Renting outdoor gear and equipment versus buying it? That's okay. VAUDE makes it possible since 2017. The company’s "iRentit" project is still in its infancy. A good time for us to sit down with Lisa Fiedler, who co-developed the concept, and talk about challenges, hygiene and ambivalent customers.
“iRentit” started as a pilot project in three of your stores in the spring of 2017. Since the beginning of 2018, customers can now rent certain equipment online and at all VAUDE stores. How did you come up with the idea for "iRentit"?
We are facing big global challenges today, like the waste of resources or urbanization, which means that people have less and less storage space at their disposal. At the same time, we realize that our customers are becoming less interested in owning the items and products, but are far more drawn to using them. Timely on-demand availability tends to be the crucial aspect in this setting. All of these thoughts, considerations, and changes gave rise to the idea of "iRentit".
This is not an entirely new concept. "Sharing is Caring" is an idea more and more companies are committed to. They rent out cars, cameras, and microphones even at short notice and for the short-term.
That’s right. Renting expensive items has been common practice in other areas for quite some time.
Over the past years, we have come to realize that people increasingly care about sustainability and want to shop with a clear conscience.
What are the costs for renters and the company?
The user only pays a rental fee for the rental gear. There are additional shipping costs if he/she rents the equipment online. Our company incurs costs because we must check and – if need be - repair the returned gear. If the repairs are due to normal wear and tear, we will assume the costs. The customer has to pay the cost if the damage is due to willful destruction.
Is this rental idea a profitable business for you?
Not yet. It becomes profitable once more products are being rented. At this juncture, predictions on this aspect are still too speculative.
VAUDE does not rent out clothing and sleeping bags for hygienic reasons.
That’s right. Yet we offer a wide selection of rental equipment, including bike bags, tents, sleeping pads and much more. Customers clean and return the articles and we check them. This doesn’t include sleeping bags and clothing yet, because cleaning these items is still too expensive. Having said that, we are considering the possibility for the future.
How many rental cycles does it take before a product is worn out?
We are not able to answer that yet. Our goal is to rent the product out as often as possible to truly conserve resources and save the environment.
Isn’t it basically more attractive to rent than to buy a product?
From our perspective, this isn’t the case just yet. With 40 rentals so far, we have not reached the critical mass yet to say that renting is more attractive. But people are definitely interested in the concept. The trend is unquestionably headed in that direction.
We have a diverse target audience. These days, most cyclists no longer just exclusively ride their bikes. People tend to have diverse interests. That’s why it comes in handy if they can rent gear to try out a new sport before committing to buy all the equipment.
How do you market this system? A rented product probably doesn’t work as a status symbol.
You are right, this is more about a lifestyle. We advertise the new concept via our different communication channels like our homepage with the rental portal, social media, and mailings. The press is also interested. We also hand out flyers at the VAUDE stores to make our local customers aware of this service.
What were some obstacles you had to overcome along your way to this rental concept?
One major obstacle was the rental management software. This is a prerequisite for rental processes, specifically if this service is also meant to be scaled effectively.
Given that most systems are decentralized, finding the right system was an enormous challenge for us because we want to do our own brand marketing in our stores.
The maintenance and repair costs of the products are high and require shrewd calculation.
Does this concept have a future?
It is a pet project of our company that is intended to improve the future. And although it is presently an expenditure, it might eventually become a profitable branch of business. But this takes time, process optimization and the creation of a certain level of customer awareness.