An article in Fast Company caught my eye recently: Rent the Runway poaches former Huffington Post COO Koda Wang. Rent the Runway isn’t new, it’s been around since 2009, but when you start adding high-profile chief customer officers to your management team then you’re getting serious. Rent the Runway now has 5 million customers, which is a considerable growth story! You can also rent paparazzi, friends, pets, bridesmaids or wedding guests, and much more these days.
For those of us in traditional rental industries such as construction equipment, or tools, power and pumps it’s often easy to think of such businesses as being a million miles away from when we do. The reality, however, is that outside of the world of data streaming (ie: renting music, games, and movies) most of these rented objects go through exactly the same stages as a piece of excavation equipment. They have to be maintained, cleaned, prepared for shipping, damages have to be managed at the point of return, they have to be disposed of when they are no longer fit for purpose, and you have to bill the customer. True, the size of the equipment varies which means logistics can vary accordingly, but the basic process is the same.
What does very considerably in some of these very specific niche rental markets is the customer channel. Very often they are 100% web based, or 100% App based with the only human contact with customers based on customer service calls relating to non-standard events. While some traditional rental companies are building new channels to customers using web and app channels or utilizing market places such as BigRentz, it is still often not a primary focus. Which leads to 2 questions:
1) Will there come a tipping point, where customers will accept nothing less than web / app for all of their day-to-day ordering no matter what part of the rental industry they happen to be working with?
2) Will the use of rental for everyday objects change customer expectations of what they require of the construction equipment rental industry?
Perhaps it’s time to think about the boundaries of the “rental industry” and see just how much of the specialty rental world is likely to bleed through. Rather than concentrating on the differences and thinking of these other rental niches as something separate, we should see what we could each learn from the others. Just as Uber disrupted the world of taxi rentals, easy, one click rentals of a runway or paparazzi might just disrupt how businesses rent backhoes in a few years.
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