How summer vacation gave rise to the sharing economy’s new entrepreneurs

J.P. Hoornstra

As the globe re-opened in increments, traditional summer travel, vacations, and other family activities returned across the United States in 2021. The sharing economy, downtrodden by government-mandated lockdowns, rebounded with vigor as people left their homes. That gave rise to a new wave of private citizens as entrepreneurs.

In simpler times, 70 percent of millennials and Gen Zers reported they were willing to partake in the sharing economy. In a COVID-19 world, certain activities became especially enticing as families and individuals sought a safe, inexpensive means to having fun. And private citizens already had the goods consumers were willing to rent ― no matter their definition of “fun.”

RVs Take Center Stage

One rental category that exploded onto the spotlight this summer: recreational vehicles.

A 2021 survey conducted by Abacus Data revealed that 70 percent of Americans planned to travel locally during the summer, including 18 million who planned to travel in a recreational vehicle for the first time. A decade ago, Craigslist was the go-to online market for renting RVs (among other things). The popular classified ad site offers free listings, but lacks substantive measures to ensure users’ safety and security.

Now these risks are optional. The pioneering peer-to-peer RV rental site RVShare has since been joined by upstarts RVezy and Outdoorsy to create a robust market for RV owners. All offer comprehensive insurance for owners and renters, along with easy-to-use websites. It’s a potentially lucrative enterprise for owners. Outdoorsy advertises that RV owners listing on their platform can make up to $50,000 in a year. RVShare says potential owners can fetch up to $22,000 in annual profits.

The RV market hit a speed bump last year with the global health crisis. In March 2020, Outdoorsy reported 90 percent user cancellations. Two months later, as public concerns about mass gatherings and air travel grew, the company reported its strongest booking day ever. This year Outdoorsy expects to pass $1 billion in transactions, with business expanding to Australia, New Zealand and parts of Europe. RVezy already dominates the Canadian market, while RVShare still claims the largest market of RV owners across the U.S. All feature easy to use websites or apps for first-time renters ― just remember to lock the sewer hose before releasing the black water valve.

Smaller Rentable Goods

What else can private citizens rent out for a profit these days?

Loanables has a small but growing collection of just about anything and everything available for rent: tents, paddleboards, golf clubs, bikes, kayaks, snowboards ― and that’s just the sporting goods section. For apartment dwellers with no place to store their gear, or anyone with quality equipment they aren’t using, it’s a great way to clear space while earning some extra income. Tent sales tend to pick up around concert festivals too, and Loanables is a good place to look first before heading off to Summerfest. The website’s inventory consists of items often bought and discarded after infrequent usage, so the concept is a godsend for the environment.

Longtime renters have seen the space for renting outdoor equipment online undergo massive shifts. (Remember Joymode?) For owners, the market might still be growing.

In July, Arrive launched a B2B rental service, The Arrive Platform, billed as “a scalable, high margin ecommerce rental channel solution.” It also announced $4 million in Seed II funding ― a sign the sharing economy still has room to grow. One of Arrive’s early clients, Eddie Bauer, is a familiar name in the outdoor gear industry. The platform theoretically allows sellers in any vertical category (think clothing, furniture, tools, jewelry) to market their wares in the circular economy.

Pooling Your Resources

One rental category that made a surprising splash in 2021: Swimming pools.

Swimply offers a lucrative platform for pool owners. Private citizens can list their pool on Swimply’s website and app. If someone likes what they see, they can rent your pool by the hour. It’s already proven to be an income generator for owners. One Portland, Oregon man reported hosting 2,700 guests at his pool in less than a year, fetching $111,000.

As with renting an RV, insurance must protect both parties in case of accidents in or around a pool. Swimply promises to reimburse eligible claims up to $1,000,000. Significantly, the Swimply experience is usually contact-free; only 20 percent of pool owners report ever meeting their guests. The company is expanding its platform to private tennis court rentals under the Joyspace brand.

Gettin’ Chicky With It

Lastly, just when you thought the sharing economy had touched every possible category of goods, there now appears to be a market for your poultry.

Rent The Chicken has gradually expanded its coverage area to a couple dozen urban and rural locations across the U.S. Chicken rentals appeal to consumers wary of store-bought eggs, parents teaching young children about caring for an animal, or anyone interested in taking a trial run before installing their own backyard coop. If you have a yard and you’re wary of travel or attending a mass gathering, raising chickens is a novel stay-at-home activity. Renters even have the option of keeping their chicken if they happen to fall in love. (It’s a relationship service, too.)

For farmers, Rent The Chicken is a useful platform for earning extra cash. They receive an exclusive market with a 50-mile radius. So far, the site has attracted more than 45 farmers across the U.S. and Canada to its user base.

As a few pioneering startups discovered over the last decade, almost everyone has space in their car or a home that they can lease for a profit. Now, other niche goods are finding their place in an opportune time for the sharing economy.

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