Supposedly we are entering the era of the “sharing economy”. You might not have heard this buzz-phrase yet but chances are you will. It’s gaining ground every day and is a very interesting idea. Whether it’s good interesting or bad interesting remains to be determined.
The premise is simple. Americans are a privileged lot compared to most other areas of the world and discretionary income enables us to spend money on non-essential luxuries that may see limited use. Discretionary income is often the result of a committed work ethic, which then results in more money than time. In a nutshell we are able to afford many luxuries that we don’t have the free time to take full advantage of. Many of us today can relate to this.
Perfect examples of this scenario would be condos in Florida that see only 2-3 weeks of use every winter but are essentially mothballed the rest of the time, boats that spend more time on the hard (nautical talk for sitting on a trailer) than in the water, and, of course, RVs that are used for 1-2 vacations every summer and not much else. For many this limited use is a fair exchange for the cost of entry. We know the realities going in. Leisure time is at a premium these days and making the most of it is important. Two weeks soaking up the Florida sun from the comfort of one’s own condo is well worth twelve months of mortgage payments. That RV trip in June to Yosemite? For many, it’s the pinnacle of the year –and understandably so. The other 50 weeks, though, we own an RV but we are not RVers. We’re working.
So here we have these very expensive, highly sophisticated machines or residences that are spending the majority of their time idle and unused. What are you going to do? Shrug.
Well, let’s consider Uber. For those unfamiliar with this phenomenon, Uber is an app that enables regular drivers that own a car to act as a taxi for those needing to get from point A (an airport, for instance) to point B (a hotel). Car owners “share” their car in a way that earns them income and passengers get a cheap lift. Thanks to the widespread use of smartphones and their apps, and simple GPS systems (“Turn right at the next intersection. Your destination will be 100 yards on the left.”) anyone can get in to the game. With this simple premise, thousands of people are finding their car can be a source of income instead of just an expense.
And then there is Airbnb. This site enables owners of lightly used residences (the above referenced Florida condo, for instance) to post them online for short term rent for qualified travelers that need a place stay. Some brave souls now offer a room (or couch) in their regular residence and cohabitate with the guest. For many this has become a simple way for their non-essential luxury to pay for itself or for their regular residence to provide some quick cash –as long as they’re comfortable sharing their bathroom with a stranger.
In the beginning everyone said Uber didn’t stand a chance. Travelers wouldn’t want to ride in a private vehicle with someone they didn’t know. What if the driver was creepy or crazy? What if the car was a mess inside or unsafe? Well, Uber had thought of all this and online reviews from previous riders quickly weeded out the undesirables. Drivers had a real incentive to present clean cars and a positive ride experience. Good reviews led to more customer traffic for the best drivers and bad reviews left the underperformers with a phone that didn’t ring. It was a perfect self-policing scenario.
Airbnb had plenty of detractors, as well –in the beginning. Who would want to turn their private home over to a complete stranger? Well, again, reviews and a thorough vetting system weeded out the lunatic guests as well as the residences that turned out to be less than advertised. Self-policing at work.
Other than the taxi companies and hotels who hate these upstarts for obvious reasons –and have gone to considerable lengths to have them banned (to no avail), the vast majority of users comfortable with sharing a little personal space with a stranger are happy to patronize the services. Both Uber and Airbnb are booming. Competitors are springing up everywhere.
Sharing economy. It is interesting, isn’t it?
The impressive success of these services and now their subsequent competitors has led entrepreneurs to rack their brains to figure out what other products may benefit from the new sharing economy.
The answer, apparently, is boats and RVs. Both now have services available that enable an owner to offer their boat or RV for rent to qualified users. Granted, they both meet the criteria of an underutilized luxury item with owners that may appreciate making some money during those times they themselves are not using the vehicles but I have my doubts regarding the wisdom of the idea.
Boats, for example, can be tricky and extremely dangerous things for someone not skilled at their handling –or just someone unfamiliar with a new boat. Letting a renter maneuver an unknown craft (your baby!) away from the dock and thread it through a crowded marina and out to open waters? If I was the owner of that boat my palms would be sweating just thinking about it. Throw in some wind and weather? No way. The list of very experienced captains who have cracked up their own vessels after being caught off-guard by almost anything (wind, currents, another boat, kids in a dinghy, a conked out engine, a seasick passenger) is a very long one. Tight spaces and a 30 knot cross wind have ruined many a seasoned boater’s day –not to mention the owners of the three other boats they drifted in to. If you’ve ever seen one of these slow-motion disasters you know what I’m talking about. The crunching of fiberglass meeting fiberglass followed by the long slow scraping and screeching of twisting metal is truly cringe worthy.
RVs aren’t much better. Think back to your first day behind the wheel of your motorhome or towing your fifth wheel home from the dealership. A little tentative? I’ll bet. Chances are you made it safely and the learning curve after that was pretty quick, but there are other things to consider. An RV may be a home away from home but it is not like a house –or condo. It’s much more complicated. If you’re a long time owner it may all be second nature to you now but what about that first day? All those buttons!
Chances are if you turned a condo over to someone they could figure out how to operate the essentials without getting in to any trouble. C and H are hot and cold on the shower and the thermostat is simpler than that. The TV remote? Press enough buttons and anyone can figure it out. If they can’t they can just have their kids do it for them. Either way the chance of doing any damage is minimal. RVs, however, are much more involved, more akin to a boat or even an airplane. Multiple systems are in play with numerous buttons, switches and gauges to monitor. Plumbing pump outs, generators, DEF, solar systems, mechanized awnings and slideouts, the list goes on. You don’t want someone randomly punching buttons just to see which gizmo springs to life.
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That’s my two cents’ worth. For those intrigued with the idea, take a look at RVShare.com. This is the leading site for RV sharing. It’s a good looking site and well done but I’m not convinced it will be widely embraced -but then again I thought Uber and Airbnb didn’t have a chance, either. How about you? Shoot us an e-mail and tell us what you think.