Catalyst

The mojo of renting

Sravanthi Challapalli | Updated on January 20, 2018 Published on March 17, 2016

Women pose in designerwear that they have rented from Flyrobe.

Something old, something new, something borrowed …. Children get to work on a Lego set.   -  The Hindu

Woman poses in designerwear that has been rented.

Airplane Lego set.

Why buy a pricey piece of work whose appeal may not last?

Sreejita Deb rented a refrigerator from Rentomojo, an online business that provides furniture and home appliances on rent, when she moved recently to Mumbai from Bengaluru. Half of her possessions are still in Bengaluru and will move when her spouse joins her so there is no point in buying a new fridge for the short term. Deb sees renting appliances and furniture as a good thing. “When jobs are so mobile, it makes more sense to rent furniture than to move it because there is a cost to transporting it,” she points out.

‘Smart way to shop’

Deb is the Chief Business Officer at Flyrobe.com, a Mumbai-based online business that rents designer ethnic and Western apparel. She is also a customer at her own firm. “Fashion is very perishable. Anti-fit and boxy cuts may be the rage today but tomorrow, it might be other styles.” The belief that there’s little sense in paying through the nose for an outfit that will soon be yesterday’s news is fuelling this business. So is social media. Deb, a former Amazon employee, says her customers have no qualms in disclosing that they rent. “It’s the smart way to shop and smart shopping is cool. We have 16,500 Instagram followers organically and hundreds of women have tagged us when they went out wearing an outfit rented from Flyrobe,” she says.

Adding to all this is convenience. I just need to go online and order and I will have a ‘new’ dress delivered within three hours for around ₹300 (if it’s Westernwear),” says Deb.

Radhika Bansal, co-founder of Swishlist.in, another online business which lends designer clothes on rent, says rentals have exploded in recent years. Her start-up went beta in April 2015 and was launched formally in September. Since then, it has been growing 100 per cent month on month and customers book 2-3 items each time. “There’s not a lot of merit in buying expensive saris and lehengas, contrary to traditional wisdom.”

Swishlist lists designers Indian and foreign including Tarun Tahiliani, Rohit Bal, Diane von Furstenberg, Jean Paul Gaultier and Monique Lhuillier. Not all clients are people who cannot afford the clothes, says Bansal. There are those driven by the need to not be seen in the same outfit twice. Then there are the foreign guests attending Indian weddings who want to wear traditional Indian clothes to get into the spirit of things. And there are the people who rent for the love of fashion.

Bansal, who has worked with Aon Hewitt, Harvard Business Publishing and Goldman Sachs, says she is negotiating with a couple of firms for venture funding and hopes to stitch up something soon. In November, Flyrobe served 300 orders. In February, it served 1,600. Thirty-three per cent of the orders is repeat business.

“If fashion rental can be big in the US and the UK then logically the adoption of such an idea will be larger in India, since as a percentage of income the amount spent on apparel is higher in India than in these developed markets.” The total apparel market in India is estimated at $80 billion, Deb says.

“With rental, we are creating a category and estimate that if done right it can be a $10-billion market.”

What makes it attractive to funding ventures? An observer says this is a very good business in terms of both average sale price per order and repeat custom.

It is especially relevant in a world where every e-commerce company is discounting.

Making toys affordable

Just like fashion and clothes, toys too can lose their appeal over time. They too take up space. And if they are expensive ones, more’s the pity.

Toy rental businesses have been around for some time. There’s one exclusively for Lego sets too. Kashyap Shah, Founder, Funstation.in, has been running a business renting out Lego sets to children since May 2015. Himself a big Lego fan, he hit upon the idea as the building block sets have become very expensive (prices go up to ₹33,000 per set).

His business has had a good response in Mumbai and he has expanded to Pune, Bengaluru and Ahmedabad. There are different rental plans, the lowest being priced ₹300 onward for 28 days for sets containing up to 250 pieces.

Shah has also started an entrepreneurial venture within his outfit called Fun Kidspreneur. If children who own Lego sets are bored with them, they can list it on the website.

Renting will earn them 15 per cent of the rent and the money will go directly into their account. They can withdraw the set after 10 rentals. And no, there won’t be hell to pay if a piece goes missing. You can lose up to three pieces but after that you have to pay ₹60 per piece. However, misplacement and damage is very rare, says Shah.

He has applied for funding through Wishberry, a crowdfunding platform that helps finance creative projects.

Art on rent too is finding takers. Says Shravani Vatti, who started Ardizen, a start-up that rents art to corporate offices and aims to bring upcoming and mid-level artists into the limelight: “It makes more sense for most to rent art.” Forty-five per cent of the rent goes to the artist. If the painting is bought by the renter, buyers get a discount.

Ardizen works on a monthly rental. Though the rent charged for a painting depends on the artist, size of the painting, its price and the number of pieces being rented, the average rent works out to ₹2,800.

Usually, a set of paintings are rented to an office for about four months, after which they are replaced by another set, Vatti says. She has on her rolls 800 artists from across India, and one from the Maldives.

‘E-commerce changing mindsets’

The advent of e-commerce has opened people’s minds to different ways of doing business, says Vatti, an engineer from BITS, Pilani. Artists too are more open to lending their work on short-term basis and about displaying their works online.

Vatti doesn’t loan paintings to individuals. For one, they will want fewer paintings, and two, “it’s very dicey,” she says. Ask her whether she means that she doubts they will be returned, and she says yes.

On why renting is picking up such pace, Deb says: “People value experience more than ownership. Renting is the fashion drug. Everyone wants more quantity and better quality of fashion than they can have and we give them exactly that.”

Published on March 17, 2016
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