The Sharing Economy: Boon or Bane to the Snow Sports Industry?
With 78% of millennials and 59% of GenX and Boomers polling recently in favor of “experience” over “ownership”, it’s no wonder that the Sharing Economy is on the rise. Services like Uber and AirBnB are just the beginning, according to PriceWaterhouseCoopers, whose April report on the Sharing Economy predicted that the global sharing market will reach $335B by 2025, up from $15B in 2015. “Just about every major industry is likely to experience disruption because of the sharing economy,” the PwC report says.
So what does this mean to the snow sports industry? Can the sharing economy help the industry grow participation, and somehow help attract that elusive time-starved consumer? Or will it take sales away from specialty retailers, who are already battling the internet and big box stores? Many shops and businesses who concentrate on high quality rentals say that it’s the former, and that bringing people into the sport without a huge initial cash outlay could be a big boost to the industry overall.
“Shops who are concentrating on high quality rentals give these newcomers a better experience, which is the best way to grow participation in the sport” says Art Shimmer, owner of AJ’s Ski & Sports in Stowe, VT. “When people have high quality, well-fitted and well-tuned equipment, they’re obviously going to be comfortable on the mountain and keep coming back. I’ve seen this borne out over 42 years in business, and that’s why rentals are such an important aspect of our shop.”
Art’s son, Forrest, spent his youth helping his father shepherd people into becoming lifelong skiers by moving them through a progression of high quality beginner rentals, high-end demos, and finally gear purchase. When his friends recently wanted to come up from New York to ski but had no gear and no warm clothes, he directed them to AJ’s for hardgoods rentals, and then had a lightbulb about the softgoods. He worked with his father to start Kit Lender, a high-end snow sports clothing rental delivery service.
“I started KitLender two years ago and I’ve been blown away by the response we’ve had,” Forrest says. “It’s like Rent the Runway for snow sports, and people love it. The clothes are really high quality, so people feel warm, they’re dry and they look cool. Most people are so happy after they use our service that they decide they’re going to take another ski vacation because they were so comfortable outdoors. I love it when we can help people fall in love with the sport.”
“If good rentals weren’t available, it would be impossible for many people to start skiing or snowboarding,” Art says. “I don’t think it hinders the retail aspect of the shop at all – once people have enjoyed the sport and want to start coming more often, they usually buy. But you’re not going to get them there if the rentals didn’t allow for a great experience.”
Julian Flores, founder of GetOutfitted, also a snow sports clothing rental service, agrees that companies that concentrate on high quality rentals can only help grow participation.
“There is a dramatic shift coming from one generation to the next,” Flores says. “People don’t want to own things, and they don’t want the hassle of bringing it with them on vacation either. If we can have the clothing waiting for them on arrival, and then have a company like Ski Butlers deliver the hardgoods for them, it hugely reduces the friction and the barriers to their participation.”
“Of course people are going to buy their gear once they’ve committed to becoming lifelong participants, but we have to get them to that conversion, and this is where the sharing economy can make it easier,” he says. “Any shop can get involved with renting more than hardgoods and experiment with this concept. It’s an incredible time for the industry right now because things are changing so rapidly; anyone can take advantage of this new consumer mindset and try new things to see what works.”
Flores also points out that it’s a pivotal time for the industry to adapt, with so much changing for consumers right now. “The longer it takes for the industry to adjust to the way millennials want ease of access over ownership, the more that generation will opt for other activities that are easier to arrange with a few clicks of their phone. There is so much off-the-shelf technology now. What a time to be alive when shops can just plug these easy, inexpensive apps into their existing technology ecosystem and experiment. How interesting would it be to dedicate a corner of your shop to clothing demos and try before you buy? It’s exciting. We have a huge opportunity, and we can all try new things and evolve.”
You can get a great overview of the current state of the Sharing Economy by downloading PwC’s Consumer Intelligence Series: The Sharing Economy. For more data and specifics about trends in our industry, download the SIA Downhill Consumer Intelligence Report (DCIP). The DCIP includes information about social trends, snow sports market data and more, helping you stay on top of how consumer behavior is changing. SIA members can access the DCIP dashboard for more information. Non-members please contact SIA Research Director Kelly Davis at 703.506.4200.