Todd Cook of Eagan bought a $45,000 luxury pontoon a few years ago — no trivial expense for Minnesota’s short boating season.
“Boating in Minnesota doesn’t last long and is not a cheap endeavor,” said the 45-year-old software engineer. “It’s fun, but it’s expensive. There are costs.”
The Star Tribune reported that to offset his slip fees at a St. Croix River marina and other expenses, Cook enrolled his pontoon in a free-to-join boat rental marketplace called Boatbound. Started in 2013 in San Francisco, the company uses its website to connect boat owners like Cook to qualified and preapproved renters, who may want to fish or just cruise. The company has roughly 10,000 boat listings (for fishing, sailing and more) in all 50 states.
Whether Cook realizes it or not, he is part of the so-called sharing economy, popularized in recent years by multibillion-dollar juggernauts Uber and Airbnb. The concept appears to be spreading rapidly into another marketplace: outdoor recreation. If you want to travel across the country in a recreational vehicle, there’s RVShare (rvshare.com). If you want to rent outdoor gear or find a place to camp (on public or private ground), there’s GearCommons (gearcommons.com) and Hipcamp (hipcamp.com), respectively. If you want to rent personal watercraft or a snowmobile, there’s Outdoor Toy Share (outdoortoyshare.com).
“My view is that the phenomenon is definitely growing,” said Ravi Bapna, a professor at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management who studies the sharing economy, particularly its growth. “The model provides more flexibility and reduces upfront capital for those, for example, who are looking to rent a boat rather than buy. It’s changing how we do business.”
Bapna said outdoor recreation-based companies, like other sectors of the sharing economy, may find it difficult to become the next Uber. “I don’t buy the notion that if you build it, they will come,” Bapna said. “It’s not as straightforward as that. You need the right strategy, and that can be costly. Trust needs to be built into the system, and that takes time.”
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