With all the lawn mowers, table saws, and complete collections of CSI DVDs sitting around gathering dust in the shadowy corners of our homes, you would think the idea to rent out unused stuff would have come sooner. Especially as we inch our way out of the recession with the mantra, "frugality is the new black!"
But while renting cars, bikes, films, etc. — otherwise known as a "product service system" — is big business for the Netflix and Enterprises of the world, loaning our bikes and bread machines to strangers is worrisome to anyone who's ever let a neighbor borrow a monkey wrench only to wonder where it went a year later.
Fortunately, the idea behind Rentalic.com goes way beyond Mr. Bentley’s earnest transactions with the Jeffersons. "The whole idea is to build a community-based rental market place where individuals or businesses in a community can share goods and services by renting to/from each other," says Punsri Abeywickrema, founder of Rentalic.com. With proper rental agreements and fees taking the place of a handshake and crossed fingers, the sites allow owners to make a little extra cash, and renters to save a bundle on stuff they’d only use once. Not to mention removing the unpleasant awkwardness of running into the borrower who still hasn’t returned your stuff.
Here are a few of the growing number of peer-to-peer rental sites Fast Company reviewed:
How it started: Punsri Abeywickrema needed a wheelbarrow to work in his San Mateo, CA backyard. He’d already borrowed his neighbor’s the weekend before and he didn’t have room to store one of his own. Not willing to ask the favor again, Abeywickrema instead masterminded a site that would sponsor more professional transactions.
How it works: Similar to eBay, individuals and businesses can setup a rental store and start renting. Rentalic also helps existing brick-and-mortar retail businesses hit by the downturn to tweak their business model and develop a rental businesses. Registration is free for owners and renters. The owner will be charged 5% of the total rental fee upon making a successful transaction. And there’s a security deposit involved, you know, just in case the item gets trashed while it’s being used.
What’s for rent: A small sampling includes a Dyson mini vacuum cleaner (rental $10 per week, MSRP $250), C++ for Dummies book ($5 per month, MSRP $30), audio engineering services (sound design and recording studio for $150 per week).
Why it’s secure: Like eBay, Rentalic uses a rating system. At the end of the transaction owner gives feedback to borrower and borrower gives feedback to both owner and the item. This feedback mechanism aims to filter offenders out of the system. PayPal takes care of secure payments.
What about weirdos: Abeywickrema says weirdos and scammers are weeded out through a mobile secret code validation and payment processing system which allows the parties to do the validation and transaction processing from any remote location by dialing in an 800 number. That, and counting on users being smart enough not to have strangers come borrow or pick up at their homes.
How it started: Two friends in France needed a drill to hang something. Buying didn’t make sense when they figured out a drill is only used for about 12 minutes the entire time it is owned. Says Jeff Boudier, co-founder and potential drill renter, "The old paradigm of buy and use it once and store it forever is shifting to an economy based on usage and accessibility."
How it works: Zilok allows both individuals and professionals to rent. Once a rental is established, Zilok generates a contract and issues contact information for the borrower via email or text message. Owners keep a security deposit until the item is returned. When the transaction is complete, Zilok has a rating system for the whole experience. Registration is free for anyone, however, owners pay a retainer fee which is a commission on the transaction.
What’s for rent: Loads of stuff including, a two man inflatable raft ($29 per day), a Toyota pickup truck ($80 for a weekend, Enterprise rental is sold out but an SUV in the same area is $150 per day).
Why it’s secure: Zilok is counting on the honor (and common sense of its users).
What about weirdos: General policies and advice are listed on the site, and the evaluation method is there to ensure everyone plays nice. The page that is supposed to list procedures for car insurance is incomplete, though.
How it works: Rent-Instead offers free listings and options beyond rental, allowing customers to try before they buy, including the ability to purchase or rent-to-own items. It supports several delivery options from shipping, to owner delivery and pickup, renter pick up and return. Regarding fees, Rent-Instead tells us, "We do charge fees for using other services, such as renting items. When you rent an item or use a service that has a fee you have an opportunity to review and accept the fees that you will be charged based on our Fees schedule, which we may change from time to time."
What’s for rent: Anything from cars to real estate to tools and sundries such as a "Sexy Schoolgirl" costume ($10 per day, underpants and necktie not included) and a shower chair ($1 per day, soap not included).
Why it’s secure: Rent-Instead uses AlertPay, which is FDIC and CDIC insured through the U.S. and Canada. Credit card and bank info are encrypted as with PayPal.
What about weirdos: Contact information is hidden if the renter or owner prefers. In addition, Rent-Instead advises, "Always communicate with Owners through Ask Owner a Question. This is the most secure means of communication. When you use this, copies of the emails will be sent to My Messages, and you have the option of hiding your email address from the Owner."