fashioned word map, like I was back in grade school. I took a piece of paper and wrote down the word “baby,” circled it, and then branched off from there, writing down every word that reminded me of a baby, which eventually got me to “stork.” Then thinking about the other aspect of the business – the secondhand side – I wrote down different words that have to do with sharing, passing items along to the next parent, and came up with the word “exchange.” I like to think of it as just that, an exchange: when you’re done with something, you pass it along, give it to someone else who needs it, maybe trade it in for something else that you might need.
Q: How do you decide which products to accept?
A: There are certain types of products we don’t accept (see Stork Exchange’s website for a list). For example, we don’t accept used car seats, simply because they can be unsafe if they’ve been involved in an accident and we have no way to verify their history. Beyond that, we try to stick to well-known brands, the ones people tend to know and resonate with. In terms of a product’s condition, we classify items based on a tier-system. The first tier are the new or open-box items, then we have items that are like-new or are basically pristine, then gently-used items, and then items that are well-loved. But even with the well-loved items, they are still 100% functional, they still have all of their parts. And a well-loved item might have a stain, but it’s not dirty. The best way to explain our policy is: “We would never sell anything that we wouldn’t use ourselves.” And we tell sellers the same thing: “Don’t sell us an item that you wouldn’t use for your own kids.” I think parents understand where that line is. If it’s good enough for my child, then it’s good enough to sell.
Q: What advice would you give to parents who are looking to purchase baby goods secondhand?
A: You want to make sure that whatever you’re buying, first and foremost, is going to keep your child safe. Make sure to inspect anything that’s relevant to safety. If you’re buying a carrier, for example, look at the straps carefully, make sure they’re intact, that they’re not fraying, that there’s no damage to them.
Also, the best value you’ll get on the secondhand market is on the most expensive items. If you can buy an UPPAbaby stroller used and get an item that normally retails for $1100.00 for $600 or $700, you’re getting so much more bang for your buck than saving twenty dollars on something smaller and less expensive. And the high-end strollers are so well-engineered, so durable, that they function just as well after a year or two of use as they did out of the box. They also retain their resale value, should you want to sell it once you’re done using it.
Q: You just opened your first retail store in Charlotte. How’s it going?
A: The retail store has been great. We’re still primarily focused online because that allows us to connect with parents all over the country, but the store has provided us with an easy way for local parents to drop off their baby goods, as well as the opportunity for them to handle our physical products. Every baby is different, and every parent is different, so to have the option to test out a stroller, to push it around, to see if you like it, that’s something you usually don’t have when buying secondhand. It has given us the opportunity to demonstrate to parents what the products we have look like, how they feel, what condition they’re in, etc. And I think it has allowed us to convince a few people who might have been skeptics that they can get something from us that’s in as good of condition as what they could buy new.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like for people to know?
A: We just want people to know how much thought, care, and hard work goes into Stork Exchange. As parents ourselves, we are very genuine about wanting to help make busy parents’ lives easier, and to help them reduce their impact on the planet at the same time.