For so long, America's love affair with fast fashion has been torrid and insatiable. Now it seems at least some of that desire has fizzled out.
Consumers are increasingly conscious of the toll that accumulating more stuff--and then throwing it away--takes on the environment, and they're demanding companies evolve accordingly. Rentals by contrast are viewed as a way for consumers to keep up with trends without adding bulk--and that's led to an explosion of rental offerings, from Ikea to Urban Outfitters to West Elm. (See the infographic below for a timeline of the trend.)
Of course, not all companies exploring rentals are finding success. And indeed, there's a right and wrong way to approach the model, says Sucharita Kodali, a retail analyst at Forrester. She tells Inc. that renters of limited-use or higher-priced products may find more success than those of frequently used or lower-priced items.
If you're interested in getting into rentals, consider these four other tips:
1. Aim prices high.
Your rentals program should be priced in a way that makes it worth the effort. Whether you use a third-party service provider like CaaStle--which offers to ship, clean, and track customers' rental orders--or you do it yourself, rentals may come with more overhead than traditional retail.
Vince, a high-end fashion brand based in NYC (and a CaaStle customer), charges customers of its "Unfold" rental program $160 per month for four garments. It pays CaaStle a per-subscription fee, and in return, CaaStle handles the entire rental process.
2. Test your assumptions.
Don't be afraid to dip your toe in before committing completely to a rentals program. "We always looked at this from our end that we were testing this," says Vince's CEO, Brendan Hoffman, who noted that Vince's pilot program with CaaStle needed to be both on-brand and additive to the company's bottom line. Twelve months in, Hoffman says he is satisfied with the performance of the company's rental program, and anticipates expanding it to include men's clothing.
3. Keep your customers close.
A key enticement of rentals is sustainability. So be sure to include brick-and-mortar locations for pickups and drop-offs. The minute you mix in massive shipping distances, you lose that selling point, says Kodali. "A lot of the value is proximity," she says. "It makes it super easy to return and process the returns. Once you get into [long-distance] shipping, the economics stop looking as attractive."
4. Quality tops trendiness.
Products offered up for rent have to be able to withstand multiple uses and wash cycles. In other words, flimsy silk wraps and delicate lace dresses need not apply. Companies like Nuuly--Urban Outfitter's eight-month-old fashion rental company--and CaaStle use low-impact garment washes, but quality should also be of paramount consideration during the buying phase.
And skip the trends, suggests Jay Reno, founder of NYC-based subscription furniture company Feather. While Feather likes to entice new members with a pop of color now and then, it typically veers toward classic lines and color schemes. "This model incentivizes us to choose items that are built to last, that are extremely durable, and that have component parts that allow us to maintain an item and keep it out of a landfill much, much longer than any other retailer could," he says.
While the rental market is heating up, it's worth remembering that it isn't new. In fact, it's very, very old. Here's how the business of renting has changed over the years: