Wheels of Fortune

On a recent Tuesday evening, two members of New York’s baby-carriage industry were sitting in the spa at the W on Lexington Avenue and 50th Street, trying to relax.

“We have a crisis in consumer confidence,” said the woman in a white terry robe. “There are maybe a thousand Techno owners out there with broken strollers.” Her companion shook his head. “Not a lot to do but hold out for the 2004s.”

Spring is stroller season, and in New York the months of waiting for the new Maclarens have never been as anxious for high-end stroller sellers.

Maclaren is one of Manhattan’s most coveted carriage brands, but the front wheels have been snapping off some of its $290, top-of-the-line 2003 Techno XTs, alarming parents. (TOTS IN WHEEL DANGER read last week’s Post.) For those in the business, there’s been one key person to turn to for help: “You know Nicky with the truck?” asked the woman in the spa. “Yeah,” said the man. “I know Nicky.”

“I was smiling like who knows what when I heard I was supposed to fix the Maclaren problem,” says Nicky Telese, 60, who grew up near Naples, Italy. “I thought it would be some money in my pocket, since I’m the best mechanic on the market, carriage-wise. I’ve worked for baby stuff since 1970. Oh, I was praying to God that something big would strike.”

Since mid-winter, Nicky—who’s contracted by Maclaren—has been regularly driving his red van from Long Island to the Buy Buy Baby store in Chelsea. So far, he says, he’s fixed maybe 300 to 400 Technos there.

According to Maclaren, a faulty bit of plastic, which mounts the wheel to the leg, is the culprit—but only in a single batch of Technos from one Chinese factory. The British company shifted all production to China four years ago.

“I only wish that one batch had been shipped to L.A.,” says Alison C. Bates, vice-president of sales and marketing for Maclaren USA. “It was the last production run of the year, probably 7 percent of sales, definitely under 1,000 units—but it just so happens that all 1,000 of those went to New York.

“Think about how many miles an average New Yorker walks in a year,” she adds. “People are traveling over uneven pavement, piling on groceries, and, let’s face it, they’re banging into curbs. It’s murder on a stroller.”

Which is where Nicky comes in. On a recent Friday, he was called in to “fix up fifteen more,” he says. “If the weekend is nice, the people want the baby in the stroller.”

Still, business is beginning to lag. Most stores (like Schneider’s, on Avenue A, where at least 80 strollers were repaired) have sold their last 2003 models, and the 2004s are rolling in—to Nicky’s dismay. “Do 40, you come home with a day’s work,” he moans. “Do 15, you come home crying. If I get a parking ticket, I lost money.”

Nicky’s “main buck” are the strollers that arrive at JFK broken. “They put them in the belly of the plane. It’s cold there, and the strollers are all made out of plastic, so they crack.” But he’s eager for another windfall at street level. “These strollers, they’re beautiful! Everybody loves them. Maclaren is the best! I hope they break some more.”

Wheels of Fortune